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Members of Kahulanui pose for a photo. (COURTESY PHOTO)
Members of Kahulanui pose for a photo. (COURTESY PHOTO)
The cover of the Kahulanui CD (COURTESY PHOTO)
The cover of the Kahulanui CD (COURTESY PHOTO)

The Grammy Award, the country’s highest accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, is awarded to artists who show outstanding achievement in the music industry. Highly coveted and difficult to attain, one local band recently received that honor when it was announced that their band was the only Hawaiian group nominated in the Regional Roots Category for next year’s 56th Grammy Awards.

Kahulanui, a Hawaiian swing band from the Hawaii Island, recently released their first CD, “Hula Ku’i” (Palm Records) which was recorded in Waimea at Lava Tracks Recording Studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Charles Brotman.

“Kahulanui’s music is very unique,” said Brotman. “It’s similar to the music that was popular in Hawaiian night clubs in the 40s. The band has one foot in a retro genre of ’40s swing music, and another in more contemporary Hawaiian song and lyrics. People that hear them live for the first time just go crazy for the band.”

After the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2011, the academy chose to eliminate music categories for several genres, including the category for Hawaiian music. The decision however, was not without controversy. Today Hawaiian recordings compete against Cajun, zydeco, polka, and Native American music in a new category called “Regional Roots Music,” which is described as regionally based, traditional American music.

While this new designation creates more competition when vying for a nomination, it also increases the honor and significance of that nomination.

“Of course we all wish there was still a separate category for Hawaiian music, but the academy requires a minimum of 40 albums be submitted in each year in order to maintain that category,” said Brotman. “We were not having enough submissions from Hawaii and that’s why they merged the Hawaiian category into the Regional Roots Music. Now the nomination sort of carries more weight because the band is not just competing with other musicians from Hawaii to get the nomination, but other bands and musicians from the mainland as well.”

Current president of the academy, Neil R. Portnow concurs. He told the Associated Press that this new category “Ups the game in terms of what it takes to receive a Grammy.” Because the Grammy is the most prestigious and coveted award in the music industry, the academy feels the bar should be set high when determining who receives the honor.

Kahulanui band leader, Lolena Naipo, Jr. found inspiration from his grandfather, Robert Kahulanui, who was a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band during an era when horns and drums were a part of Hawaiian music.

Kahulanui band members on Hula Ku’i include, Lolena Naipo, Jr. on rhythm guitar, lead vocals, arrangements, harmonies; Patrick Eskildsen on lead guitar, bass, background vocals; Robert Duke Tatom on ukulele, background vocals and Tim Taylor on drums and ipu. Kahulanui Horns and Steel: Jesse Snyder on tenor saxophone; Duncan Bamsey on alto and baritone saxophone; Garry Russell on trombone; Andrea Lindborg on trumpet; and Greg Sardinha, Paul Kim, Dwight Tokumoto on steel guitar.

Sylark Rossetti of Honolulu Skylark Productions said, “Throughout Hawaii in the ’20s and ’30s, one could find orchestras playing Hawaiian swing and the house would be jumping. Lolena and Kahulanui borrow from these influences and perform classic Hawaiian songs in a syncopated style making Hawaiian swing vibrant and alive in Hawaii today.”

The album Hula Ku’i was also a finalist in 2013 for the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (Hawaii’s version of the Grammy Awards) in three categories: Album of the Year, Group of Year and most Promising New Artist of the Year.

The 56th Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on Jan. 26. For more information on how to purchase CDs or to book Kahualanui, visit or call 989-1540.