In perpetuating Hawaiian culture, Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu defines, through
choreography and music, what it means for him to be Hawaiian today.
A consummate artist, Kumu Hula Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu cannot leave
tradition alone. He explains, "If you don't progress, you will
lose the future." It is not without controversy that Ho'omalu
fearlessly extends the limits of his chosen Hawaiian art forms.
With his 1999 debut recording, Po'okela Chants, Ho'omalu's
melodic chant style and mesmerizing rhythms obscure the boundaries
between traditional and popular Hawaiian music. While well-known as
an innovator in the world of hula, Ho'omalu's endeavor to evolve the
traditional mele (chant) brought him immediate attention in the world
of Hawaiian music.
The controversial move earned him both praise and criticism from every
circle. Called "inventive" and "unrestrained,"
Ho'omalu's debut album would invigorate the discussion about the possibilities
of Hawaiian music and what it means to perpetuate traditional Hawaiian
art forms in a modern world.
Ho'omalu's distinctive style captured the attention of the producers
of Walt Disney Pictures. In 2001, Ho'omalu was cast
as the voice of Hawai'i for Disney's feature film Lilo
& Stitch. Ho'omalu and Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump,
Back to the Future) co-wrote "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride"
and "He Mele No Lilo" (opening theme) for the Academy-Award
nominated film and soundtrack.
Ho'omalu performed the featured songs accompanied by The Kamehameha
Schools Children's Chorus. The performance earned him an ANNIE Award
nomination for Music in an Animated Featured Film and an APEX Award
nomination for Best Original Song ("Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride").
Children around the world now recognize Kumu Ho'omalu as the instructor
of their hula lesson on the Lilo & Stitch DVD.
Bold and sometimes brash, Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu's recordings of Hawaiian
traditional music appeal to an ever-expanding audience. His much anticipated
second release, Call It What You Like, not only topped charts
in Hawai'i upon its release, but also placed high on the Billboard
World Music Chart for several weeks in 2003.
If Ho'omalu's impact on Hawaiian music is impressive as a relative
newcomer to the recording industry, his impact on the world of dance
is equally so. In his 25-year career as a kumu hula in California,
Ho'omalu's halaus repeatedly take home honors in the major hula competitions
on the West Coast and are among a select few halaus based in the mainland
U.S. invited to compete in the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Competition
in Hilo, Hawai'i.
Ho'omalu was one of three California kumu hula that filmmaker Lisette
Marie Flanary chose to highlight in the PBS "Point of View"
documentary, American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai'i. In interviews
with Ho'omalu, Flanery explores how the practice of hula sustains
the connection of Hawaiians living on the mainland to their island
heritage. Ho'omalu's goal to have "someplace for Hawaiians to
go, to feel easy, to not feel abandoned" keeps him dedicated
to making his greatest impact on the lives of dancers in his California
Born and raised in Aiea, O'ahu, Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu began his hula
career over thirty years ago. His first professional experience, at
the age of 15, was at lavish lu'au and Polynesian productions staged
by famous composer and kumu hula John Pi'ilani Watkins. Until this
time in Hawaiian-American history, hula had been dominated by women
dancing the popular, gentle 'auana (modern) style accompanied by western
However, Ho'omalu came of age at the time when many Hawaiians began
their movements for sovereignty, and pride abounded with the sailing
of the Hokule'a (outrigger canoe sail across the Pacific using only
traditional navigation techniques). For Ho'omalu and other Hawaiians,
this was a time of publicly revitalized Hawaiian identity, culture,
spirit and voice.
Renowned kumu hula Darrell 'Ihi'ihilauakea Lupenui, Thaddius Wilson,
O'Brian Eselu and John Ka'imikaua, returned to the ancient Hawaiian
chants as the source that guided their movements in hula. Ho'omalu
joined their new halau, Waimapua, in 1976, immersing himself in its
vigorous, regimented, warrior style.
This masculine approach revived interest in hula by male dancers and
for some, discredited the stereotype that male dancers had previously
endured. From this auspicious experience with Waimapua evolved the
foundation for Mark Ho'omalu's hula education as an 'olapa (dancer)
and ho'opa'a (chanter).
In 1979, Mark Ho'omalu moved to California to teach hula with Tiare
Clifford of Tiare Otea in San Francisco. After refining much of his
teaching technique under Clifford's direction, he was introduced to
Bea and Herb Hew Len. In 1988, the Lens turned over the directorship
of their halau, Na Mele Hula 'Ohana, to Ho'omalu.
Driven by Ho'omalu's distinct style of Kupaianahula (firm style),
Na Mele Hula 'Ohana set high standards in hula competitions along
the West Coast and in Hawai'i. At the prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula
Competition in 1998, the halau's men placed fourth in the Hula Kahiko
(ancient hula) category. They returned to the Merrie Monarch each
year through 2000. Ho'omalu retired from Na Mele Hula 'Ohana in early
In 2003, Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu began anew by founding the 501(c)3
non-profit organization, Academy
of Hawaiian Arts in Oakland, California. The mission of the organization
is to offer instruction in the cultural arts of Hawai'i, including
dance, music, composition and language. Ho'omalu also established
MKH Productions, a production and publishing company for his music
and dance production projects.
Before the year was over, the dancers of Academy of Hawaiian Arts
had established their prominence by taking two first place awards
at the oldest and largest international hula competition in the western
U.S., Ia 'Oe E Ka La, in Northern California.
At the start of 2004, Kumu Ho'omalu featured the dancers of the Academy
of Hawaiian Arts at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a powerful performance
honoring the mythical shark god, Kamohoali'i, for the opening its
newest exhibit, Sharks: Myth and Mystery. Ho'omalu was commissioned
by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to compose a chant and hula for the new
exhibit. The video of the commissioned work will run with the shark
installation for the next four years.
As a designer of ipu heke, pahu drums, uli'uli and lei hulu, along
with his chanting, music, and choreography, Kumu Hula Mark Keali'i
Ho'omalu has established himself as a visionary artist of immeasurable
passion for hula and Hawaiiana.