New album: Mohalu
Essential Tracks: “I Ka Po Me Ke Ao,” “Ka Hula Papa Holoi,” “Kapalili,” “‘O Kane, ‘O Kukapau”
Release party: Saturday (August 21), 7-8:30pm, Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus; napuamusic.com
The concept behind Napua Makua’s latest project Mohalu—and yes, she says, they’re not just albums, but projects—represents the point in life Makua feels she’s in. And it’s a good place to be.
“Mohalu is the phase three nights before the full moon,” she explains. “It literally means to blossom, to unfold. [Cultural] practitioners do things according to the moon’s phases, and believe it’s the perfect night to start things on—when secrets are revealed and flowers bloom to perfection.”
As if this vivacious kumu hula—who in 2008 was named Female Vocalist of the Year at the Na Hoku Hanohano awards, and whose Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka has already twice won at the Merrie Monarch Festival—had not already come into her own well before the spry age of 36, she feels she has now (though, laughing, she adds, “It took me awhile”).
“There are some moon phases where nothing you start is going to be productive. Like, no sense even leave your house,” she says, in her candid Pidgin lilt. “But Mohalu also means to be comfortable and at ease. That’s how I feel in my life. I know who I am. I know where I came from. I know where I want to go.”
There’s a crystalline tone of confidence when she says the word “go.” It’s as if her very breath propelled her affirmation into the future and it reverberated back, confirming its truth. It’s that kind of easy poise that makes Makua so magnetic, as evidenced by the droves of good friends and extended ‘ohana who—Maui style—happen by and stop to talk story as we conduct our interview at Kula’s Café 808.
For a woman so young, she’s already touched innumerable lives. Her many years as a dancer—culminating with scrupulous ‘uniki training (to become a kumu hula), under the tutelage of Hokulani Holt-Padilla—has led to more than 15 years heading her halau. It’s a career that lends itself to being a Hawaiian music recording artist, she says, as a mechanism to perpetuate her artistic specialty. Beyond regularly traversing the 808 to gig, teach and record, Makua also travels seven or eight times a year to Japan (where the market for hula is huge), to work with hundreds of overseas enthusiasts. While she’s taught “too many to count” over the years, she currently has about 120 local students. She’s also taught at Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus for the last five years, and at Seabury Hall for the last two.
Part of what drives her as an educator is her own—at first lackluster—schooling experience. “Acting a fool at Kalama school,” she jokes of middle school years when she wishes teachers had the time and motivation to help her “snap out of it” and make something of her talent. It’s the kind of nurturing she found as a high school boarder at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, and the kind she hopes to impart upon her own pupils.
“Nobody tells our kids they’ve got talent. Nobody told me until I went to Kamehameha,” says Makua, who says that attending boarding school “probably saved my life.” But earning that belief wasn’t easy.
“I frustrated him to no end,” Makua says of her voice instructor at Kamehameha. “To him, I was this country kid—this bumpkin kid from Makawao. Going to Honolulu, I had no concept of opera. And that’s what they trained me as, an opera singer. One day, he slammed on his piano and was like, ‘You’re wasting my time!’ He threw his piano bench and told me to never come back.
“It rocked me to my core,” she continues. “I remember running back to my dorm—can’t run fast enough. Tears were just coming down, but I didn’t want anyone to seem me cry. So I just put my head down and ran. And I just cried. I cried until I threw up. I was that upset.”
But her mother, famed vocalist Hulu Lindsey, told her to suck it up and return to class stronger than ever. She did.
“That man,” she says with great adoration, “after two years, he got the school to pay for me to go to his teacher, because he said he couldn’t teach me anymore. He drove me off campus every weekend for my junior and senior year so I could go to those voice lessons. He did this,” Makua says, touching her chest.
She’s a powerful storyteller, and speaks with rich tones and expressive hands. “What can I say? I’m a hula person,” Makua says of her impassioned animation and being honest to a fault—and proud of it.
This is not an easy lifestyle,” she says of sometimes having had to prioritize her dancers over her daughters. “I’m accountable to people. It drives me even more. I’ve always felt accountable to my family and to my kumu, but I’m also accountable to all these people I grew up with and who have a history with me—to become that person they can be proud of.”
Despite the sacrifices her career demands, when Makua talks about the concept of Mohalu—and the strength she takes in being comfortable at last—she immediately and almost unconsciously talks about her two daughters and husband (her “Prince Charming,” who she married a year ago, changing her surname from Greig).
With every loving anecdote, it’s clear her family is the cornerstone to her happiness; and through them, she says, she’s blossomed and can be the accountable keeper of Hawaiiana the world needs her to be.