Opening with song and a broad smile, he declared “I’m proud to be Hawaiian!” Then elaborated, “I’m a proud, innovative, modern Hawaiian,” before explaining that the black coat he sported—replete with military medals, a gold braided aiguillette, and a cape lined with purple satin—was in honor of King David Kalakaua, the last king to rule the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. Sometimes called The Merrie Monarch, Kalākaua “revitalized and perpetuated hula and Hawaiian language and brought it back to us,” said Peʻa, “because that was banned in our culture.”
It was the Hilo-born musician’s third Grammy win and he remains the only Hawaiʻi artist to win the Best Regional Roots Music Album category—which is dominated by Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco bands—since the Best Hawaiian Music Album category was eliminated in 2011. Born Trazaara Kalani Juanito Pe‘a, the 39-year-old won in the same category with his first album, “E Walea,” in 2017, and his second, “No ʻAneʻi,” in 2019.
Thanking “God and the goddesses of the universe,” he gushed, “Oh, man, I’m so overwhelmed with joy,” before going on to say “Mahalo” to his collaborators on the album, titled “Kau Ka Peʻa” meaning “hoist the sails.” Peʻa dedicated the award to Uncle Aiau Koa, his 12-string guitarist of six years who appears on the album, but passed away last fall.
He then gave thanks “to my beautiful mama,” who was in attendance, and his manager-husband, Allan B. Cool, with whom he shared the stage. “I love you, honey,” he said. Then, turning back to the audience, he stated, “We own our own music. Every independent artist should own their own music and thrive!”
As the band slowly began to play him off the stage, Peʻa concluded by saying, “For all the young boys and girls who identify themselves as transgender, straight, bi—whatever color of the rainbow—be authentic, be real, be you, be true to yourself!”
And that he certainly is.