‘AHAmele – Oakland based Hawaiian Music Ensemble


‘AHAmele is the performing group of the Hawaiian Music Ensemble of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts (AHA) located in Oakland, CA. Led by Kainani Hartnett, the group performs a rich repertoire of traditional Hawaiian songs with fresh arrangements that emphasize the members’ various talents.

Academy of Hawaiian Arts Website

AHA Hawaiian Music Ensemble Class Page


I learned from interviewing Kainani Hartnett that many members of ‘AHAmele have been there since the group’s inception in 2004, when it was still known as the ‘Ukulele Music Ensemble of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts. What everyone has in common according to Hartnett is, “…we all really love Hawaiian music… [and] have the same desire to make it sound good and to learn it correctly.”  The members of ‘AHAmele consider each other friends and many have been playing together so long they are able to instinctively play off of each other. The ‘AHAmele sound is a reflection of how the group members sound together.

Hartnett is the official director of the group and is responsible for arranging the songs ‘AHAmele performs, but many of the key elements and “bits of flavor” within the arrangements are added by different members of the group. Hartnett selects traditional Hawaiian songs for the group to play and likes to “put a little something to it” such as rhythms and harmonies. She trusts every group member’s ability to contribute to the music in different ways.

“…if one person’s missing, there’s that part missing. It’s very much a group effort. I hope that—I feel like this is a very dedicated group. It’s amazing. I feel like it’ll keep going.”

This dedication and group effort extends off stage as well, with group members contributing their time and skills (graphic design, accounting, organization, etc.) to benefit the group. Members will carpool together for performances and rehearsals. ‘AHAmele is a community and it is evident when everyone is together. The sound ‘AHAmele produces during performances displays its group dynamic.

Biography of the Director

Kainani Hartnett is the creative director and guitarist of ‘AHAmele. She was born and raised in Hilo, later moving to Honolulu, Hawai’i. Kainani fell in love with Hawaiian music at an early age but it wasn’t until she was away at college on the mainland that she taught herself to play Hawaiian songs. Kainani’s ear for music and language helped her navigate the transition from listener to performer.

After college Kainani settled in Boulder, Colorado where she danced with a local hālau and was their primary musician. She also taught keiki hula, preschool, music for elementary school ages, gave ‘ukulele and guitar lessons, and performed with a trio. Her aptitude for interpreting pieces of music and ability to communicate and bring to life that interpretation with an ensemble has made her a natural teacher and director.

In August 2003 Kainani relocated to the Bay Area with her family and immediately joined the Academy of Hawaiian Arts as a dancer in the hālau. She started teaching the AHA music ensemble in April 2004. She is currently the director of ‘AHAmele and teaches keiki hula at the AHA hālau.

Interview Excerpts from Interview with Kainani Hartnett (05/08/2014) at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts (10700 MacArthur Blvd. Suite #3-D, Oakland, CA 94605). Interviewed by Sarah McCarthy.

On arranging songs…
“I’m lucky because I get to play the songs I like. I tend to like to traditional songs a lot, but I like to put a little something to it—like we’ll put a little rhythm to it or we’ll add harmony, echo things, or different things. …if I weren’t here at the Academy, I probably wouldn’t feel like it would be okay and acceptable to arrange songs the way we do, in a creative fashion. Because Kumu [Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu] does that—it’s his way—[laughs] and he’s our leader of this hālau. I guess knowing that he likes the creative bend on things, we do that with our music. I feel like that’s permission to do it. Because I don’t have Hawaiian blood I would have felt uncomfortable just doing it on my own, but being part of this—that’s what we do.”

On the future of the group…
“Well I hope it never ends. …everybody has their own thing they bring to it… So if one person’s missing, there’s that part missing. It’s very much a group effort. …I feel like this is a very dedicated group. It’s amazing. I feel like it’ll keep going… Basically, I hope everybody stays… we’ve become really good friends.”

On the Hawaiian Music Workshops held on the fourth Sunday of the month…
“To me the words are the important thing. When I started doing the workshops, I started gearing it towards beginner learning how to play ‘ukulele, but I realized… that the songs w[ere] actually what was most important to me, so I started calling it Hawaiian Music Workshops. So whatever you play, you can even just sing, whatever you play doesn’t matter, you’re going to learn to play by learning the songs. Strumming along.”

Video and Photographs from ‘AHAmele’s performance on  May 18, 2014

‘AHAmele and AHA Keiki Hula Dancers performing at the Satsuki Bazaar & Arts Festival May 18, 2014

The festival space (panoramic view from the side of the stage at Satsuki)

Panorama of Stage

Hula dancer Cindy joins ‘AHAmele on stage during “Hilo Medley”

Hula 5 edited

Researcher – Sarah McCarthy

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