The Music in Vee
Ana Vee burst upon the music scene last year with “Hawai‘i,” a song that caught the attention of pop star Janet Jackson. Now, the once-shy songstress is ready for a bold encore.
Singer/songwriter Ana Vee has been part of the island music scene for only a couple of years, but she’s already rocking it with scores of musical achievements to her name.
Her big break came when she released her third song last year, Hawai‘i, which won an Island Music Award for Song of the Year. The catchy tune and lyrics made it an instant ear-worm. Even pop icon Janet Jackson couldn’t resist singing along, which she posted a video of on social media.
“By far the highlight of my career is getting to perform on stage at a sold-out arena at the Blaisdell with Janet Jackson,” shares Vee. “Her team reached out to me and asked if I would be open to duetting Hawai‘i with Janet Jackson and I said, yes, of course.”
Not a bad gig, especially considering it was just her second time performing on a stage on O‘ahu. Her first was the night before at a MayJah RayJah event at Aloha Tower Marketplace.
“It was just amazing,” recalls Vee. “I wish I could go back and relive that night.”
Born Analee Viena-Lota, the singer grew up in ‘Aiea and graduated from Kamehameha Schools before going to California State University, Northridge on a basketball scholarship. She earned a degree in tourism and travel management, with plans to move back home and work in Hawai‘i’s largest industry, but landed in radio instead.
She became an on-air personality for 102.7 Da Bomb, and then joined the morning crew on 93.1 Da Pā‘ina (now HI93) with Kaleo Pilanca and Big Teeze. A self-described shy girl, Vee admits it was a surprising change of career path, though a kismet one.
“I kind of just fell into it,” she explains. “My background, as an athlete, I’m always up for a challenge and pushing myself in different directions, and exploring and seeing what else I can do or how far I can take it. The radio thing kind of just happened, and it was like, whoa, this is kind of cool. I guess I have a voice.”
With a taste of the entertainment business, Vee decided to break out of her shell even more and moved to Los Angeles to try acting. She enrolled in an acting school, and ended up helping write and direct a short film that made it into the Los Angeles Film Festival. But it’s music that was in the stars for her.
“From acting, I ended up meeting a lot of music people, and I started to realize that I love songwriting and I can kind of sing, and that’s kind of where it started,” she says. “(Around that time), my grandfather was getting rid of his guitar, and I have fond memories with him and the guitar, so I ended up asking him if I can have it. He was like, do you know how to play? (I said) no, but I’m gonna learn. I watched YouTube videos … and started singing songs and writing my own songs.
“Socially, nobody knows me as a singer. Growing up, if you talk to anyone in my family, I would barely speak. I think radio and acting helped me be a little more comfortable with being vulnerable. So, in 2018, I put out my first single called One Time, and once you put something out there, you can’t stop, so that was it.”
Her first project, Written, was nominated for EP of the Year at the recent Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, and she’s now working on her next EP to be released early next year.
“My goal is to continue to play and write music that inspires individuals,” she says. “I want to work with Janet Jackson again. I’m a big writer, so I really want to try to get placements, as far as writing credits, for some big artists, and I want to win a Grammy. That’s the dream.”
Among her musical influences are Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Bob Marley, the Jacksons and Bruddah Iz. But music was also a big part of life at home, as her mom, Namahana Lota, has had some hit songs herself.
“Even though I grew up around it, I was not that kid that would stand up and sing for everyone,” she says. “I would just be in the corner smiling … cheering my mom. I’ve always appreciated music, but at the time I never thought it would be possible for me to be a singer or an artist. My childhood was basketball. I was always at the park, at the gym, anywhere with a basketball. So, when basketball was done, I was like, well, you know what, I’m going to try singing — and I’m glad I did.
“I hope that my journey inspires the dreamers. If you have a dream and you’re passionate about something, don’t be afraid — just go for it. Don’t let failure determine or stop you from what it is you want to do, and don’t worry about what other people say. It’s your journey. Just continue to be the best that you can be and continue to move forward. My favorite quote that I love is, ‘Preparation meets opportunity.’”
In the end, her philosophy is simple. “My mom always says just be true to who I am and always remember God. Say your prayers, say your blessings and just be you.”
These days, Vee splits her time between Hawai‘i and LA, where she is now. She plans to return home next month, when you’ll find her at the beach, eating her favorite island foods and spending time with loved ones.
“I love lū‘au stew from Papa Ole’s Kitchen, or if someone wants to cook it for me,” she shares. “And I always make sure I make Sunday dinners at my big mama’s (grandma’s) house in Honowai. It’s a family tradition.”