Maui’s award-winning music program aims to produce the next wave of Hawaiian artists

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Hawaiian Music Institute program at UH Maui College is helping produce the next wave of Hawaii songwriters, artists and sound engineers.

“We have a number of them working in the industry. Most notable is probably a group from Maui known as the Kuikawa. They took and graduated from our program about three years ago,” said IHM Director Keola Donaghy.

Each student graduating from the two-year study gets a certificate. Throughout the course, they are supervised by professionals.

“We’ve always leaned on that a lot, bringing in professional musicians to help mentor our students and help prepare them for careers in the recording industry,” Donaghy said.

For four semesters, students learn the Hawaiian language and how to put themselves in song properly. They are serious about their craft.

“A lot of students who come to me come specifically to reinforce their knowledge of mele, the textual part of it, the songs,” Donaghy said.

The bulk of the students live on Maui, but some have come from neighboring islands.

Last semester, IHM’s first cohort of Molokai students won the prestigious Na Hoku Hanohano Award. Their compilation CD, “Awaiaulu’ la E Ke-Aloha no Moloka’i” was their flagship project.

“I was at a music conference in Portugal at the time, watching on the computer. It was disbelief. But it just shows the level of talent that’s out there.

After navigating through the challenges of the pandemic, Donaghy said the program was on hiatus but plans to resume in the spring semester with some changes.

“We hope things will change and we will be able to face to face full time again, but also provide the option for students who cannot make it to Maui. They can also access all of our documents online,” he said.

When he started the Institute of Hawaiian Music a decade ago, esteemed slack key guitarist George Kahumoku made sure tuition wouldn’t be an obstacle — and it wasn’t.

“At this point, not a single student who has taken our program has had to pay their own tuition fees. We were able to cover it through our scholarship fund,” Donaghy said.

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