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Kumu hula O’Brian Eselu dies

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    In this file photo from 2009, O'Brian Eselu's halau Ke Kai O Kahiki took 1st in Kane Kahiko and also was the overall winner at the Merrie Monarch festival in Hilo.

Award-winning kumu hula and singer O’Brian Eselu has died. He was 56.

Eselu died unexpectedly at his home in Halawa. He went to sleep and was found dead in his bed this morning, a friend said.

Eselu was entertainment director of Paradise Cove Luau at the Ko Olina Resort and a winner at the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival.

"He was an important part of Merrie Monarch. … He was awesome," festival director Luana Kawelu said. "He will sorely be missed. He had vision."

His halau from Waianae, Ke Kai O Kahiki, was among the leading halau in the past several years, taking first place overall at the Merrie Monarch in 2009 and 2010. Ke Kai O Kahiki swept the male categories in 2010, taking first place overall and first for male halau, for male hula kahiko (ancient hula) and male hula ‘auana (modern hula).

The halau placed first in male hula kahiko five times, in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2004 and 2000.

Kawelu said Eselu was part of the planning group preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival in 2013.

He was known for his booming voice and his gentle nature.

Eselu studied hula under kumu hula Muriel Lupenui and rose to prominence with associates such as Lupenui’s son Darrell, John Kaimikaua and Thaddeus Wilson.

In 1994 he sang "Moku O Keawe"  to accompany the hula done by Tracie Farias who won the title in the modern category at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

In 1998, he won the "Most Promising Artist" accolade at the Hoku Awards for his CD "Ke Kumu." He also released the CDs "Aloha e aloha e aloha e" and "Maka."

He and his dancers Ke Kai O Kahiki were among the performers featured in "Hawai`i — Songs of Aloha," a PBS production that aired nationally, spotlighting Hawaiian musicians and dancers.

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