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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Young voices must struggle to be heard


By David Shapiro

I first heard Mailani Makainai's new CD "Mailani" when my granddaughter was grooving to it at Borders and invited me to share the headset.

I immediately thought, "What a fresh voice."

Mailani has been around awhile as a member of the groups Keahiwai and Mighty J, but she seems to have fully hit stride in her first solo effort, a mostly Hawaiian language collection that's about half her own compositions and half traditionals.

The freshness is found not only in her upbeat originals such as "Penei Iho, Penei Ae, Penei No," which she wrote with Keola Donaghy, but also in her interpretations of the classics, such as the bluesy Hawaiian backing she puts on Edith Kanaka'ole's "Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai" and her simple presentation of the Frank Hewitt hula "Te Tiare."

I don't mean to turn the column into a music review, but in a week when we're observing the 50th anniversary of Hawai'i statehood with a look to the next 50 years, Mailani's sparkling vocals got me thinking that we could use more fresh voices in all aspects of Island life.

It seems everywhere we turn politics, labor, education, the economy, transportation, housing development, the environment, native rights we hear the same old people jibber-jabber about the same old things.

It becomes an infinite loop of repeating arguments that forever run us into stalemates. It will take new voices with fresh points of view to break this self-defeating cycle and make progress on our most pressing problems.

I believe the voices are there; we just have a culture in Hawai'i that tends to discourage them.

We need to do a better job of living up to our talk about the keiki being our No. 1 priority. In practice, we often place very little value in the ideas of the young who will have to live with the future we're forging.

A couple of examples come to mind:

  • In local politics, there's strong pressure on newcomers to "wait your turn" rather than enter the fray when they think they can do a better job than play-it-safe incumbents.

    Fresh voices that manage to get elected are ostracized if they speak up too much against the old guard. Politics becomes an exercise in hoarding power rather than resolving differences.

    Those who play the game and wait their turn can have a very long wait. We have two U.S. senators in their mid-80s who have both announced plans to run for reelection.

  • There is much to admire about the high level of respect for kupuna, or elders, in the Hawaiian culture, but in the fight to resolve Hawaiian native claims, the result has been the same old people doing most of the talking for 30 years to little avail.

    Not only have they failed to significantly advance the ball in achieving Hawaiian sovereignty, in all these years they haven't even come up with a working definition of what it would entail.

    As this issue moves forward with the likely passage of the Akaka bill in Congress, I'd like to hear more from the young lawyers and law students like Derek Kauanoe who asserted themselves during the ceded lands protests.

    I didn't agree with everything they said, but was impressed by their skill in forming and articulating their ideas and organizing support, which is exactly what's needed to finally get these claims fairly settled.

    If our young people want a say in shaping the Hawai'i they'll have to live with 50 years from now, they'd better get busy grabbing the reins of power. It seldom gets passed on gracefully.