Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Kuana Kahele bringing paradise to Orange County with upcoming concert

As part of the Irvine Barclay Theatre’s Hawaiian music series, Kuana Kahele will be performing on Ja
As part of the Irvine Barclay Theatre’s Hawaiian music series, Kuana Kahele will be performing on Jan. 11.
(Courtesy of Kuana Kahele)

Few musicians ever get to be singing volcanoes.

That’s backed by hard data and Wikipedia research.

But Kuana Kahele accomplished that rare feat when he starred as the animated volcano Uku in the 2014 Pixar short “Lava,” which played alongside “Inside Out” in theaters in 2015.

Kahele, a prominent Hawaiian musician, has become known around the world for his rendition of the volcano.


He’ll bring his island music to the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Jan. 11 to open the Hawaiian Music Masters Series. Legendary Hawaiian acts Kalani Pe’a and the Henry Kapono Band will perform Feb. 8 and March 21, respectively.

“Everybody loves this Hawaiian series,” said Jerry Mandel, president of the Irvine Barclay Theatre. “You close your eyes and you swear you are in Honolulu.”

Kahele was born into Hawaiian music.

“My family is known for its haku mele [songwriters],” Kahele said. “I was pulled from hula the minute they knew I could sing and then taught how to juggle both singing and dancing.”


Much of island music is like a ledger for the past, documenting old places and fading names for the generations to come. Kahele is influenced by that traditional strain of island music, but he’s also looking to move the genre forward.

His seven-album “Music for the Hawaiian Islands” series does just that, blending the old with the new. Each album is meant to represent the individual Hawaiian islands. Kahele plans to perform songs from his series at the Barclay concert.

“As the years passed, I could see a dangerous pattern of laziness and complacency with many hula groups,” Kahele said. “I would be hired to play the same 15 songs over and over again because all the kumu hula [instructors] were teaching the same stuff. We need to innovate and evolve as Hawaiians. Hula can’t stay stuck in one era. Everything moves forward.”

Kahele has been focused on the series for the last three and a half years, composing about 100 songs. The final installment, “O’ahu,” will be released soon.

Kahele’s relieved to be nearing the end of the project.

“I hope after I’m gone, some day, it will help document this time we are in,” Kahele said. “I can already see it breathing new life into hula. My job was only to plant seeds. Now we have to wait and see what grows.”

If You Go

What: Hawaiian Music Masters Series

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine


When: Kuana Kahele at 8 p.m. Jan. 11; Kalani Pe’a at 8 p.m. Feb. 8; Henry Kapono Band at 8 p.m. March 21

Information: (949) 854-4646,