Q&A With Mailani
Already a success in Hawai’i when she decided to become a solo artist, Mailani’s self-titled debut album earned her the prestigious Female Vocalist Of the Year award in 2010, one of her three No Hoko Honohano awards to date. Her second album, Aina, moved closer to traditional Hawaiian roots music and this year’s Manawa completes the journey and establishes her at the forefront of contemporary Hawaiian music. I caught up with Mailani to talk about life as a musician and the influence of her Hawaiian home.
As an artist, you have blended your own songwriting with covers of traditional Hawaiian artists as well as legendary bands such as U2 and The Beatles. Is it tricky finding the right balance with each album?
It is very tricky to take on a cover. You have to fully envelope yourself in that time, in the writer, in the story, and yet make it your own. Your own time, your own story, your own personal journey and link it together. And what I find most gratifying is that I am still growing. My sound is changing and growing and evolving. I’m this girl that just loves these songs and am very grateful people aren’t throwing tomatoes at me because these are such sacred pieces of our time and hopefully they will never be forgotten.
Do you see a difference in audiences when you perform outside of Hawaii?
Because its such a small town back home and I’ve been a local recording artist for the past 13 years, people know me and I’m really laid back. I have fans back home, but Hawai’i – is very family oriented. When I do travel abroad, its different because it just is. Japan is huge and the market for Hawaiian music is unbelievably surprising. Japan also leads the world in physical and digital sales. Their fan base is very unique and loyal. Any serious recording artist understands this and sees the value of going to Japan and sharing all that they have. I enjoy sharing what I have, my songs, my content, my stories, the people I have come from and the deep ancestral root that has linked us together for generations. The states in the US are just as excited about Hawaiian music and many people long for this spirituality we have in our music and stories whether they are Hawaiian or not. And of course for the many locals born and raised in Hawai’i including the natives that have left Hawai’i seeking financial security and opportunity elsewhere, there is a deep longing to return to our “one hanau” our birth land. So when I have the chance to perform in the states, it is a different type of performance altogether as well because I feel like I am bringing that “one hanau” to them for that instant or moment when I sing “Mehameha/white sandy beach” or other classics from the hapa haole era (1919-1950’s) like Waikiki and Pretty Red Hibiscus. Its homecoming like, and very celebratory.
You have been very active supporting your community as an artist. Is there one cause that is closest to your heart?
I am a very proud Hawaiian woman, but I am not only Hawaiian blood. I am a cosmo – a cosmopolitan. I’m Hawaiian, Haole (Norwegian, Finish, Portuguese, English) and a little Chinese, so I view myself as a world citizen. And because of that, anything that I can contribute whether I am a Cosmo or not, I am down for. Sadly I don’t tithe. Shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone. But in the ways that I can contribute I see that as my giving to the world.
If you notice, I have given to our Ali’i Foundations as well. In the age of Western Expansion in the Hawaiian Islands, much of our populations on each island were decimated by disease brought on by the early missions. Our ali’i (royal ancestry) not only created schools and prepared for their many estates, but also hospitals that tended to Hawaiians and so giving to these hospitals has been a great want of mine. I feel like I am here giving just as our ali’i did. Its very dignifying to make children smile and laugh period. And to do this while their families are going through a questionable time makes me feel good because I’m doing something, I’m holding their hand through a tough spot, I’m singing, we’re laughing I can be a goof ball too – I’ve always always always wanted to be a comedian – so its very natural. I’ve experienced a bit of this myself and having someone anyone there is a relief. During those times, anything that can distract you from that blah moment or your questions is a gift.
Before becoming a solo artist, your previous projects reflected a more “urban” pop awareness. Who are some of the mainland artists that most influenced you growing up in Hawaii?
A few of the first CD’s I ever purchased were Snoop Dogg, DMX, and Tupac. I was 12 and was very into rap and the deep conversation that would take place far far far from home, which is kinda like OZ compared to Compton and all that west side east side stuff that went on during that time. I was just drawn to this lyrical phrasing and the issues I am thankful I don’t really have to know of. I mean, here in Hawai’i, there are crimes no doubt and things that take place – but hey at least we have the ocean and the mountains and families and people that genuinely care for you in strong numbers too that you can escape to. There’s beauty here and even tho there’s a few skid rows you can easily remove yourself from them.
Other artists like No Doubt. I totally LOVE GWEN. Sade, her voice alone and her delivery and approach are so sexy – I have only seen it done by her alone, she stands alone. I don’t see anyone being able to copycat her at all. TLC, of course, and the local favorites, too, like Olomana, CnK, Kalapana, Natural Vibes, Bob Marley of course of course (I can listen to him when I’m going through anything and it’ll make me strong again), SWV, Teddy P, and Temptations. But my all time favorite voice forever will be THE Teresa Bright. Love her forever and no one can copycat her either. She is a true musician and vocalist, writer, the works. She’s amazing and I am so thankful she is my mentor.
What has been your favorite place to visit as a musician?
I love going to anywhere in Cali, SF, LA, up and down the coast, Hollywood has really dug into me as well. I do enjoy Japan very much. I like Shibuya, but the time of year is very important. I like to go when its cold because Japan can get very hot and the humidity is just nothing I have ever known. And it can be inescapable. I do hope to get to the East coast one day and NYC especially. I don’t care if I have to perform in a dive and talk stories, I’ll do it! I’d also very much like to go to New Zealand and perform and also have a cultural exchange.
What have been some of your favorite records in 2013?
I’m really enjoying Daft Punk. I have a bit of a crush on Katy Perry. I have to say in the beginning I thought she was funny and the controversy did her well on tunes like “You’re So Gay” & “Kissed a Girl” but my guy loves her and at the time I was pretty jealous and so I didn’t want to listen to her. Anyways, the movie, “A Part of Me” really was the turning point. I didn’t think it would be entertaining, but its definitely a standout film I can watch over and over. She didn’t over expose and she didn’t over glorify herself. She was very honest and to see her endure and work her ass off no matter what she was going through, hey she had a dream and she did everything to fulfill it plus the other dreams that came along the way despite how conflicting they were at times. I have respect for her as an artist. She also attended the ASCAP EXPO earlier in April which I attended. It was a nice treat to see her being her jovial self in a room filled with hundreds of people. And I like her sugar pop music.
I love Imagine Dragons, I bought their music last year on a whim and was like, these guys are going to hit! And they did and I was so proud of myself. I know, I’m a bit of a dork…and surprisingly I am getting into country music! I love Zac Brown Band, he’s amazing. And they do reggae like songs too. Its kind of odd for me to say but some of our local music can be compared to some country tunes. And also John Mayer I love him too – and his Born and Raised album is pretty legit.