The Keauhou Story
By Constance Hale
In 2017, a trio of twenty-somethings came out with an album, Keauhou, that took Hawai‘i by storm. The three musicians are brothers Zachary Alaka‘i Lum and Nicholas Keali‘i Lum, along with fellow Kamehameha School graduate Jonah Kahanuola Solatorio.
It may seem like Keauhou (the name of the group as well as their first album) suddenly burst onto the scene, but all three men were steeped in music. Jonah’s dad is a musician, though he was more partial to R&B than to traditional Hawaiian music. Zach and Nick’s father once played in the band O‘heo and taught his sons to play ʻukulele, guitar, and slack key. They started appearing professionally with their aunty on their mom’s side, Kahalepuna Richardson Naki.
“My first musical memory would be going on the trolley during Christmas,” Zach says. “My aunty and her family would bring their instruments, and we’d all sing as we went through Honolulu. One of my uncles suggested that I join the Honolulu Boy Choir. Then I got into the Kamehameha Schools Elementary Choir. In middle school, I went into Alan Akaka’s Hawaiian Ensemble. I figured out the bass and took lessons in steel guitar from Alan Akaka.” (He also played saxophone and drums in the school band.)
In the high school Concert Glee Club, Zach met Jonah, and the two formed a trio with another classmate. “Around 2008,” Nick remembers, “they were playing in Midkiff Library, standing next to a bookshelf. Over the bookshelf hung a waʻa (Hawaiian canoe) whose name was Makani Hou o Keauhou, or ‘the new wind of Keauhou.’ Someone asked, ‘What’s your name?’, and they said they didn’t have one.” Nick remembers that Hawaiian language teacher Hailama Farden, himself a scion of a musical family, said, “Your name is Keauhou.”
By 2009, Nick had joined the trio, replacing the classmate. They were playing the circuit—Honolulu venues like the Imua Lounge and the Ilikai Bar and Grill. Soon the name of the waʻa took hold as the group’s name. Jonah translates it as “the new generation,” because they want their songs to inspire others to learn and preserve Hawaiian language and culture. Not coincidentally, Jonah is a Hawaiian language teacher at Kamehameha Schools, where Zach is choral director. Nick works for the Department of Education designing tests for immersion schools. All three are fluent in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian language).
Nick says he listens to a variety of genres and often wants to “push the envelope.” But the three agree that their kuleana (responsibility; calling) is to stay in a deeply Hawaiian vein. Hula and music go hand in hand, says Nick, citing an ‘ōlelo no‘eau, or proverb: I le‘a ka hula i ka ho‘opa‘a (“The hula is pleasing because of the drummer”). But it’s not just the rhythm of the “drum” that makes this musical style so exciting for the hula dancers. Zach Lum’s hakumele (poetic lyrics) inspire the dancer with their natural imagery. Nick Lum’s rich tenor and Jonah Solatorio’s sweet falsetto help the dancer embody the joyful spirit of the song. And it’s sheer fun to paddle a canoe when they sing “Hoe, Hoe Nā Wa‘a” (“Row, Row the Canoes”).
Keauhou has accompanied hālau hula for performances, they have had their own concerts on the mainland, and they travel frequently to Japan, but this is their first appearance in San Francisco.