Don’t be tantaran.
That’s singer Danny Kaleikini’s secret to success. His folk wisdom means don’t be headstrong and arrogant. It’s a personal value that has worked well for Danny, taking him from humble Papakolea to posh Kahala in an eminent entertainment career.
Now he’s passing on his knowledge and music mantra to his grandson Nicholas Kaleikini. They also perform together.
Can the strains of old Hawaiian standards cross over to modern music where fickle fans love you or leave you at the drop of a download?
To watch and hear Danny and Nicholas Kaleikini perform together is to experience the timelessness of music. Melodic chords and inspiring lyrics from a 79-year-old grandfather and his 27-year-old grandson reach audiences of all ages. Everything old is new again.
‘ O makalapuaulu mahiehie
‘O ka lei o Kamaka‘eha But Danny — also called Kaniela — knows that vocal or instrumental talent is only one dimension of showman-ship. Delivery and charisma must be part of the equation. These are intrinsic qualities that come from the soul of the performer.
Nicholas is quick to define the quality that sets apart his famous granddad.
“That’s what aloha is,” he says. “It’s creating a connection with audiences, breaking down barriers, and making strangers feel like family. My grandfather has been doing it for years.
“I find the current music industry and even society have veered from the communal connection between people,” Nicholas says. “We continue to divide and isolate ourselves in a competitive and chaotic world.”
But Danny, Hawaii’s ambassador of aloha, has made a career of spreading goodwill all over the world. His distinctive baritone voice and island-inspired wisdom make him an iconic representative of Hawaii.
“The more aloha we share, the better,” he proclaims.
What else does Nicholas draw from his famous grandfather?
“He always told me in his local twang, ‘If you dress nice, you act nice, people going be nice to you. If you dress kapulu (careless, sloppy), people going treat you kapulu.'”
It’s a simple saying with prolific meaning and comes from the showman of the 1950s and ’60s.
Aloha, aloha, himeni na mele o ta aina …
Next to Duke Kahanamoku and Don Ho, Danny is one of Hawaii’s most recognizable personalities. He headlined the Hala Terrace showroom at the Kahala Hilton for 30 years, breaking new ground in 1967 when he inked a five-year contract for $1.5 million.
“You never hear about these long-term contracts at hotels anymore,” Nicholas says.
Add to that distinction the fact that Danny is the only person to have had an official Hawaii Visitors Bureau warrior marker sign placed in his honor in Waikiki (since stolen by an overly avid fan).
Those days are over, but the adoration of local and international fans continues.
Now the child that I face, how familiar he seems,
He’s wearing my eyes and living my dreams
Nicholas, son of Danny’s daughter Keikilani Kaleikini, spearheads their recording projects. A classically trained musician, he is a producer at Lana Lane Studios and director of POW! WOW! School of Music, a mentoring program for young musicians who learn composition, recording, performing and business skills.
In 2015, Danny and Nicholas produced and arranged their first extended-play album titled Aloooha. The jazz and blues-influenced recordings of Hawaiian standards showcase Danny’s vocals backed by saxophone, piano, acoustic guitar, upright bass and clarinet. Musicians featured on the EP are Nicholas, Jeff Au Hoy, Dan Del Negro, Curtis Kamiya, Alika Lyman and Wil Tafolo.
The album was nominated for EP of the Year at the 2016 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
Their second recording, released last year, titled Mahaaalo, debuts original songs Aloha, Ku‘uipo, and Beyond the See. Dae Han and Lanihuli Lee joined the musician lineup for this EP recording.
“The beauty of Hawaiian music is that it is very much like blues,” says Nicholas, who remembers being stage-side to his performing grandfather at age 5. “There are simple patterns and chords. So we take Hawaiian tunes, change the progression, add a bit more color and include my sax.”
“He adds the salt and peppah,” Danny chimes in.
“It’s like Hawaiian scatting,” Nicholas adds.
Ku‘uipo is written for Nicholas’ grandmother, Jacqueline Kaleikini. Beyond the See is a tribute to musician-friends who have passed away, such as Bob Nelson and Eddie Kamae.
“We’ve learned so much from these guys,” Nicholas reflects.
And when I dream of you, I dream of a heart in two … Music mentoring is a meaningful part of the generational bond between Danny and Nicholas. Both lament that performing arts are not more prevalent in school curricula.
Danny recalls getting valuable lessons from legendary masters such as Hilo Hattie, Ray Kinney and Al Kealoha Perry.
“Mine was on-the-job training,” Danny says of his music development. “I’m proud that Nicholas has a formal education and a degree. He knows what he’s doing musically.”
Nicholas played classical music on the clarinet at Punahou. He took up the saxophone while earning degrees in philosophy and religious studies at Hamilton College in New York.
“He’s the star of tomorrow,” Danny hails.
Nicholas, vice president of the Danny Kaleikini Foundation, a charitable trust started by his grandfather, respects the heritage that is his.
“It is my responsibility to give back now and follow his footsteps in the right way,” the young man says.
Oli no au i na pono lani ou E Hawaii, aloha e.
His grandfather has donated time and energy to more than 100 community organizations through his foundation.
Danny also is devoted to revitalizing an ancient Hawaiian fishpond in Kahaluu with his business partner Linda Wong. Through the efforts of their company, World of Aloha, the partners created a place where Hawaiian culture and history are preserved.
Preserving Hawaii’s arts and culture plays out many ways, including on the musical stage.
“Hawaiian music is always strong,” Nicholas says, “but other genres are emerging from the range of fine talent in our state.”
Yet, Danny observes, “Live music is a tough field. Venues survive only if people support them. We’ve got to keep ’em local and keep ’em Hawaiian, especially at our hotels.”
If Danny and Nicholas have their way, their sound of music will continue to reverberate throughout the Islands and elsewhere. Best of all, the traditional music of Hawaii will not be forgotten. Nicholas and fellow musicians know how to add just the right styling to reach new audiences while appealing to purists who enjoy the familiar strands of an old tune.
The best of yesterday, today and tomorrow. That’s Danny and Nicholas Kaleikini’s repertoire. None of it is tantaran.
Nicholas Kaleikini directs the music program for the 2017 POW! WOW! Hawaii Feb. 11-18 in Kakaako, featuring a block party and installation of creative wall murals. Visit powwowhawaii.com.