The Sound of Silence
The local music scene refused to keep quiet during the pandemic.
Instead, Hawai‘i artists got creative with new ways to connect and spread the aloha spirit through their music.
✏️ NATALIE SCHACK
📸 JOHN HOOK AND COURTESY OF THE HAKU COLLECTIVE & INTERNATIONAL MARKET PLACE
To say 2020 was a quiet year for the entertainment scene would be an understatement. With everyone tucked away in their homes, the city’s usual hustle and bustle seemed to transform overnight into a scene of silence.
Honolulu’s local musicians, however, are not the type to stay quiet. Instead, they seized atypical 2020 as an opportunity to find new ways to create connections through song, even as social distancing put an end to live shows and gatherings. That meant participating in projects like International Market Place’s virtual series, which created spaces for artists, cultural practitioners, and storytellers to share their work safely over Facebook Live and YouTube. Some of the island’s biggest and most exciting musicians joined in, but it was only one step in their pandemic journeys, which tested their creativity as communicators, artists, and community members.
Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Entrepreneur
Kimié Miner was at a career high when the pandemic shift happened. Not only was she slated to present at the Grammy Awards, she started the year celebrating a nomination herself for Best Regional Roots Music Album. As co-founder of talent production and management group Haku Collective, she was also excited for the ways her business would expand and grow in 2020.
Fast forward to March, and instead she found herself juggling the stress of being a mother (she welcomed her third child during the pandemic), an artist, and an entrepreneur in a difficult, unprecedented time.
“All of the issues that we’ve gone through over the past year … it’s been a lot,” Miner says. “It’s about hope now. And it’s about sharing positivity, and it’s about helping. To let people know: We’re all in this together.”
To cope, she found solace in her work as well as in her professional and personal relationships. In fact, one of Miner’s goals during the pandemic was to find a way to continue to bring artists together, like with her Mele in Hawai‘i virtual concert series, which supported more than 50 artists from around the world. She also dove into more collaboration, working with young musicians on the full-length album Children of the Sea.
Though the pandemic may have changed how she nurtured her creativity and relationships, Miner didn’t let it stop her from doing what she does best—producing art.
“You just want to celebrate the good moments that we have and commiserate through the bad ones,” she says. “And even though it’s so hard, you’re not alone.”
Ukulele Virtuoso, Composer
For Taimane Gardner, the pandemic allowed her to form a meaningful musical connection with someone she doesn’t get to focus on in her typically packed touring schedule—herself. The first three months of 2020 saw her jetting from Germany to the U.S. East Coast to Samoa; when the world locked down, she found herself grounded, and no one knew how long it would last.
For Gardner, though, it was a blessing in many ways. “I loved being in my home with my boyfriend and being able to see Hawai‘i in a fresh way that I knew I would never see again,” she says.
Gardner spent her time taking sunset jogs, diving into the songwriting process for her upcoming album, recording tracks at the Mānoa studio out of which she works, and prepping her new drummer for the return of live gigs in the post-pandemic future.
Her new album, slated to come out later this year, explores her cultural background through Polynesian myths. Having the time and space to sit with and dive into those concepts made the year particularly special from a creative standpoint.
“It’s the extroverted and then the introverted side, you know?” she says. “It was a lot of extroversion [before], which is great! But you also need that introverted time to write the music that everyone wants to hear.”
Alx Kawakami’s 2020 calendar was booked solid. He had moved back home to Hawai‘i from Los Angeles to pursue a local music career in 2016, and since then had been steadily building a schedule that included shows in Japan, local concerts with big names such as Henry Kapono, and regular live gig bookings across the islands. Then, everything screeched to a standstill.
At first, it seemed like a welcome break for Kawakami. Suddenly, he, like the rest of the state, found himself spending a lot of time at home. But that meant a lot less time doing one of the things he loved most: playing for a crowd.
“At first, my thought was, ‘All right, cool. We’ll take a month off.’ It’d be the first time in my life that I took some time off,” Kawakami says. “About two weeks into the quarantine, I started to get antsy. I felt like I had to do something to play music.”
He took to Instagram Live to broadcast his own backyard jam sessions, and the enthusiastic response from Instagram users extended beyond the islands. Kawakami realized the platform was a unique chance to connect with new fans, affording a more direct, intimate level of connection that he normally wouldn’t be able to offer in an in-person concert setting.
Instead of managing the energy of a crowd, he was responding and reacting to one-on-one feedback from users. And because the videos took place in his own backyard, viewers got a more personal glimpse into his life—even meeting his baby son, who often gets involved in the jam sessions.
“It took a little time for me to get used to playing to a camera and watching comments pop up, but I got into a rhythm of how to talk to people.” The live streams were such a success that by the spring of 2021, Kawakami had played more than 100 shows.