Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole with Shawn Pimental was a rollercoaster performance at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. This was one of only two shows the duo performed while in Canada. Kanaka’ole is a Hawaiian native that presented “journeys” to her audience.
The performance began with Kanaka’ole simply walking on stage in a loose, flowy red sundress and singing without a microphone. Her voice was thick and rich, with every note emanating from somewhere deep inside her. With this raw introduction, the audience prepared themselves for a lethargic, emotional night. This was warranted as her voice was truly something unique, sending waves of goosebumps across the audience. What no one was expecting, however, was her witty interludes to contrast her unbelievable singing voice.
After her introductory song concluded, Kanaka’ole coughed, giggled and exclaimed “I forgot my inhaler,” then proceeded to explain how she was wearing the wrong bra for the event. The audience was hesitant at first to laugh, as this stark contrast of comedy against her solemn song seemed abrupt in every way possible. Yet, she made it almost impossible to keep a straight face as she rolled out jokes about Trump, the American healthcare system and her single status. This break of comedy immediately sparked intrigue throughout the entire recital hall. Confusion may have also swept over the audience, but one thing was for sure, they could not get enough of Kanaka’ole.
Her journeys included stories of birth and triumph, but also of sickness and desperation. Kanaka’ole became emotional on stage after performing a stunningly emotional journey about her mother, who had fallen ill but found solace in song. Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole took her audience on a journey through what it meant to be a native Hawaiian in the 21st century. Her humour carried through into song as well, at one point announcing she was going to sing about promiscuity and proceeded to portray different characters with what she called her “Disney voice.” This inevitably led to a few Moana jokes that left the audience in stitches.
Besides comical interludes, Kanaka’ole shed light on the state Hawai’i has been left in at the hands of international greed. Unfortunately, she named Canada as one of those rapacious hands. She explained how telescopes had been mounted all over their sacred mountain, despite this area being on conservation lands. She went on to voice her anger and disappointment with the Hawaiian government for condoning international ventures and commercialism. A lasting thought she posed to the audience was “your relationship to land is purely transactional … what is up with that?” One of Kanaka’ole’s many messages was to approach land with humility and purpose. This message led her into the final segment of her performance, leaving the audience in awe of not only her voice, but of her ability to charismatically challenge the audience’s entire value system. She forced the audience to address the colonialistic views within their mind and critiqued Westerner’s relationship to nature and the world around them.
Kanaka’ole asked the lighting technician to keep the house lights on so she could see the audience, which was only one of the ways she maintained the onlooker’s undivided attention. She encouraged the house to clap and at even one point sing with her. The cracks she made at the audience’s ability to hold rhythm and sing were priceless. Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole truly knows how to work a room and how to leave the audience begging for more, because that is exactly what they did at the conclusion of the show.
Kanaka’ole received a standing ovation from the audience as she gracefully left the stage, but not a single audience member began to gather their things or exit the theatre. After a couple of minutes, the clapping grew rowdy and shouts escaped from the audience. She reentered the recital hall casually dressed down, and chose not to sing again but crack jokes about how good looking Canadian men were. The audience truly could not get enough of Kanaka’ole’s humour, talent and overall aura. Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole brought the values, the beliefs and feeling of Hawai’i to a small recital hall in St. Catharines, which truly sounds impossible, yet somehow she pulled it off.