Global Hit - Kealii Reichel

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Audio Transcript:

Chang: For the first time there's a Hawaiian music DVD that features subtitles in both English and Hawaiian. It's called Kukahi: Keali'i Reichel Live in Concert:

Reichel: "Kukahi means to be individual, to stand alone. But we all know that within traditional Hawaiian thought and context, there really is no such thing as individuality. It's like a hive or collective."

"And so we decided to embrace this particular word, and let people know that Kukahi is a very temporary thing. On the surface, you might be an individual, on the surface you might stand alone. But you never get to that point by yourself. You always have the support, you always have family and associates and colleagues that help to get you where you are."

Heidi Chang and Keali'i ReichelHeidi Chang and Keali'i Reichel

Chang: Reichel's mother is Hawaiian, his father is from Germany. Growing up, he spent many summers with his grandmother, who taught him the traditional ways. In high school, he got hooked on hula, and founded his own hula school when he was 18. In college, he studied the Hawaiian language, which had been overwhelmed by English for nearly a century.

Reichel: "I never heard it spoken too much, except at church. That was when you had the elders who were still alive, and their preference was to speak in Hawaiian or to hear sermons in Hawaiian. It wasn't spoken in our family at all. And truthfully, when I first started going to college to learn it, there was a little bit of hesitation of support from my family, because at the time there was no real reason, there was no renaissance yet of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian culture."

Chang: But Reichel persevered and went on to become a Hawaiian language teacher. Nowadays he sings and writes songs mainly in Hawaiian.

Kealii Reichel live in concertKealii Reichel live in concert

This song is about his grandmother's home by the sea. As images of the beach and ocean flash behind them on large screens, hula dancers help Reichel tell the story. Viewers of the DVD can choose subtitles in English or Hawaiian.

Nogelmeier: "He's basically a teacher, (laughs) who sings well, (laughs) and choreographs and dances."

Chang: Puakea Nogelmeier is an associate professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii, and has written songs with Reichel. He says Reichel's latest DVD is groundbreaking.

Nogelmeier: "You can follow the Hawaiian text as they're dancing or chanting or you can click and follow it in English. And so this DVD this is a whole lesson plan in a package. This is a really valuable resource. Locally it's really usable. Beyond Hawaii, this is the first time anyone has had that kind of access to this level of cultural presentation, whether it's music or dance."

Chang: One of Reichel's best known songs evolved out of a homework assignment he had in a Hawaiian poetry class. It's a love song, titled E O Mai. Like many Hawaiian songs, it has several layers of meaning.

Reichel: "Talks about water on the surface and how the water glistens and how people dive into the water and get refreshed. But the sexual connotation underneath that is that water is the essence of all life. And for us to procreate is important, it refreshes our lineage just like taking in water, there's a certain life-giving process that occurs in every generation and so that's kind of what the song talks about."

Chang: As for his own legacy, Keali'i Reichel says he's trying to be a bridge between the past and the present, bringing traditional Hawaiian language, culture and values to new generations.

For The World, I'm Heidi Chang in Honolulu.

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