Feeling Right At Home In Kona

Photo by Karen Anderson

Even though it might be more convenient for me to be on O‘ahu, coming back to the sanctuary of Kona after being on tour is a blessing because it’s way less fast-paced here.

Savoring the languid West Hawai‘i lifestyle while juggling a busy schedule of touring, recording, songwriting and motherhood, top-selling recording artist Anuhea admits that living on the Big Island adds a few more interisland miles to her travel itinerary, but the extra effort is all for her son, Ikena, age 4.

“Raising my son on this island close to his father’s family is worth it for me,” says the Maui-born songstress, who has called Kona home for the last four years. “I take my son with me on tour as often as I can. He just started his second year of pre-school, so I strategize my touring calendar around him. When he was a lap child, I took him everywhere: Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia. Even though it might be more convenient for me to be on O‘ahu, coming back to the sanctuary of Kona after being on tour is a blessing because it’s way less fast-paced here. I have a great relationship with Mokulele Airlines.

They’ve been a big help and are very supportive of my career.”

In October 2017, Anuhea unveiled her third studio album, Follow Me, co-produced with Ross Vannelli, whose credits include tracks with Jennifer Holliday, Ce-line Dion, Denise Williams and more. With Follow Me, Anuhea switched things up a bit sonically, experimenting with R&B club vibes on such tracks as Right Now, or EDM-inspired sounds on Walls or Follow Me. The lead single, I Won’t Settle, is a girl-powered anthem recorded in her quintessential reggae style, but the poignant ballad How Not to Hurt You ranks as one of the standout tracks.

“That is my favorite song on the album,” she says. “It’s right from the heart.”

Photos courtesy ANUHEAJAMS

Just last month, she re-released the album exclusively in Hawai‘i as Follow Me: Deluxe Hawai‘i Edition, offering two previously unreleased bonus tracks highlighted by You Had Me at Aloha. The self-designed CD packaging features liner notes, photos, lyrics, guitar chords and a foldout poster.

“I’m still very much a DIY artist where I pay for my own music videos, do my own graphics and arrange my own tour schedules,” she says. “For the new deluxe-edition CD, I designed a brand new cover and all the insides, too. You can find it at Walmart, and a portion of the proceeds goes toward my scholarship foundation.”

A nonprofit venture, Anuhea’s Aloha Always Foundation Scholarship fulfills a longtime dream of the singer, helping to empower Hawai‘i’s youth by granting scholarships for higher education. This August, Anuhea announced the first recipients, awarding three $1,000 scholarships and five $250 scholarships to applicants who exemplified dedication, big dreams and “aloha vibes.”

“We raised funds through two big shows on Maui at Charley’s restaurant, where I used to play in the early days of my career,” she says. “This has been a passion project for me. I’ve been wanting to do something involving education for years. I come from a family of teachers, including my dad, my grandmother and my great-grandmother. We had awesome applicants this first year. Some are going to community colleges, and others are attending universities. I want to grow the scholarship each year to allocate more per island.”

Anuhea grew up in Makawao and attended Kamehameh a Schools-Kapālama in Honolulu, developing a wide variety of interests that included sports, filmmaking and music. Her musical roots derive from her aunt, Nalani Choy, a member of the famed trio Na Leo Pilimehana. Anuhea remembers watching her aunt’s group occupy the upper echelons of Hawaiian music royalty for decades.

After years of hard work honing her musicianship, writing songs and performing in clubs and restaurants on Maui, Anuhea released her self-titled debut album in 2009. With radio hits in Hawai‘i like Big Deal and Right Love, Wrong Time, the album shot to No. 7 on the iTunes Pop charts, No. 4 on the R&B charts, and No. 3 on the World/Reggae Billboard charts. That same year, Anuhea won Most Promising Artist and Contemporary Album of the Year at the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. In 2011, she was the headline act at the NFL Pro Bowl halftime show at Aloha Stadium.

As her fan base swelled both here and abroad, she decided to fund her follow-up album via a Kickstarter campaign. An instant classic, For Love spawned major radio hits in Hawai‘i, including Higher Than the Clouds, Simple Love Song and Come

Over Love, which reached No. 1 on every Hawai‘i and Pacific Island music radio station in 2012. The album itself became Hawai‘i’s No. 1 album at the time, and was nominated for three Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards.

Her third album, Butterflies: Anuhea Live, was released through Mailboat Record, a Jimmy Buffett label. She reached the World Albums charts again with her Shoulders EP in 2016. After Follow Me, she recently collaborated with her favorite reggae band, Katchafire, on the song Ain’t Gonna Give Up. The songstress continues to attract a strong following on the mainland, particularly in California, where upcoming gigs will take place in Napa at the Blue Note this month.

These days, Anuhea finds inspiration exploring the beauty and majesty of Hawai‘i Island. Her favorite beach is Pine Trees (Kohanaiki). She also likes taking stay-cations in Volcano Village.

“Volcano is such a powerful place,” she says. “I ended up writing a bunch of music there once, and recently stayed at the same vacation cottage again. We could really feel the energy and experience the vibes. I love driving around the Big Island. Waimea is also a beautiful place for me to visit. I love it there, especially the restaurants. Here in Kona, I like eating at Poi Dog Deli and Umekes. I did a CD release party at Umekes. If you follow me on Instagram, I post all my favorite local-girl things to do and places to go.

“I really do love it here in Kona.”