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Go ahead, try this... Tune your radio to any Hawaiian Music Station... Hawaiian KINE 105.1, Island Rhythm, KCCN FM100, 102.7 Da Bomb... Chances are you'll hear the soothing sweet sounds of Keahiwai.  Whether it's Baby I, Over, Promised Love, or Waikiki, Keahiwai's first release titled "Local Girls" has gone ballistic, filling Hawaii's airwaves and CD players with multiple smash hits.

And yet, the girls that make up Keahiwai, Lei Melket and Mailani Makainai, have remained "down to earth" even as their career has headed into orbit.  No frills, no pretense, no ego's... just two local girls out to entertain and have a great time doing it.

Upfront, candid, funny, and charming are words I would use to describe these two... They have developed a strong bond together - one of friendship and support.  

They had a lot to say to Hawaii411, and here it is:

Hawaii411: We looked at your website, and it mentions that you two have opposite personalities. What are you two like?
Mai: I would say in the beginning we may have been opposite, but nowÖ
Lei: Itís kind of hard to say, because Mailani was more passive.  To me it seemed like not as much would bother her as it would bother me.
Mai: I'm easy going,  Iím pretty laid back and flexible.  If there are certain things that would irritate Lei, they wouldnít get to me as bad. I think Leiís desire to strive for perfection is so much stronger than mine, not that Iím not a perfectionist, but Iím more like a "Itís better than nothing" person.
Lei: And Iím like, "Ooh, we gotta do it right and letís do it this way."  Iím not high-strung, but compared to Mailani, Iím more high-strung.  If somebody does something wrong to us, Iím the one who goes, "What?"
Mai: And Iím like, "No worry, theyíre just dumb," and Leiís like, "Hell no."  I do get bothered?  If someone says something bad about us... but Lei would take it to another level, like write to the editorÖ

Hawaii411: So who came up with the name Keahiwai?
Mai:
We both did.
Lei: It was my Aunty that came up with the name "Fire and Water" but I didnít like it so I just threw it in the back of my headÖ then Mailani said, "If we put it in Hawaiian, it wonít sound as bad..."

Hawaii411: It sounds great to us... and we're both part Hawaiian.
Lei:
We almost changed it because people were telling us that nobody would remember it.  We were told that it was not grammatically correct Ė itís not literally fire and water, itís watery fire.  We were told to totally change it, so we wouldn't offend anyone.  We tried, but nothing came out.  Nothing even wowed us at all, so we just figured we'd keep it.
Mai:
We tried. Lei and I would spend hours and have whole meetings about the name.
Lei:
They worried us so much about the name, but it ended up being okay.  We get heat from some of the Hawaiian language students, but not enough that we have to change it.
Mai: And not enough to hurt our feelings, because we know itís wrongÖ we try to make it known that we donít mean to offend anybody.
Lei:
So we tell people that itís "roughly translated"í to "Fire and Water."  Some people just donít like it, but thatís fine with us.  

Hawaii411:  Did you play sports in high school?
Mai: We were both playing basketball, thatís how we met.  Lei was our point guard.
Lei: Not a very good oneÖ I might start playing again though.
Mai: Good, because weíre going to start playing in another league.  Co-ed, but itís fun.  Iíd rather play against guys than girls because, you can beat up on guys.  I feel bad doing that to girls.

Hawaii411.com: So, for the male fans out there, is Keahiwai single?
Mai: Iím engaged.  (Sheís wearing a engagement ring with a maile lei style setting)

Hawaii411: And you Lei?
Lei: Single.
Mai: She's the smart oneÖ she's the picky one.

 


Keahiwai Quotable:
Mai: Weíre both tomboyish.  What Lei is wearing now, she would never wear, because itís girly.  Even the high heels... I mean the first time I saw her in a dress, I was so happy, because she looked so good! But at the same time I was like, "What? Whereís your hat?"


Keahiwai Links: Keahiwai.com - The girls official website NaleooKeahiwai.com - Great Fan Site!



Buy the Local Girls Album direct from Island Groove! Click Album to Order

  
Hawaii411: So how did you get started in music?
Mai: We started together at a school talent show.  Prior to that, we both had no idea that the other had any musical talent.  It was just a basketball thing up till then.  Then I started playing ukulele.  The reason I started playing ukulele is that you always see all these boys playing and you never see girls playing, so I wanted to do it.  I was pretty junk, I didnít take any lessons.  My dad taught me a few things, but I mostly learned on my own.  Then one day Lei shows up while Iím strumming away and goes, "I want to try."  She takes it from me and starts doing all these Kaíau Crater things.  I was so astonished (Lei learned from Roy Sakuma)Ö so later on in high school (Leiís senior year) she asked me to be in the talent show.
Lei: I didnít know Mailani sang.  We were in class, and her and her sister were up there singing, and I was like, "Oh my gosh."  I had no idea she could sing like that, so I thought we should just try.

Hawaii411: Lei, did you sing before that?
Lei: Iím not really a singer.
Mai: Yes she is, she just doesnít know it.
Lei: (laughs)

Hawaii411: Lei, did you pick up guitar just for the group?
Lei: Yeah.  My dad taught me "Stairway to Heaven" when I was really youngÖ both of our Dads were musicians when they were younger.  My dad played in a Rock band, he played bass and guitar.
Mai: My dad, was in a choir.  He played with Chris Kamaka (of Hoíokena).
Lei: My dad taught me a little bit of guitar, and John (Yamasato) told me I should pick up rhythm guitar instead of just ukuleles.

Hawaii411: How have you changed since high school?
Mai: We had to get jobs and go to school Ė with that you get more mature.  You have to grow up and pay taxes.  It has a huge effect on someone going from high school to college.  Thereís time management, especially with our group, it (being a musician) is a lifestyle.  I would say that we have to be more responsible.  I donít know if Iím more responsible, but Lei is very responsible.  She keeps me on it, more that I could keep myself on it. She does a lot for the group.  She keeps up on our e-mail, which I will forever thank her for.  She keeps track of our web page.  Sheís more knowledgeable about promotion.  I just go up there and sing and smile and be nice.
Lei: I think Iím more of the business side of the group. 

Hawaii411:  Was the Talent Show the start of your professional career?
Mai: No, it wanít even close to it, but it was the start of our musical relationship.  We would practice on our own, just for fun.  Lei went to college, and I would go to the dorms and practice.
Lei: Keahiwai was created four years ago.  We started playing at my Auntieís coffee shop (Coffee Cove down by the University).  Thatís when we started, but we never aspired to be this Keahiwai Ė we just wanted to play until Jon (Yamasato) asked us if we wanted to record.

Hawaii411:  How did you hook up with Island Groove Productions?
Lei: We got that through Jon Yamasato.  He took us on to record with Pureheartís old producer before they broke up.  When they did break up, Jon took us with him to a different producer, so we were on hold for awhile until he introduced us to Aaron Kimura of Island Groove.

Hawaii411:  You seem to really compliment each other.  Are you best friends as well?
Both: Yeah.
Mai:  It helps with the business.  You need to know that you can trust someoneÖ
Lei: That you can depend on them.  Were lucky because we were friends first.  A lot of people start playing music and then become friends, not that it doesnít work that way too, but itís just that this way seems to be a lot nicer.  Weíve already built that trust in the relationship for years.

Hawaii411:  Do you have other jobs as well?
Lei: I work full time for Energizer.  I help merchandise the products to the stores. (Lei is a part time student right now)
Mai: Iím a part-time massage therapist at the spa at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Hawaii411: I guess weíll come and visit you!

Hawaii411:  Music, school, jobsÖ wow.  What do you do in your spare time?  Do you have any spare time?
Mai: Stay home and clean house.  Iím forever cleaning the house and my room.  Weíre so busy that everything is all over the place.
Lei: Yeah, I wash clothes once a month.  It seems funny but sometimes I feel like I really do wash clothes only once a month.
Lei: Before, I was a real party animal.  Mailani can tell you how bad I was.  When I went from high school to college, I got irresponsible at first.  It was the freedom thing, then the partying with your friends and drinking and doing all the stuff youíre not supposed to be doing.  I partied a lot, and when I turned 21, it was even worse.  Now that Iím 22, I decided that I needed to stop that.

Hawaii411.  Thatís pretty cool that you realized that so quickly.
Mai: Yeah, that is.
Lei: I saw it as a destructive path.  Mailani doesnít even know this.  Right before Christmas I made up my mind that I just need to stop doing this.  I wanted to drink all the time and always party.  I wanted to always be out and party with all my friends.  It was getting kind of stale Ė doing the same routine over and over.  Now I go to church every Sunday.  Thatís what I do in my free time now, spend time with my Mom and my sister.
Mai: Thatís good Lei.
Lei: Thanks.
Mai: Iíve pretty much always been a church go-er on Sundays.  I used to be a back-up singer for my cousinís reggae group.  Weíd play every weekend prior to Keahiwai getting together.  Weíd play at these clubs really late, and from that, I got tired of it.  Thatís why I never go out after gigs now. 
Lei: And I would be, "Come on, letís go."
Mai: I would just say, "No, I donít wanna go."  I just feel like Lei and I are giving our best to everyone, and this is it. Iím giving my energy, my jokes, and whatever it is, and when we get off, the adrenaline is gone.  Itís like, okay, Scooby-Doo (Maiís favorite show) is on, and I just want to watch my cartoons.

Hawaii411:  Are you surprised by how fast Keahiwaiís celebrity has risen?
Lei: Itís definitely surprising.
Mai: It was unexpected.
Lei: In a way itís harder, because we felt we needed to live up to higher expectations.  It was also easier because we didnít have to work as long as other people may have had to.
Mai: I would say it was hard until the CD came out (Local Girls).  It took so long for the CD to come out.  It took seven months from the end of recording until it was released.
Lei: We actually had two years (from the start of recording to release) of frustration.  We wanted to quit.
Mai: We felt that it was just a dream and that was all it was ever going to be.
Lei: Now that it is here, weíre thankful.

Hawaii411: What are some of the highlights of your careers?
Mai: Meeting Na Leo Pilemehana.  My favorite and all time idol is Theresa Bright, but I have always looked up to Na Leo.  When we were in intermediate school, they were just slamming out songs that were beautiful.
Lei: We used to sing their songs.
Mai: We tried to copy their vibrato.
Lei: When we fist met Na Leo, we were at "Birthday Bash." They were a little preoccupied, so we didnít get a chance to talk with them, but now, Iím really close to Nalani Choy.  Sheís actually the one who invited me to church, and now I go every Sunday.
Mai: I think itís good because Nalani has made a good impact on the both of us.
Lei: Whatever I learn from Nalani, I share with Mailani.  Itís nice to have that outside help.

Hawaii411:  Where have you traveled to?
Mai: Washington.  We played at the University of Washington Luau.  That was by far the most enjoyable gig we have ever done.  It was before the CD came out, and they loved us and we loved them.
Lei: That was the highlight for a while.  That was our first taste of being somebody.
Mai: We're traveling to the neighbor island a lot.

Hawaii411: Wow, youíre pretty busy.
Lei: Iíd like to say that it keeps me out of trouble, but it didnít used to. (laughs)

Hawaii411:  Itís great that you write your own songs.  Do you co-compose or is one more the writer than the other?
Mai: I would say we co-compose, but I am famous for writing half-songs.  I come to Lei and I sing it to her, and Iím like, "Lei, I need you to help me finish my song."
Lei: Thatís why weíre co-writers, because Mailani doesnít finish her songs and we might need it by a certain time, and I have to hound her. 
Mai: I look at it as, I donít really write the song, the song writes itself. Iím just the hands and the voice, thatís it.  I donít want to force it.  I donít want it to sound like that, and Iím very particular about that.  I havenít had time to sit down and go to the beach and sit with my ukulele or guitar.  Thatís the reason I write half songs.  Most of my songs I write on the throne (laughs).
Lei: I didnít know that (laughing).
Mai: I need to have that solitary environment.

Hawaii411:  So when you build your house, you need to have a room with a big bathroom in it, just to write your music?
Mai: I donít know, my okole might get numb.

Hawaii411: Good acoustics in there.
Mai: Thatís very true.
Lei:
That is so true.  I love to sing in the shower.

Hawaii411: What do you sing in the shower?
Lei: Whateverís hot on the radio, you know like, Alicia Keys, and AaliyahÖ
Mai:  Sometimes I practice and warm up my voice and sing Celine Dion, and just wail it out.
Lei: Her sister can sing too.

Hawaii411: Has your sister ever joined you?
Lei: We would be the next Na Leo if she joined us.
Mai: Probably, but I Ďm thankful at times that itís just me and Lei.  Not in a bad way, but I only have to deal with one person.  Another person might complicate things.  I can talk to Lei about anything.

Hawaii411: What is your favorite song to sing?
Lei: We have this one song that we donít perform, but we used to play it all the time at Coffee Corner.  Itís "Wasted on the Way."  The original was done by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and the Makaha Sons redid it too.
Mai:  We used to sing that song and get chicken-skin.
Lei: The words just get to you.
Mai: Itís very empowering.

Hawaii411: Why donít you sing it for the next album?
Lei: I think weíd like to keep it to ourselves.
Mai:  Itís kind of like our own little secret, not for anyone else to hear, but just her and I.

Hawaii411:  How many people in your band?
Mai: Thereís just us, but we have a back-up band that we play with.  We have a bass player, a guitarist, a drummer, and a percussionist.  We never play without them, because too many things can go wrong with others.  Plus, once youíve tasted sugar, you donít want anything else.
Lei: Weíre so spoiled.

Hawaii411: Whatís the hardest part of being a successful music group?
Lei: Pretending to be happy when you're grouchy.
Mai: Faking your smiles. It's hard.  When you're at a gig where people come to see Keahiwai, they come to see us, then it's easy.  We love playing in front of people who love hearing us, but when we play in front of people who look at us and say, 'What is this, who are these people?' - then it's hard.  Then, our name isn't selling us.  Our music has to sell us, and our voices have to.  It's just that much more we have to put into it to make people enjoy what they're paying for.
Lei: You have to be an actress when you perform, and it's not something I grew up doing and not something that I'm used to, so that takes time to get used to.

Hawaii411:  Who were your musical influences growing up?
Lei: When I started picking up the ukulele again, I wanted to be like Troy Fernandez.  I love Ka`au Crater Boys.  The style is simple, yet really catchy and they're a talented group.  That's what I wanted our CD to sound like.  Obviously it didn't end up that way.  Sometimes I listen to our CD, and think we sound like Imua, but that's partially because of Aaron (of Island Grooves who also produces Imua).  I like the Pure Heart sound, and because of Jon we sound like Pure Heart a little.  We listen to all different kind of music, so whatever comes out is probably a combination of a whole bunch of things.

Hawaii411: Do you feel like you are limited by playing Island music?
Mai: I don't feel like we're limited, but here in the Islands you need to be very particular about your sound.  You still want to be local, but you don't want to sound like everyone else. 
Lei: In a way it limits you, but then that's how it is everywhere.  You can come out with something that's in at the time so that you will get played (on the radio) or you can do whatever you like and hope that people are going to buy it.  It might not get airtime, but people might still buy it.  It depends on what your focus is.  If you are looking to get played, then you are going to have to sound similar to what's on the radio, but if you just want to play and do whatever, then you can do whatever you want, and I'm sure people will still buy it if it's any good.

Hawaii411: Have you ever thought of branching out and doing Country, R&B, or Top 40 kind of stuff?
Mai: I've thought about doing a little R&B, because I like it, and I think our voices will do fine with it.
Lei: I think Mailani's voice would do fine with R&B.
Mai: I think your voice would be fine with it Lei, and you know you can get some guitar in there and put in a little drumming.  I think that is something that we'd like to try in the future.

Hawaii411: Are you comfortable with your celebrity status right now?
Lei: Are we celebrities?
Mai: I consider myself just like anybody else, and for Lei too, I don't think we see ourselves as these big stars.
Lei: Well, we do get noticed a lot more than before.
Mai: Yeah, I'm still getting used to that.
Lei: We get noticed almost every day.  You know, they always ask, "Where's your partner?"
Mai: Yeah, they always ask me that too.
Lei: It's kind of funny.
Mai: It's funny, but it's cool too. 
Lei: If I think about it, I don't know what I would say to someone who's on the radio that I just met...

Hawaii411:  Do you get asked out by guys all the time?  Do you have male groupies?
Lei: No, not really.  There's a couple that will write us e-mails.  There's one guy though, he would write: "Mailani, you're the girl for me, and if there was one girl who could make me happy, it's you."
Mai: It's kind of spooky.
Lei: He asked for her number, and always asks for our numbers and stuff.  That makes us feel uncomfortable.

Hawaii411:  That doesn't work?  We better stop e-mailing Janet Jackson...

Hawaii411:  If music could support you financially, would you just be musicians?
Mai: I would.
Lei: If it got to the point where we were successful enough to just play music, I would. But it's hard to get to that point.

Hawaii411:  If someone came along and said, "We can make you the next huge stars, but you would have to move to the mainland and change your style", would you go?
Lei: I don't know.
Mai: I don't know either, but that's a good question.  There are all these expectations, and then what would I have to give up?  My family? My friends?
Lei: I don't know if I would take that chance.  I'm kind of happy staying here.
Mai: I'm happy staying here too. 
Lei: If that were to really happen, it would be a big issue, and Mailani and I would probably have a lot of meetings about it
Mai: (Laughing) More meetings than it took to choose our name.

Hawaii411:  What do you plan to do with your college degrees?
Lei: I would hope to become a Hawaiian language teacher.  I'll probably go back for my teaching certificate later.

Hawaii411:  Do you find any resistance because you're not Hawaiian?
Lei: Not really, but looks-wise, yeah, because I don't look Hawaiian.
Mai: Well, if you go to Kamehameha, there are a ton of people that don't look Hawaiian.  I took a class from Haunani Trask, and we had a debate, her and I.  She mentioned that she has a huge problem with people who are not Hawaiian doing Hawaiian things.  For example, people who are not Hawaiian teaching Hawaiian language, or speaking Hawaiian language, or dancing hula, etc. etc, etc.  I made a point about people who like the Hawaiian culture and immerse themselves in it.  She has a problem with non-Hawaiians telling Hawaiians who they are.  I see her point, but if you look at Hawaiians, we're all inter-racial.  It's not like you can find pure Hawaiians these days, so I don't know. 

NOTE:  The discussion went on for awhile, and you know what kind of ball of worms this is.  If you'd like to comment. please post on our message board.  Maybe we can get an interview with the Trask sisters one day.  What do you think?  Back to the subject:

Mai: I want to teach.  Actually, I want to open up a Lomi place with a Tea Bar.  It would have Hawaiian Teas, and herbal medicine, and you could get yourself a lomi.  

Hawaii411:  What advice do you have for the next Keahiwai?
Mai: Have a good time and enjoy what you're doing and have a blast.

Hawaii411:  Is there anybody out there you'd like to say mahalo to?
Mai: We'd like to acknowledge the Yamasato family.  We're not working with them now, but before we came out they really helped us a lot.
Lei: Jon and his parents were really there for us.   And Aaron is more than just a producer.
Mai: He's more like an uncle. 
Lei: Our bass player has been there for us.
Mai: He's been there for a long time, and he did it for free.
Lei: When we started, we weren't get paid, and he didn't grumble about that.  For most musicians, that's their life, so...
Mai: ... and Kalei is really talented.
Lei: I hope he likes playing us, just because he wants to.
Mai: and doesn't leave us
Lei: And the fans!
Mai: Yeah, the Fans!
Lei: And keep supporting Island Music so that everybody has a job and God Bless.
Mai: God Bless!

411 Conclusion: There have been many great dynamic duo's.... C and K, John and Randy, Batman and Robin, Ben and Jerry, Dave and Buster's... you get the idea.  The common ingredient within all successful teams is chemistry.  Talking to Lei and Mai is like playing basketball with Stockton and Malone... Each one knows just where the other one is leading to...  This chemistry plays a definite role in the success of Keahiwai - on a professional as well as personal level.  These two friends have impressed not only Hawaii411.com, but the state of Hawaii as a whole with their awesome talent and charisma.  Good going Lei and Mai, and we know we will be hearing a lot more from Keahiwai in the years to come.