Local Musician Returns Home With First Solo Album

Alx Kawakami of ManoaDNA recently released his first solo album RIC NOYLE PHOTO

Alx Kawakami of ManoaDNA recently released his first solo album RIC NOYLE PHOTO

Since moving to Los Angeles two years ago to pursue his music career, singer-song-writer Alx Kawakami of family band ManoaDNA admits that he has faced challenges when it comes to breaking into the industry.

“Going from Hawaii and having lots of connections there, it has been real tough up here,” he says. “There have been times that I have just wanted to go back to Hawaii.

“I have been to the point where I said I don’t know if I want to do this anymore, because there have been a lot of stumbles — more than I care to admit.”

But he kept pushing forward — a feat he says was made possible in large part thanks to support from his family — and now, he has reached a major milestone: Kawakami released his first solo album, Rise & Shine, earlier this month. To celebrate, he embarked on a tour that will bring him back home, with additional stops in Japan and California.

As part of the tour, Kawakami is hosting a CD release party at 6 p.m. Aug. 28 at Gordon Biersch.

“It feels amazing, and it is something that I am super proud of,” he says of the album.

“The album was a big step for me,” he adds. “That was my ultimate goal in LA — was to release a solo album.”

‘Rise & Shine' features 10 original songs PHOTO COURTESY ALX KAWAKAMI

‘Rise & Shine’ features 10 original songs PHOTO COURTESY ALX KAWAKAMI

Rise & Shine, he says, is about “never giving up — even if you fall, even if you keep falling, keep getting up.”

That sort doggedness in his own career comes, perhaps, in part because he’s been playing music his whole life. Kawakami was just two years old when he first picked up an ukulele.

“From that point on, I never wanted to put it down,” he says.

He went on to play ukulele throughout his childhood, before picking up a guitar in high school, and later started to write music and played in a band.

Around that time, he realized that this was more than a hobby.

“From high school on, I pretty much knew that that was what I wanted to do for my life,” he says.

He and his father and brother started ManoaDNA, standing for Dad, Nick (his brother) and Alx, in 2005, right after Kawakami’s first year of college. The band went on to be nominated for several Na Hoku awards, and won a Hawaii Music Award for Contemporary Album of the Year in 2007. And although Kawakami lives in LA now, it hasn’t meant the end of the band: They still play together when he comes home every couple of months.

Kawakami might be a seasoned songwriter, but Rise & Shine marks a significant departure from his previous work: He’s getting personal.

“A lot of the music I would write before, I wouldn’t base it on things I am going through or personal experiences, but most of these songs are based on something that was happening in my life — whether it was me or a friend going through something. This was probably the most vulnerable album of songs that I have ever written.

“I think there is something about moving to LA and just growing as a person where I am able to put these feelings on paper and tell a story about it,” he continues. “The journey that I have been on, this whole process, has really made me grow and it is something that I want to share with other people.”

In addition to his release party, he also has other Hawaii stops planned, including at Ala Moana Center Aug. 25 and Kahala Mall Aug. 28. For more information and to view his local gigs, visit alxkawakami.com.