Kalani Peʻa's music isn't your typical island fare; rather, the Hawaiian singer-songwriter plays with the traditional format with brazen vocals, uncommon compositions and clever reworkings of unlikely hits (like “You Are So Beautiful” and “Always and Forever”). Pe’a’s 2016 debut album E Walea, which boasts seven “haku mele” and five covers, made its way to the No. 1 spot on the iTunes world music charts and No. 12 over on Billboard’s World chart. Now, Pe’a’s debut serves as the sole Hawaiian contender in the Regional Roots album category at the 59th annual Grammy Awards. Get to know the tropical tunesmith with the five facts below.
1. He found his talent through struggle
Diagnosed with a speech impediment at age four, Pe'a devised his own speech therapy: singing. Pe'a found he could better pronounce his words through vocalization. After learning his first song, the worship staple “I Feel My Savior’s Love,” Pe'a took vocal lessons, sang in choir, and eventually participated in (and won) talent and karaoke competitions statewide.
2. He’s taken a few twists and turns professionally
Peʻa attended Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he picked up a degree in Mass Communications. After graduation, he worked as as an assignment editor at the local ABC affiliate, KJCT News 8, for two years.
3. He’s a published author
Peʻa has illustrated and published five Hawaiian language children stories. He also lends his time to helping at Kamehameha Schools- Kealakūlia on Maui.
4. He’s not afraid to veer away from tradition
Pe'a likes to surprise, whether its with unexpected chord progressions or through his personal style. “My musician realized that normal traditional Hawaiian language singers have normal chords like C, F Major,” he explains. “My chords are augmented and diminished and little minor chords so there’s a little jazz and R&B...I’m a modern Hawaiian. That is, a Hawaiian that speaks Hawaiian fluently, and who will rock a purple bowtie and Versace prescribed glasses and will sing ‘Always and Forever’ in Hawaiian and English. That’s who I am."
5. He's willing to invest in his music
Pe‘a saved up his money (totaling the cost of two cars!) to work with Hawaii studio legend Dave Tucciarone and songstress Nani Lim Yap. Seems like a worthy investment, given the Grammy nod and all. Take a listen below.