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Five finalists named in 8th Annual Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search


WAIKIKI, HONOLULU, OAHU – The competition is heating up between five talented finalists that have been selected for this year’s Kani Ka Pilla Grille Talent Search. The finalists – Aja Gample, Naehu, Hoonanea, Puuloa and The Mz’ – will play their hearts out as they perform live at the Made in Hawaii Festival on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. where a grand prize winner will be announced.

“It is truly an honor to organize this event, that not only perpetuates Hawaiian music and culture, but allows these amazingly talented musicians to share their gifts with the world and our guests at Outrigger,” said Luana Maitland, events & activities manager at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort and music director at Kani Ka Pila Grille. “This year’s show is definitely one to watch with an exciting lineup of performances by local artists that you won’t want to miss.”

This year’s Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search finals concert will showcase traditional and contemporary musicians who entered the competition by submitting a music sample on DVD or a link to an online performance. The lineup includes:

ʻĀʻOiaAja Gample

Raised on the island of Oahu, Aja’s music talent started when she played her first chord on an ukulele at the young age of 6. Since then, her passion for Hawaiian music has grown with the help of her tutu teaching Aja the art of ki hoalu, Hawaiian slack key guitar.

Through composing Hawaiian music, Aja has made it her responsibility to perpetuate the Hawaiian language. She hopes to share her culture with the world through her passion for ki hoalu and Hawaiian music.


Having met through work at Ukulele PuaPua, Ronson Asuncion and Given Yagi started Naehu in 2014. This talented duo has performed collectively for many events in Hawaii and in Japan.

Ronson started playing ukulele at the age of 10. With the help of his family, friends and YouTube, he began his studies in vocal and learning guitar. Given began his ukulele journey at the age of 12. As time went on he began studying under Bruce Shimabukuro, Jake Shimabukuro and Benny Chong.


Prior to Hoonanea’s official formation, the group started off as a Praise and Worship Band for the youth of Saint Rita’s in Nanakuli.

Hoonanea was formed in 2015 with band members, Owali Littlejohn (lead vocals, ukulele and guitar), Lani Littlejohn (bass and backup vocals), Kevin Bechayda (lead guitar) and Joseph Peneku III (percussion and lead/backup vocals). The majority of the band’s music is traditional and contemporary Hawaiian.

“Hoonanea,” meaning to “have fun,” was suggested as the group name by one of the member’s mothers after she witnessed the positive chemistry between the four and their love to simply get together and play.

Puuloa 2Puuloa

Puuloa is the traditional place name for Ewa Beach. Since all three members hail from that district, it is fitting that they take the name of their hometown that they so proudly represent. Brandon Noeau Serrano, Andrew Kona Purdy and Christian Kalikiano Legaspi together form Puuloa.

The origins of Puuloa began back in high school. All three members studied Hawaiian music, dance, language and Pacific studies under the direction of Kumu Peter Lonoaea at James Campbell High School.

The MzThe Mz’                                                                                  

After a year of campfire and garage jam sessions, “Mareko” Medeiros and “Moon” Kahele decided that it was time to share their music with the world. The Mz’ reside in the City of Kapolei and perform original island contemporary and standard island music.

Mareko grew up in Kapolei and is a Campbell High School alumnus. His inspiration to play the ukulele came from the Kaau Crater Boys and Jake Shimabukuro. Moon grew up in the Waimanalo Homestead, but graduated from Farrington High School, and credits his mother, Lucille Kalauoakaaea, and his father, John Kahele, for allowing him to pursue music.

Traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music will fill the Pikake Room at the Neil Blaisdell Center from 3 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20, as the talented musicians perform in front of friends, family, fans and a panel of judges.

This year’s distinguished judges include:

  • Bobby Moderow, Grammy-nominee and Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner
  • Pali Kaaihue, president, Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts
  • Eric Lagrimas, instructor of Music & Entertainment Business, MELE at Honolulu Community College
  • Luana Maitland, music director for Kani Ka Pila Grille and events and activities manager for Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort

The winner will receive a one-month paid contract to perform four September Saturday evenings at Kani Ka Pilla Grille, located poolside at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. The prize also includes a personalized promotions and marketing plan consisting of a studio recording and electronic press kit from the Honolulu Community College’s Mike Curb MELE (The Music & Entertainment Learning Experience) Studios.

As winners of last year’s 2015 Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search, The Waimanalo Sunset Band’s traditional Hawaiian mele and incredible stage presence impressed the judges and wowed the crowds. Comprised of Kelii Makua, Chris “Baba” Yim, Lanakila Makua, Manuwai Mejia and Keao Kamalani, the band came to life in 2001 when originating members Lanakila Makua, Kelii Makua and Keao Kamalani regularly held ‘jam sessions’ in the backyard of the Makua ohana home in Waimanalo where melodies began to flow and the music began to blend.

As part of the Kani Ka Pila Grille Talent Search finals, The Waimanalo Sunset Band will perform from 3 to 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, followed by an autograph session.

Every night of the week from 6 to 9 p.m., and from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, some of the islands’ most notable Hawaiian musicians take the stage at Kani Ka Pila Grille. Headliners include Mike Kaawa, Weldon Kekauoha, Kawika Kahiapo, Sean Naauao, Hookena, Ka Hehena and a revolving selection of other award-winning island artists. Located poolside at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, Kani Ka Pila Grille is open daily for dining from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For reservations or restaurant information, call (808) 924-4990.