For Lahaina haumāna Kanoeau Delatori, Anahera Tevaga and Keakealani Cashman, singing and recording a Lahainaluna High School song was not something they expected while attending Kamehameha Schools Maui.
“We were like, ʻOh my gosh, that’s us!’” Cashman said of hearing the song on Hawaiian music radio airwaves. She and her two classmates recorded with KS Maui Hawaiian Ensemble, as well as musical artists Kaleo Phillips, Marvin Tevaga and Kapena DeLima.
“We were really excited to record, and especially excited to do this song. Not only do I have a personal connection with this song, but it’s such a beautiful arrangement and we’re so lucky to be able to record it with Uncle Kaleo.”
The song, “Yonder Lahaina Mountains,” is a single that was released by Phillips on Dec. 31, 2023, after months of practice under the direction of kumu Kalei Aarona-Lorenzo, Clarke Tuitele, Kawika Boro, Kuʻuleialoha Alcomindras-Palakiko and Henohea Kane.
The group met with the trio of recording artists on Dec. 12 to record the song together for the first time in Alcomindras-Palakiko’s classroom.
“It was pretty cool to find out that it was going to be professionally recorded,” Delatori said. “We practiced a long time on that one song and I almost got tired of it, but when it came to recording it, it was different. It was a happy and sad feeling.”
All three of the Lahaina haumāna, as well as three Hawaiian Ensemble hula dancers lost their homes in the August wildfires. The students said performing the song resonated with them and how they felt about their hometown.
“It was really emotional,” Anahera said. “It really hits home. It’s really true what we say in that song.”
Affectionately known as “The Boarder’s Song,” it was originally composed by Alice K. K. Banham, who was the Lahainaluna Boarding Department dorm matron from 1929-1956. The song speaks of the beauty and aloha for Lahaina as a “home for all.”
Phillips, who also lost his home in the wildfires, said the inspiration for recording the song with KS Maui came to him in a dream. He called Tuitele, an old friend from college, about the collaboration.
“The dream was weird because I was performing in front of a crowd and I could hear a beautiful choir behind me,” he said. “I turned around but couldn’t see their faces. All I could see is that they were wearing KS shirts and not Lahainaluna shirts. He (Tuitele) found it funny and we had a laugh about it, but he shared with me that a lot of kids on the ensemble are from Lahaina and said you know them all.
“It never dawned on me that they do have a connection and this was meant to be.”
Aarona-Lorenzo translated parts of the English verse of the song into ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as well as composed an oli to begin the mele. The oli included the old name for Lahaina, “Lele,” as well as a line borrowed from Lahainaluna’s Alma Matter, which refers to: “The ever burning torch which cannot be extinguished by the fierce winds of Kaua‘ula.”
Anahera Tevaga performed the oli for the recording, which also features her father, Marvin Tevaga.
“The oli invokes the old Lahaina names our kūpuna used to use,” she said. “Itʻs really meaningful to me becuase I think it’s important to revitalize old names of places. The oli added even more value and meaning to the song, and using our native tongue is important so it was really nice to hear it in Hawaiian.”
Before recording the song on Dec. 12, a smaller group of the Hawaiian Ensemble performed it for the first time a few days earlier at the Westin Nanea as part of the hotel’s 20th anniversary celebrations. Tuitele said it was an emotional experience for not just the audience, but also for his haumāna.
“Tears rolling down the faces of our students, especially those from Lahaina,” Tuitele said. “Tears from the audience. Tears from the hula dancers. There was just this deep emotional connection. That’s why you become a music teacher: to bring out that sense of emotion and connection in a different way.”
Delatori said performing the song for the first time in front of the audience, which included his sister, “hit me hard.”
“My sister showed up to watch and she started crying,” he said. “It really hit me how special the song is. When you do it over and over again, it starts to lose it’s value, but then you sing it, like for me to my sister – it hit me hard.”
Keakealani said she was “bawling” during the initial performance, but it was a “special experience” she said she will “always hold dear” to her heart.
“What always gets me is the, ʻHome for all,’ line in that song,” she said. “It really is a home for all. It’s been a home for my ʻohana for many generations. We’ve all been able to connect in that way. Even after everything that has happened, it’s still a home for us.”
When it came time to officially record the song, Aarona-Lorenzo said she was impressed with Phillips and DeLima, and their approach with the haumāna. She noted, though, that the music artists appeared to be even more impressed with Hawaiian Ensemble.
“He told the kids that he listened to just a short clip of a video and song, but was ʻblown away,’” she recalled DeLima saying. “ʻIt’s hard to get that out of professionals.”
Aarona-Lorenzo said what most impressed her about her Hawaiian Ensemble haumāna was the amount of responsibility they had in a short amount of time. From Dec. 8-19, the group completed the recording, squeezed in final rehearsals and did three performances, including for Founder’s Day.
“The kids had a lot of faith that everything was going to be maikaʻi,” she said. “Ensemble had a lot of kuleana but the kids just put it together.”
The song, “Yonder Lahaina Mountains,” is currently available on all digital platforms, including YouTube. Phillips, whose uncle passed way in the wildfires, said proceeds of the single will go toward a scholarship fund every year to families who passed away in the fires. A music video with KS Maui Hawaiian Ensemble performing a hula choreographed by Alcomindras-Palakiko is also in the works.
“The thing all the Lahaina students kept saying was: ʻI just want to make Lahaina proud,’” Aarona-Lorenzo said. “They take that to heart in all of their decisions.”
*Story/Images/Video courtesy Kamehameha Schools