Kaulana Pakele — Na Hoku Hanohano Award- winning member of Ehukai and the Mana‘o Company — died Monday after he was found unresponsive in the water off Makaha Beach Park. He was 47.
Looking back at Pakele’s career, “Hawaiian Music Live” host “Bruddah Wade” Faildo said Pakele “was living the dream, fronting Mana‘o Company, the band he’d always admired and wanted to be a part of. ”
Honolulu Emergency Medical Services reported that residents and off-duty lifeguards brought an unresponsive Pakele to shore shortly after 6:30 p.m. Monday. They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and used an automated external defibrillator until first responders arrived, said Shayne Enright, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Emergency Services Department.
Paramedics took him in critical condition to an emergency room. The Medical Examiner’s Office did not have a preliminary cause of death Tuesday.
Last year, the Mana‘o Company celebrated its 30th anniversary. The band’s remakes of “Drop Baby Drop” and “96 Degrees in the Shade” made them one of the leaders of Jawaiian music, which was popular in the islands in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 2001 the Mana‘o Company restructured, and Pakele joined the band as lead singer. He joined founding members Danny Kennedy, John Baricuatro Jr. and Salaam Tillman.
The following year the Mana‘o Company won Album of the Year, Contemporary Album of the Year and Single of the Year at the Hoku Awards for “Spread a Little Aloha.”
In 2003 a second recording of “Aloha” credited to Mana‘o Company & Friends won single of the year.
Kelly “Kelly Boy” De Lima, leader and co-founder of Kapena, said Tuesday that he’d met Pakele in the late 1980s when Kapena was playing the Big Island regularly, and Pakele was a “skinny Hawaiian kid” who knew the family that the group would visit while they were there.
“He was always interested (in music),” De Lima recalled. “We kept up our relationship from then, and now (my daughter) Kalenaku is the voice coach for his two kids. He was starting his own group with his kids, too, and he really looked up to what I was doing (with my kids) and he’d ask me questions about that.”
Weldon Kekauoha, a Mana‘o Company member when the group recorded “Spread a Little Aloha” in 2001, shared his feelings on social media: “I will miss you, Kaulana. Memories of you will always make me smile.”
Rolando Sanchez described Pekele as both a “good guy and a great musician. We performed many shows together, including Taste of Honolulu. I’ll always remember them.”
Musician and sound engineer Brandon Nakano said Pakele “never got too big in the head to forgo playing with his friends that stayed in Hilo. Whether it was Grayden Ha‘i-Kelly or Earl Kalawai‘a, or even even Napua Grieg as of late, his roots were still anchored in the soil of our hometown.”
Pakele achieved statewide fame in the mid-1990s as a founding member of the Hilo- based group Ehukai. The group’s recording of the song “Moloka‘i Slide” won two Hoku Awards in 1997: Single of the Year going to the group, and Song of the Year to the songwriter, Tad Suckling.
Ehukai co-founder Ha‘i-Kelly remembered Pakele in a social media post as “a humble boy from Hilo with a desire to pursue his love for music.”
“We pretty much played for love, back in the days. Kaulana found his place on stage and became a natural. I marveled at his ear for music. That is what really impressed me about him.”
Pakele returned to the local music industry in 2001 when he joined Kekauoha, and founding members Kennedy, Baricuatro and Tillman, as a member of the Mana‘o Company. He added three more Hokus to his resume when the group’s album “Spread a Little Aloha” received awards in five categories — including Album of the Year — in 2002. The group received another Hoku in 2003.
The core members in recent years were Kennedy, Pakele, Kaiea Chung and Frank Sua.
The Mana‘o Company celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019 and announced plans for new recordings.
“I will miss his infectious smile and the way he made us all feel like we were his best friends,” Natalie Ai Kamauu said via Facebook. “My last conversation with him was right before this Covid shut down. He told me about singing with his children and how proud he was of them and invited me to come listen. I couldn’t make it that Wednesday (and) that was the last one.”
Survivors include wife Lisa Huihui Pakele, sons Kainoa and Dillon, and daughters Shantil Centino and Kamalei Pakele.
Memorial plans have not been announced.
Star-Advertiser staff writer Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.