Greatly impacted by her grandmother, this alumna uses music to carry Hawaiian culture and the message of aloha around the world
Not everyone has the opportunity to create beautiful music with three generations of their family, but Pomaika’i Keawe (BS ‘03) has been lucky in that regard. Since she was young, Keawe has sung and played traditional Hawaiian music with her grandmother, aunts, and uncles. She now carries on the tradition with her four children. For Keawe, Hawaii and its culture and music is about family. “This is what has sustained my family in the past,” she says, “and what will sustain my family in the future.”
Keawe’s love of Hawaiian music came from her grandmother, Genoa Keawe, a legendary Hawaiian musician. As a young girl Genoa was invited to try singing traditional Hawaiian music by a well-known radio host. She picked up the unique sound so quickly and so well that her singing style became iconic, not only across Hawaii but in other countries as well.
Not only did Genoa Keawe affect Hawaiian music culture but she also left a deep, personal legacy for her granddaughter. “She paved a path in Hawaiian music that I've been able to follow.” Since her grandmother’s death, Keawe has taken over her grandmother’s singing gigs. “Hawaiian music and culture are core values and practices in our home,” explains Keawe. “It gives us a sense of identity and helps us to have a greater understanding of our role in the communities we serve.”
Keawe never planned on attending BYU, but she fell in love with the campus on a trip to visit her cousin. And though she enjoyed her experience there, she missed the culture of her childhood. “To move to a place where the Hawaiian culture wasn’t prevalent in my daily life caused homesickness,” Keawe explains. She missed the spirit of aloha—representing love, peace, compassion, and harmony—so prevalent in Hawaiian culture and music.
Upon graduating from BYU with a degree in economics, Keawe returned to Hawaii, where she now works as a teacher and administrator. Her educational career, however, has not hindered Keawe’s passion of Hawaiian music and aloha. She and her family regularly perform in Honolulu and elsewhere for both public and private events.
Keawe typically performs with a traditional Hawaiian music group which includes a ʻukulele, guitar, and bass—and sometimes a piano, vibraphone, or steel guitar. Each of the three or four musicians provides vocals mixing harmony and melodies in a variety of styles.
Keawe views music as place to find peace and calm in the chaos of life and provides her with a way to document her life and heritage. “Music is where we preserve language and stories of our past,” she explains. “It’s what helps me to perpetuate the culture that I was brought up in and carry the message of aloha around the world.”
Full Name: Pomaika’i Keawe
Grad Year: BS 2003
College: Family, Home, and Social Sciences
Post date: June 2, 2022
Author: Meg Sheffield