Interview with producer Zachary Lum

New Songbook and CD Celebrate and Uplift West Maui Culture, Places and Stories

We always hear that ancient Hawaiians didn’t have a written history, but I think that’s a little misleading. Hawaiian ancestors may not have recorded words on paper, but they knew their history and passed it down through generations in oral traditions. One of the ways they documented was through oli et mele (song and song). It is wonderful to see this custom continue today with the newly released songbook Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani: Songs from West Maui and accompanying CD, compiled in part by brothers Zachary and Nicholas Lum.

“It was by chance that we got involved,” Zachary says. “One of the donor representatives just contacted my brother. They realized that we not only had the ability to not only do scrum, but also to transcribe them into musical notation. It was the thing they were struggling with. When they realized that we could do it, we now have more projects. This Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani project, even if it is big, is one of the many that we do.

When Zachary and Nicholas Lum were tasked with collecting, capturing, and creating scrums for the West Maui songbook, they jumped at the chance. Only positioned for work, they represent two thirds of the band Keauhou and Zach can speak Hawaiian, write music, and record music. But they had to go in search of those songs that also defined the West Maui area.

“When we first started, we expected hundreds and hundreds of scrums, which we weren’t,” Zach explains. “When we set the parameters for the type of mele we were looking for – mele in the Hawaiian language, referring to specific places, sometimes specific people – it narrowed us down to around 70, including songs written just before the project. What we did was reach out to some people, like Hokulani Holt Padilla, Kimo Alama Keaulana, Hailama Farden, Cody Pueo Pata. These people were resources to say that this melee came from this person. The introduction to the book is really specific in saying that the book does not claim to be the end of all resources; the book recognizes that the resource of kumu or who you learned it from is actually more valuable than what you can learn from a book. The goal is therefore to make the book obsolete and allow everyone to learn these songs so that you no longer need the book.

Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani: Songs from West Maui includes scrums from all around the mountains of West Maui, including the Na Wai Eha area.

“It was also very important to us,” Zach says. “While we might not consider it west of Maui, it’s important to include Na Wai Eha, that whole area. They share the same water, they share the same mountain – why not. It would be up to us to put them together. It’s a huge body of mele. Some regions have a lot of songs and some still don’t. The idea was to see what we can do to recognize what we can at the scene. Whether it was to sum up the people, the stories, or the vibe of this place, the point was to document it. “

For some places, that meant Zach had to research from scratch and write the scrum.

“I was given the task of writing about Kaua’ula, Zach said. “At the time, the Kapu were studying their case concerning this water diversion at the top for Piilani Auwai. They took me in a truck to their compound, then they took me to the water diversion. He told me the stories, about everything. The advantage of being able to write the mele is not only to say at the surface level “this place has this name and this place has this name”. In the melee itself, my goal was to say the names of their genealogy which shows how they claim this particular piece of land that the diversion is currently on. In one of the literary techniques, the first and the last word of each verse are the names. So you just follow that and go from Apa’a to Ke’eamoku Kapu. You have that in the fray, and that’s how we want to capture these stories. “

Lum thinks this is one of the ways to proactively uplift and celebrate culture now.

“You don’t wait for something to be in danger to deal with it. We say, “Heal yourself now”. Now that you care, the decision making becomes much clearer on what to do about this or that. It prepares us for the future, instead of looking back at what we should have done. We can no longer “should have”. I think that’s what Maunakea is teaching us. “

The lyrics of mele and the act of singing highlight the tradition of imparting knowledge among Hawaiians. Lum explains why it is so important to impart knowledge in this particular way and how it works best in the Hawaiian language.

“When you read a book, Western academia is going to teach us to be as specific, as specific as possible,” Zach explains. “This is the knowledge that I have, I’m going to write it down so that when you read it you will understand exactly what it is about. Mele is the exact opposite of that, in a way that gives us more. If I write this one line, “lei nahonoapi’ilani ka hanohano”, I’m not just saying that Na Honoapi’ilani is crowned with honor, I’m saying all these other things, because of the way words work in the Hawaiian language. There is a superficial meaning and depending on the context you can have levels and levels and levels of meaning. From our western point of view, we think which one is correct? But that is the point You don’t look at that You look at the fact that you have all of these meanings Which one works for this context They are all correct depending on when you ask, where you ask and how you ask.

Singing songs is also a superior method of memorization.

“This is how we have the Kumulipo and the ancient texts because they are intertwined. How are people going to memorize thousands of melee lines? It is because they are sung. It is this act of singing them that is actually the thing that holds them together and solidifies them in our minds.

It’s a technology that the Hawaiians have drawn upon, and now they are using it to perpetuate knowledge of West Maui.

“When we are able to re-sing them, we re-learn ourselves an innovation that is very old,” says Zach. “I tell my students, what’s the last book you memorized? They do not know. But when I ask what’s the last song you memorized, they know it. If this song happens to be in the Hawaiian language and expertly crafted, you have memorized this entire body of knowledge in eight song lines, regardless of its length. Mele’s knowledge-building ability surpasses what we do now. The more we understand that, the more we will realize that we have to keep our fray. Without the mele, without the mo’olelo which are mele, we would not have much except the new papers. It’s about removing it from the paper and out of our tongues. Once we can say and sing these things, knowledge lives with us. Unlike the lives on the computer next to us. We become expressions of this knowledge.

The best part about this history lesson is that it looks amazing. The Castle Theater will explode into melee on November 3 when the performance of this legendary project is scheduled.

“What’s cool is that you can enjoy it,” Zach says. “You can sit in the air-conditioned auditorium and enjoy these songs and they are nice. But there is something to dig. The better your shovel digs, the more you will find. We must therefore equip our lahui with shovels. Not only our lahui, but all who live in Hawaii needs these shovels so they can figure it out.

The show will feature many artists from the CD singing songs from the book. Shows Josh Tatofi, Nāpua Greig-Nakasone, Kamaka Kukona, ‘Iliahi and Haunani Paredes, Uluwehi Guerrero, Cody Pueo Pata, Ikaika Blackburn, Administrator Hulu Lindsey, Mihana Souza, Le keiki de Hālau Kekuaokalā’au’au’ala’auliahi, Hālau Lehua , Hālau Hula Kauluokalā and special guests. The festivities will also be hosted by Alakaʻi Paleka, with the world premiere of Kuleana Project: Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani.

“The highlight of this project is the concert on November 3,” says Zach. “We have four halau who will only present their keiki, with more than 100 keiki. The Kalama School Ukulele Group will also perform with over 100 keiki playing the ukulele. The idea at the end of the program is to sing the song of the same name – which is Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani. It’s a song written by Mima Apo. It was written for a group that turned into a civic club, and it was their anthem. Which is very intentionally written to the tune of Hawai’i Aloha. The idea is that here is your specific anthem for West Maui. This is where you can truly shine as your own place.

Each concert ticket also serves as a discount coupon for the purchase of the songbook and the first of two accompanying CDs, featuring West Maui songs and artists in concert. Proceeds from this project will benefit Nā Leo Kālele, the Hawaiian Immersion Program in West Maui. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, visit

images courtesy of Lei Nāhonoapiʻilani: Songs from West Maui



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