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Cajun album wins regional roots category at Grammys

    Kamaka Kukona’s album “Hanu ‘A‘ala” is nominated for a Grammy in the regional roots category. “Besides going through my uniki (training to become a kumu hula), doing the album was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Kukona said.

For the fourth year in a row, a Cajun album has captured the Grammy in the regional roots category that includes Hawaiian music.

Jo-El Sonnier was named the winner for its album “The Legacy” during the nontelevised portion of Sunday’s 57th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Maui kumu hula Kamaka Kukona’s “Hanu ‘A’ala” album was Hawaii’s only regional roots nominee. The other nominees were Native American Joe Tohonnie Jr. and Cajun acts Bonsoir, Catin and the Magnolia Sisters.

Kukona, 37, was not immediately available for comment, but in an earlier interview the soft-spoken singer-songwriter said that attending the show as a Grammy nominee was a dream come true.

Hawaii native Daniel Ho, nominated for best world music album, also will not be bringing home a Grammy. The winner in that category was “Eve” by Angelique Kidjo.

Ho, who now lives in California, was nominated for “Our World in Song,” along with Wu Man and Luis Conte. He already owns several of the coveted trophies, won during the period when there was a separate category for Hawaiian music album. 

In 2011, as part of a Grammy overhaul, the Recording Academy abolished a number of niche music categories, including best Hawaiian music album. Hawaiian, Native American and Zydeco or Cajun music were merged into the regional roots category.

Since that happened, the Grammy has gone to Cajun or New Orleans-based “roots” artists.

Kukona’s unanticipated journey to the Grammys began almost five years ago when he decided to record a few songs he had written. The album was completely self-funded and took almost four years to complete.

The time invested was well spent. “Hanu ‘A’ala” began circulating among Kukona’s friends and the members of his halau hula on Maui and in Japan. Radio airplay on Maui helped him reach a larger audience leading up to the 2014 Hoku Awards. Live television coverage at Hokus made Kukona and his album known across Hawaii and beyond.

The songs on Kukona’s album represents Hawaiian music old and new. There are standards (“Hole Waimea” and “Waika”) and originals (“No Uka Ke Aloha” and “Eo Hana”), modern singing and traditional chanting. Kukona sings lead, does all the harmony parts, and accompanies himself on pahu and ipu. The musical arrangements represent several styles of Hawaiian music and are played by top studio musicians.

Watch a delayed telecast of the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS, or watch live coverage at

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