The search for heirloom songs of Kohala

What are we doing?
The Kohala Mountain Music Project is an exciting artistic search for ancient musical treasures that helped to define the district of Kohala on the island of Hawai‘i. Kohala is a storied place with a unique musical heritage that is in danger of vanishing. Our band, The Kohala Mountain Boys, is committed to uncovering and preserving as many of these treasures (we call them “heirloom songs”) as possible.

Our nonprofit partner is The Kohala Center, because they care as deeply as we do about our beloved Kohala.

40179036_1561512950765831_r.jpegOld-time Kohala music is soulful, playful, poetic, and fierce, the manifold voice of a vibrant and extraordinary people. We want to recover and share the heirloom songs currently known only to a few isolated and precious old voices, their words and tunes unsung for years. The ancient musical essence of our beloved and mystical Kohala may be lost in this generation. Reclaiming our heirloom songs strengthens our ancestral ties to our homeland. It is a source of pride that can be shared by all the families and all the people of Kohala, for generations to come.

Why is this important?
We hope to capture some of the essence of regional Hawaiian music of a bygone age. What strains still survive of these faint, fleeting tunes known now only to our kūpuna (elders)? What might they remember from a time when paniolo still rode their horses home after a long day of work in the saddle to sit by a wood stove and serenade sleepy little ones before bedtime? Somewhere in Kohala there is an old man sitting on his porch with old songs playing in his heart and in his mind. But if we fail to sit down with him and other kūpuna like him and learn these songs, they will pass into the mist along with their family custodians. Our mission is to reclaim these cultural treasures and celebrate the poetic mastery of our ancestors.

40179036_1561421633573142_r.jpegHow will we do it?
Our first 30-minute film will document our historic search for unrecorded songs passed down within families for generations. We are hoping for an old shoebox filled with scraps of paper, or a tūtū who remembers the lullaby her own grandmother hummed to her. As we select the first two heirloom songs, we will film the regional features mentioned in the songs. Our interviews with the composers or their surviving family members will chronicle the lyrics and provide context to our understanding of the songs. We will arrange and rehearse the songs, culminating in final performances that transport us to the time and place in which the songs were composed, complete with the vintage-style musical instruments and clothing from those periods. In this way we ensure historical accuracy, but more importantly, we give a better idea of what these songs would have sounded like performed at the time of their initial creation. These performances will be captured in high-definition audio and video. We wish not only to document the history, but to recall the easy grace of old Hawai‘i and the aloha felt for our honored homeland.

What do we need support for?
The Kohala Mountain Boys are donating our total time and considerable effort to this undertaking. But documentary expenses in filming and producing are steep. Acquiring the appropriate vintage-styled instruments will be our single biggest expense going forward. Several instrument manufacturers have offered to sell us these important instruments at significantly discounted rates in support of this project, but these are still way beyond our private means.

Support provided by Hawai‘i Tourism through the Kūkulu Ola Program is covering a majority of filming and production expenses. Our goal is to raise $20,000 to help us acquire the appropriate vintage-style instruments, fully fund our production budget, and share the completed documentary with the people of Hawai‘i and the world.

Our expedition into Kohala’s musical past requires the generous backing of other enthusiasts, other romantic hearts who understand the urgency of the search for our distinct musical heritage. Each day we wait, more songs are lost to the passing of time. We sincerely want to honor the art and the stories of our ancestors, and we hope you do as well.

Mahalo nui loa!

The Kohala Mountain Boys
Kaniela Akaka Jr.
Keola Grace
Boots Lupenui
Chadd ‘Onohi Paishon

Our Partners
The Deviants from the Norm Fund
The Kohala Center (

  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 24 mos
  • Nancy Bartlett 
    • $100 
    • 24 mos
  • Amber Rowland 
    • $10,000 
    • 24 mos
  • Rosie Abriam 
    • $100 
    • 25 mos
  • Valdeane Odachi 
    • $100 
    • 25 mos
See all


The Kohala Center 
Waimea/Kamuela CDP, HI
The Kohala Center 
Registered nonprofit
Donations are typically 100% tax deductible in the US.
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