Project Kuleana gears up for second installment

Artists taking selfies during the Project Kuleana 2 shoot

Artists taking selfies during the Project Kuleana 2 shoot

Have you heard the word kuleana before? Literally translated from Hawaiian to English, in its most simple form, it means “right” or “responsibility.” Project Kuleana is a statewide musical project created by three local men in 2011, then launched last year. The organization is aimed at perpetrating the Hawaiian culture, music and education in our community and throughout the world.

This team of influential educators started the project with the intent that it would serve as a catalyst for others to recognize their responsibility to allow music to become a cultural priority and remind others, of Hawaiian descent or not, they have a right to learn the history of Hawaii and responsibility to perpetuate the cultural legacy.

Robert Cazimero recording in East Honolulu

Robert Cazimero recording in East Honolulu

Sound familiar? This project was inspired by a multimedia, musical movement called Playing for Change, which started in 2009 and utilized the Internet and music to connect people and communities around the world with a message of peace. Project Kuleana was born with that same idea in mind. Together, Sean Naleimaile, Kihei Nahale-a and Kamakoa Lindsey formed Project Kuleana hoping to capture Hawaii musicians performing idyllic songs of Hawaii, recorded and shot on location, in places that were significant and meaningful to the artists. “So we began compiling a list of people we knew; it was a huge list… What we wanted to do was to feature the individuals who were not necessarily the ‘star,’” Naleimalie said.

After the first Project Kuleana was complete, the crew had created new versions of classic Hawaii songs “Kaulana Na Pua,” written by Ellen Keho’ohiwoakalani Wright Pendergast in 1893, and “All Hawaii Stand Together,” by Liko Martin. These profound music videos were shot from the green pastures on Hawaii Island to the white beaches of Kauai’s north shore and featured such voices as Keali‘i Reichel, Palani Vaughn and Lady Ipo Kahaunaele.

When you watch these videos the music is enchanting and the editing is flawless. It gives me chicken skin every time I hear and watch them. To see these powerhouse performers collaborate and share the same message, it is very moving and empowering. “We had no idea what impact the videos would have,” Nahale-a said. Together all the videos created garnered close to half a million views online.

In the recording studio

In the recording studio

Now in the midst of their second installment, Project Kuleana has some new faces and some familiar ones joining the cast of their musical lineup, affectionately known as PK2. Artists like Robert Cazimero, Raiatea Helm and Taimane Gardner appear for the first time in the project. Each of the musicians volunteering their talents, their mana and their passion for Hawaiian music.

“We believe that there are so many opportunities to connect to music, to community and then back to the land,” Lindsey Asing said. The team is still shooting, recording and on location capturing PK2 across the state. This is thanks to a grant from Hawaii Tourism Authority, production partners ‘Oiwi TV and OHA who has lent support for the project.

At the end of November the team will travel to the 2014 Nga Pae O Te Maramatanga International Indigenous Development Research Conference in Aotearoa. There they will speak about the use of media, from the Project Kuleana perspective, and how it can engage healthy families and the community. Also at the conference they will showcase a soft premiere of the new videos being filmed and edited right now.

Project Kuleana is aiming to launch their new campaign by the end of the year, so look out for it in December. In the meantime you can follow their adventures and updates on Facebook.

Here’s a gallery of images for a sneak peek at what the new videos will feature and look like, plus scroll down to view the videos they released in 2013. To this day many people will say, “I love this song,” when they hear it, myself included.

Project Kuleana

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Uncle Piggy Kaleohano at the Merrie Monarch Stage

Amy Hanaiali‘i and Willie K are reunited

Amy and Willie reunionIt’s a project long overdue: Amy Hanaiali‘i and Willie K. have reunited to again create beautiful music together.

Hawaii’s powerful musical duo have spent the past year in Willie’s Maui recording studio, crafting lyrics, writing music and collaborating on a completely new original album titled, “Reunion.” The CD officially drops on Nov. 11, but Melissa Chang and I last night celebrated with the artists at a preview event at Washington Place. There, the two sang a few new songs, along with some past favorites, to revive the mele. And yes, it felt and sounded good.

After being partnered in 1993 by Mountain Apple Company’s Jon DeMello, Amy and Willie worked together, toured together and were even in a relationship for nine years. There was great synergy in their sounds and spirits. But the pair then split up and ventured into separate directions, personally and professionally. While Willie went to Europe, Amy headed to Japan, and their careers and new personal relationships blossomed separately.

As luck would have it, two years ago at a wedding, the two were asked to sing the Hawaiian Wedding Song. They hadn’t performed together in a decade, and it was that night that the concept of coming together to produce a reunion album was born.

“We are stepping outside of the hula skirt,” Willie says, explaining the new album started with 52 songs and had to be whittled down to 10. “We’ve updated our genre and style, added her R&B flare and my rock-n-roll influence; it’s still a Hawaiian contemporary album, but with some traditional and personalized influences.”

Amy describes the reunion as like riding a bike. “Coming back into the studio with him was emotional, refreshing and comforting; I could do songs in one take,” she says.

Eager to share their new project with the world, the pair will soon tour across the islands, the East and West Coasts and Europe. “We want people to be entertained by the music and not just hear another CD; it’s going to make them laugh and cry,” Willie says.

Amy and Willie performed at Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signing of the same-sex marriage bill last December. That was a bit of a teaser for the album to come. On Wednesday, Abercrombie surprised them by proclaiming Oct. 15, 2014 as “Amy Hanaialii and Willie K. Day in Hawaii.”

Here’s one of the new songs they performed at last night’s event, showing Amy’s R&B flair with Willie’s rock-n-roll style:

A look at the scene at Washington Place last night for their album launch:

Amy and Willie reunion

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—Photo by Melissa Chang

New eats: Heavenly

Although “eating local” is a popular catch phrase these days, it’s actually not easy to find a lot of Waikiki restaurants that really offer a locavore menu. We were excited to try Heavenly — located in the Shoreline Hotel — which uses organic and local products in most of its menu.

The owners are no strangers to the restaurant business, as they already own Cafe Goofy and Aloha Table in Waikiki. (The odd thing, though, is that we like Heavenly much better than the other two, despite their local sourcing at all of their restaurants.)

We went a few times to try their some of their most popular items. The verdict? We’d go back, and can’t wait to try their breakfast.


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Here's the front of the restaurant at a recent daytime event. You can enter from the front, or through a side door at the hotel.


Parking can be a little bit of a challenge. They do have some valet parking onsite, but we opted for the nearby Waikiki Shopping Plaza ($5 flat rate after 6) or Royal Hawaiian Center (partial validation with a purchase of $10 or more) or on the street.

Shoreline Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
342 Seaside Ave.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight

Best dinner of my life at Vintage Cave

Butter-Poached Lobster

Butter-Poached Lobster

You know the saying, “The way to a person’s heart is through his/her stomach”… well, I’ve fallen in love with the new chefs at Vintage Cave. Not counting homemade meals or even dinner made by my husband, my recent meal there was definitely the best dining experience of my life.

Before that, I reminisced about a special tasting I had at Alan Wong’s Amasia on Maui, regarding that presentation to be the best meal I ever had. But now there’s a new chef on the block with a newly assembled team from around the globe taking fine dining cuisine in Hawaii to a new level.

Coming from The French Laundry in Napa Valley, which has been dubbed “The Best Restaurant in America,” Vintage Cave’s new chef Jonathan Mizukami and his team do not disappoint. This recent change of command has foodies in a tizzy, with many eagerly awaiting a chance to taste Mizukami’s flavor combinations and integration of fresh local products cooked with a French flare.

Mizukami, whom I wrote about in this post a few weeks ago, has been soaking up all the knowledge, experience and character of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and crew for the past 10 years. We had worked together 11 years ago at Alan Wong’s, and I am happy to say he hasn’t lost his charm, modesty and good looks. Add to that his new pastry chef Eddie Lopez — formerly of The French Laundry and Chicago’s Blackbird and Sixteen — a young, tatted-up culinary rockstar who’s full of energy and is amazing with pastry and chocolate.

Daniel and Olena

My husband always said he had no interest in trying Vintage Cave. He’s a plate lunch kind of guy, and although he appreciates a good meal, he doesn’t eat seafood. So he never saw the point in going to a restaurant that served a set menu with half of it being seafood. He isn’t allergic; he just doesn’t like the fishy taste.

But as it went, our plan on a Saturday night was canceled last minute, so I forced my husband to put aside his reservations and try the new Vintage Cave. We ordered the 10-course Chef’s Tasting, which changes often and allows Mizukami a chance to tweak and alter the dishes daily, based on available ingredients and his inspiration.

I expected that it would take a few months before the team would congeal and develop a solid menu with unique dishes and courses. I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by each and every course. I tend to equate cooking to dancing. It takes time to learn the moves and style of your partner, and after practice and getting to know each other better, you will perform better. But there’s something about this new crew that had the dishes dancing on my tongue from start to finish.


From the canapés to the caviar, sweetbreads to kanpachi, and then to the butter-poached lobster, chicken, lamb and dessert, the meal took us on a journey. Each course brought with it a combination of perfectly seasoned flavors that were well balanced in texture and innovative in its plating. Every course was beautiful to look and in taste, leaving me in awe with every bite.

I loved the entire experience. The servers were approachable, polite, but still showed their personalities. It was hardly the stuffy restaurant experience one might expect. The servers explained each dish and answered questions, but at the same time made sure we were comfortable and happy.

Overall, the ambiance was intimate and romantic. Yes, this is an expensive dinner, running $295 or $425 with wine pairings per person. But to put it in perspective, it’s the same price as that new purse or fancy pair of shoes. It’s all a matter of prioritizing and deciding to enjoy this special occasion/experience.

Here’s my review of each course along, with a brief description in my gallery.

Vintage Cafe - Chef's Tasting

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The quail egg topped with black truffle. This amuse bouche took the deviled eggs classic and elevated it to the next galaxy. There's something comforting about having something as simple as this with such an extravagant topping to start the night off.

Vintage Cave
Ala Moana Center
Hours: 5:30-11:30 p.m. Tueday through Saturday
$295 per person / +$130 with wines

My Point of Heu: You know you’re from Hawaii when…

Photo by: Olena Heu

Photo by: Olena Heu

Using My Point of Heu, here are 22 ways to know you’re from Hawaii:

1. You end your sentences with “no?” even when you mean “yes.”

2. Chili pepper water is a regular condiment on the table alongside shoyu, vinegar and salt & pepper.

3. While visiting the mainland you are trying to figure out why they don’t serve fruit punch.

4. It frustrates you when people don’t understand what “pau” means.

5. Jeans are your dress pants.

Photo: Once Again Hawaii

Photo: Once Again Hawaii

6. You love Spam so much you have found a way to recycle and reuse the container.

7. Your cousin’s baby luau has more guests than your graduation and wedding combined.

8. The sun is shining, the skies are blue, but it’s raining outside.

9. Traffic is backed up in your neighborhood cause two cars headed in both directions of the road are stopped, and the drivers are chatting with each other.

10. You take dad to a fancy restaurant, and he orders a steak with extra white rice and a bottle of ketchup.

11. Your favorite breakfast is eggs, rice and Portuguese sausage or Spam, but when you run out of meat, you fry up bologna.

Photo: Aloha Kauai Vacation

Photo: Aloha Kauai Vacation

12. Chickens or mongoose scurry across the road, and you don’t even notice, and it doesn’t even bother you.

13. You’ve named the gecko who lives in your house. You may have named the chicken outside too.

14. There’s a grand opening of a store, and people from across the island campout overnight to be among the first to see inside… and they have that same store near where they live.

15. You know all the words to “Hawai’i Pono’i,” but not the “The Star Spangled Banner.”

16. You have long arguments with family and friends about the correct pronunciation of Hawaii or Hawai’i.

17. Half of the staff at work called in sick, and there just so happens to be a large surf swell that day – cough, cough.

18. Traffic is backed up for miles because everyone is looking at the fender bender headed in the opposite direction on the freeway. Rubber neckers!

Photo: Zippys

Photo: Zippys

19. You know the shaka is not a gang sign.

20. You call everyone over 21 “aunty” or “uncle.”

21. You come back to the islands from a trip, and your next stop is Zippy’s!

22. And…you meet someone for the very first time so you ask, “What high school you went?”