Kona childhood friends, musicians win contest’s popular vote to perform at 808 Day
August 1, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
* Updated August 1, 5:19 AM
Musicians Abe Van Meter and Makana Keana’aina have been playing island reggae and hip hop music together on the Big Island since childhood, when they would jam in the stairwells at Kealakehe High School or meet at the beach with their ‘ukeleles and perform before friends after paddling together at the Kailua pier.
They played in bands for talent shows with dreams of competing in Hawai’i’s popular talent showcase of the time called Brown Bags to Stardom.
Now, a decade later, their dream of winning a contest has finally come true. But this time, it was for a spot in the 3rd annual 808 Day Celebration concert on Aug. 5 at the Kona BREW.
They won the popular vote in the festival’s contest for local artists to earn a spot in the music lineup. In June, Van Meter and Keana’aina, who both will be turning 30 this year, submitted their original track ‘I’ā l’ū’ and a music video created in Kona by Paradise Crush Studio and Kalehua Kaiawe. “I’a I’u” or “Yeah You,” is an Hawaiian slang term that means “thank you” or “good job.”
They won, beating out several other competitors over the islands.
The duo, with Keana’aina calling himself Haku Po, will be part of the festival lineup that includes headliners Irie Love, Through the Roots, Landon McNamara, as well as DJ Hapa Boy and These Guys w/ special guests Ikaakamai and Ka’ikena Scanlan.
‘I’ā l’ū’ reflects the duo’s style of music.
Keana’aina, whose parents are entertainers and hula dancers, said he grew up around music his whole life and describes his style of songwriting and performing as “the modern day Oli [chant].”
“When I flow, that’s what I hear in my ears…that ta-ta-ta,” he said.
And now that sound is reflected in their music.
“No matter where we went, it always came back to that, no matter what we were trying to explore,” Van Meter said.
With around 900 votes, the two said they were humbled that their hometown supported them, but also were not surprised because of their childhood jams at the beach.
“We always brought that vibe with us and the people voting for us already knew because we’ve always played music in front of them,” Van Meter said. “They saw us competing and probably thought – it’s about time.”
Their journey has been one of trial and error.
“We’ve had a hard come up,” Van Meter said. “We had to go through different trials, playing with different people and meeting different people, and finally figured out what we wanted to do. … When we were younger, we were just doing the band thing.”
He said he was drumming at that time, and Keana’aina was singing and playing base, and they were always playing backup.
However, the experience was valuable, Van Meter said. It helped them figure out what they wanted to do and pushed them to become independent artists.
“That was huge for us though because that experience, growing up, and moving forward from that, made me realize the things we needed to do to make it a success because the band thing never worked out,” he said.
“We knew what we wanted to do, but didn’t know how to project ourselves to do it at that time,” Keana’aina added.
One of those hurdles was trying to figure out how to record their music.
“Studio time is very expensive,” Van Meter said. “As a come-up artist, you don’t know if people are going to rock with your music. So it’s hard for people like me, working a regular job like we all do, trying to pay for studio time.”
Van Meter is a security officer at Kona Village and has worked as a chef at various resorts over the years, while Keana’aina pours concrete when they’re not making music.
So Van Meter decided to pave his own way, and during the COVID-19 pandemic he built his own in-house studio called Kona Towns Finest Music, where he would record hip hop tracks.
“I was stuck at home and at that point we didn’t know how long we would be in lockdown, it was pretty indefinite at that point as to when we were going to get out of it,” he said.
And at the time, it had been years since he and Keana’aina collaborated.
“We stayed in touch and jammed and cruised, but weren’t pursuing the music,” Keana’aina said. “But we never really gave up on it either. We were getting older and had to find jobs, but whenever we got together, we would jam. We still had the want and drive to record and make music, just didn’t have the tools.”
Van Meter said he wanted to have everything set up for when he and Keana’aina teamed up again.
“I wanted to be ready to tell him, ‘Hey, come now. Everything is ready,'” he said.
With the new studio they started creating music and putting it out on their social media, as well as live streaming platforms. They started to perform live together and collaborate with other local artists such as Berts Beats, who will also be performing with them on 808 Day, as well as local dance group Bebeh Stepz.
Van Meter said he hopes to give other local artists a chance to produce and record at his studio.
So as the two gear up and look forward to connecting with other 808 Day performers, they hope to give back to other independent artists on the island in the future.
“If I try to make a come up by myself, it’s almost impossible,” Van Meter said. “But if I bring up all the talented artists around me that I grew up listening to and playing music with, then we all come up as a wave and we take over Big Island like a wave and everybody gets to shine.”
The two will be performing at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 5. at the 808 Day celebration, in which 100% of profits from ticket sales and beer sales will be donated to the BIG Dreams Foundation. For more information visit www.the808day.com.