Music Duo Says ‘Mahaaalo’
From a young age, Nicholas Kaleikini always looked up to his grandfather — famed local musician Danny Kaleikini — so it only seemed natural that he, too, would take up music.
These days, in addition to playing the saxophone, clarinet and piano, as well as making up one half of The Willards and running the POW! WOW! School of Music, Nicholas also frequently collaborates with Danny. Most recently, the grandfather-grandson pair has released an album, Mahaaalo, a joint project featuring their original music.
The duo performs Monday (Jan. 9) at Blue Note Hawaii at 6:30 and 9 p.m., where they will be selling the new album, along with other merchandise.
Metro recently had the chance to chat with Nicholas about the album, the Blue Note show and what it’s like working with his legendary grandfather.
First of all, tell me a little bit about your new album. What is Mahaaalo about? Mahaaalo is a fusion of my grandfather’s traditional style and my modern blues/jazz style. We quickly found that Hawaiian music and elements of jazz and blues work beautifully together.
Mahaaalo is also a special album for the both of us because it’s our first release of original music. My grandfather has been putting out records since the ‘70s but was so busy entertaining that he never really had time to write his own music. Mahaaalo, with the extended a’s, is a play off my grandfather’s signature introduction and the title of our first album, Aloooha. In many ways, with the inclusion of our original music, we wanted to give thanks to Hawaii, Hawaiian music and the many people who impacted our lives.
What can people expect from your upcoming Blue Note show?
People can expect a mix of jazz, blues and Hawaiian music. I will be doing a few original instrumental tunes on my clarinet and sax. We will also be featuring Chloe Popa, a student of the POW! WOW! School of Music, a free program I conduct in February alongside all the mural painting going on in Kakaako. She’s an amazing singer and pianist who will be performing some jazz classics. We also have an amazing band performing with us featuring Dan Del Negro on piano, Dean Taba on bass, Wil Tafolo on guitar, Dae Han on drums and Jeff Au Hoy on steel guitar. It’s definitely going to be a soulful evening of music.
What is it like working with your grandfather?
It’s a surreal and magical experience. My first performance was with my grandfather when I was 10 in Japan, and it’s still a magnificent feeling to get on stage with essentially my idol. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be my grandfather. He was my father figure growing up and taught me a lot about music and life. So to be able to create and perform art with him was something very special to me and, to be honest, also very intimidating.
It’s a privilege for him to allow me to produce our album and to perform with him. He has never put any expectations or demands on me, but I personally have the expectations to make it the best it can be.
How do you two go about creating new songs?
We basically sit down at the piano and I play different chord progressions and he freestyles lyrics, in both Hawaiian and English, until we find something we like. Sometimes we have a theme or a thought; other times we just come up with stuff in that particular moment. We really enjoy creating simple lyrics, sometimes just focusing on the captivating phonetics of the language, especially Hawaiian, while layering with very colorful chords. We are very genuine with each other, so it helps to focus on what we want in a song or an album.
In addition to the album, what else is new with you?
POW! WOW! School of Music auditions will be later this month. If there are any young musicians who would like to be a part of this free two-week program, check out our website at pwsom.
com and make sure to email us. It’s a great opportunity to learn from some of Hawaii‘s best musicians and teachers. Students will also have opportunities to perform live and write music with other aspiring musicians.
I will also be releasing a solo album during summer 2017. I will also be continuing to tour and perform with emcee Shing02.