A Finely Tuned Family

The Kawakamis – (from left) Alx, Sarah, Carla, Lloyd, Rachel and Nick – are a family that plays and works well together.

Composed of Lloyd, Nick and Alx Kawakami, MānoaDNA is proof that an ‘ohana that works cohesively can do so much more than just make beautiful music together.

If the Kawakami family of MānoaDNA fame celebrates the new year with more verve than usual, there is good reason. 2018 is a turning point in its family and business ventures marked by significant growth and changes.

That in itself is reason to cheer, but something more groundbreaking and symbolic is at play. Their story reflects the dynamics of a modern family who uses the power of synergy and collaboration to excel in music, business and life.

While second-generation patriarch Lloyd Kawakami claims things happen serendipitously by “going with the flow,” there are success benchmarks that would indicate otherwise. Natural talent, opportunistic instincts and rapport with people on both sides of the Pacific have led them to an exciting juncture.

Lloyd is “D” (Dad) in the MānoaDNA band, with “N” standing for eldest son Nick and “A” being younger son Alx. Meet other family members, including someone new, by reading on.

What has brought them this far and what tracks lead them to the promise of tomorrow? A song list analogy tells their story well. So here are the top hits on the Kawakami parade of accomplishments.

ManoaDNA – made up of Lloyd, Nick and Alx Kawakami – formed in 2005.


Formed in 2005, MānoaDNA recently released its fourth album, Family Memories, which commemorates more than a decade of entertaining appreciative audiences in Hawai‘i and Japan. The album also represents their last recording with Nick, who will be leaving the group to concentrate on his growing real estate career. Fortunately, Lloyd and Alx will play on.

The latest recording features the best of MānoaDNA, according to Lloyd’s wife, Carla, who writes liner notes for the band’s albums.

“Listen and reminisce of years gone by and the family journey we were blessed to have navigated,” she writes. “Original theme songs, covers and hula songs in three-part harmonies … exemplify MānoaDNA’s decade of growth, both vocally and technically.”

The Reef at Waikīkī, written by Alx, hails performing at the Outrigger Reef hotel, where the group headlined weekly gigs at Kani Ka Pila Grille. Love with a View, co-written by Alx and Jon Yamasato, demonstrates fine-composing abilities enhanced by Alx’s mentorship in Los Angeles with award-winning producers such as Ken Caillat and Eric Berdon.

“I was able to refine the songwriting and production process to be much more polished,” Alx, 31, says of his Mainland training. “It gave me a chance to become more of a professional in all aspects of music.”


January marks the return of MānoaDNA to the tour circuit, with concerts in Yokohama, Fukuoka, Kyoto, and Harajuku, Japan.

It also is Nick’s aloha performance, although spontaneously luring from the audience family members such as he and Lloyd’s hula-dancing sister Patty is a show tradition.

MānoaDNA is popular in Japan and recognized for family values inherent in a father-sons act that works cohesively and well together.

“With the way societies are changing and traditional values giving way to independence and counterculture, people see in us strong family values,” Lloyd says.

That goes well with innate talent. Pitch-perfect vocals are due to tight timbre as a family unit. It’s what brings fans to concerts time and time again, along with clamoring for recordings and social media connections.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawai‘i. With Kawakami’s descendants among the first arrivals who settled on Kaua‘i, MānoaDNA will be involved in commemorative observances in Hawai‘i and Japan.

The new year also brings a new member to the Kawakami family. Punahou graduate Nick, 34, married ‘Iolani alumna Rachel Gibson in October, bringing a beautiful addition to the clan.

“I wasn’t sure I would go on a second date with a high school rival,” Nick smiles. But it all worked out.

“Not only did I find my dream person,” Rachel says,” but he comes with this great family. I’m all in.”


The main building between Pi‘ikoi and Pensacola streets near Ala Moana Center, houses another dream that Lloyd, 64, contemplated for years. Soon a cooperative of family-owned businesses will come together at ‘Iolani Center, offering a new experience for shoppers and music lovers.

Among the tenants are KoAloha ‘Ukulele and Purve, a coffee and donut shop. The collaboration brings together individual and family-owned ventures that support each other and share ideas.

The Okami ‘ohana of KoAloha, for example, are longtime friends of the Kawakamis. MānoaDNA uses KoAloha ‘ukulele, as do musicians such as Daniel Ho and Herb Ohta Jr.

A focal point at the ‘Iolani Performing Center is a stage and gathering spot where convivial jam sessions, fashion shows and socializing can take place. Imagine the lineup of local luminaries both MānoaDNA and KoAloha will attract.

It demonstrates the synergy of music and fashion in the Kawakami lifestyle.

“Music has always been in our life,” Nick says. “My father has played music professionally, and my brother and I were members of bands in high school and college. Our first MānoaDNA gig as a family was at E&O Trading Co. at Ward Village.”

Since then, a legion of fans follow their music and moves, from tourism marketing tours in Japan to night club and community gigs in Hawai‘i.


The family’s apparel business, ‘Iolani Sportswear Ltd., observes its 65th anniversary this year. The kama‘āina company is synonymous with aloha wear and island-inspired fashions. Three generations of Kawakami’s have guided this local company from its humble aloha shirt-making roots to the global entrepreneurial venture that it is today. Sportswear such as co-ords and tracksuits are becoming very popular all over, not just in Hawaii. People are getting into the fit way of life and enjoying the new clothing that they can get that suits their fitness style.

Founders Keiji and Edith Kawakami, Lloyd’s parents, launched the company in 1953 with a small two-room shop on Beretania Street within view of ‘Iolani Palace. Keiji, a World War II veteran of the legendary 442nd regimental combat team, opened shop with four sewing machines and seven employees.

“I used to work after school and in the summer,” recalls Lloyd, who took over as president of ‘Iolani Sportswear in 1988. “I felt a responsibility and commitment to carry on something great.”

Carla serves as the company’s chief operating officer, while Alx – who dropped the “e” from Alex for a “cool” stage name – is in charge of operations and his wife, Sarah Kamalei (Noyle), is retail and merchandising manager. Both lend youthful energy and creativity to extend the ‘Iolani brand to a new generation of customers.

Hula-dancer Sarah inspired the company’s Kamalei line of elegant ladies wear in fabrics that look well and dance well. It is sold exclusively at the ‘Iolani retail boutique, 1234 Kona St.

In addition to fine men’s and women’s apparel, the boutique features children’s clothing, accessories including Sanrio’s Hello Kitty mascot, locally made snacks, and engaging displays that recall the history of ‘Iolani and island fashions.


So it portends to be a landmark year for the Kawakamis, who blend music and fashion into a synergistic force. As they enter a new era, they reflect on the wisdom of ‘Iolani founders Keiji and Edith Kawakami, who professed that “The business is not the legacy. You (individuals) are the legacy.”

Keiji contended, “I started this business not to pass it on, but to give us the means to live a good life and to follow our dreams.”

His heirs have taken his advice to heart, with each accomplished family member demonstrating the fine art of living a legacy.

Turn up the volume. We can’t wait to hear the next tune.