Regaling audiences at The Kahala Hotel & Resort from 1967 to 1995 with his mellifluous baritone and smiling eyes, Danny Kaleikini is an island icon. His trademark “Aloooha” is a part of the collective consciousness for generations of islanders. And last year, he released his first new recording in 20 years—an EP called, what else, Aloooha—with his grandson Nicholas Kaleikini.
Sitting in the small carpet-lined music studio carved out of the arts collective Lana Lane Studios’ warehouse in Kaka‘ako, the two Kaleikinis have a relaxed rapport and mutual respect that defies stereotypical generation gaps.
“I’ve always admired my grandfather; he’s been my father figure my whole life,” says Nicholas, “My mom was a single mother [when I was] growing up, so I always looked up to him for everything. So, every moment I get with him now in music, it’s beyond special. For me, it’s the best thing in the world.”
Still, it wasn’t what Nicholas was expecting to do when he returned to Hawai‘i in 2013, after earning a degree in philosophy and religious studies at Hamilton College in New York state, to help take care of his popo (grandmother) Jacqueline Kaleikini.
A talented musician, Nicholas says he “loosely got involved with the music scene here,” posting ads on Craigslist looking for casual jam partners. Then he started sitting down at the piano with his grandfather. Nicholas would play some chords, and Danny would sing. “Then that slowly developed,” says Nicholas. “I built a very makeshift studio in his closet—that’s when we actually started to make music. When I was a kid, he would call me on the stage at the Kahala to sing a song. In high school, I played the clarinet, but I never expected to be doing actual projects or writing songs with my grandfather.” To see them perform together, just head to their website.