The Creative People of Molokaʻi Offer Heartland Authenticity

In 1997, Molokaʻi's first recording studio, a start-up operation called Monkeypod, took a big risk. It released a CD of songs by a 15-year-old boy raised in a remote "backside" valley. Today, Darrell Labrado, the "Kid from Molokaʻi," is a household name in Hawaiʻi, whose later albums set new sales records and garnered praise from national music critics.

Another young musical genius from Molokaʻi is Raiatea Mokihana Maile Helm. Her sophomore CD "Sweet and Lovely" earned her an unprecedented Grammy nomination for solo female vocalist.

Hawaiʻi pays attention to Molokaʻi.

In the 50th state, Molokaʻi is the native heartland. It's the only island with a majority population of native Hawaiians. While tourism flourished, Molokaʻi defied commercialization. Residents, regardless of their ancestry, feel first and foremost that they are Molokaians.

In Hawaiʻi, people know that anything coming from Molokaʻi will be unusual, strong, and done well.

The high quality of Molokaʻi's creative people is evident in the fine products of the island's artists, carvers, weavers, quilters and more.

Some of the most incredible wood workers come from Molokaʻi. Jack Ewing takes full advantage of the density and color of Hawaiian hardwoods to create bowls so thin that they glow when held up to the sunlight. Victor Lopez sculpts stunning marine art from pieces of rough wood. He learned the art of wood working from his late father-in-law, Bill Kapuni, who was revered for his deep-toned pahu drums made from 80-year-old coconut trunks and lidded wooden urns called ʻumeke.

Some artists practice skills so rare you won't find them elsewhere. For example, Lola Spencer used a state foundation grant to learn the endangered craft of weaving lau hala, the leaves of a Polynesian coastal tree related to the yucca. Her hats are masterpieces – tight weave, lovely shapes, and a highly disciplined control of color and pattern.

Molokaians like these are true originals.

So is homeboy Rik Cooke, whose credits include National Geographic and a fascinating coffee-table book of island portraits. In 1989, he and his wife Bronwyn created a retreat center called Hui Hoʻolana, a gathering place for "creativity, healing and the arts." Set in the cool uplands of Kalaʻe, the Hui offers a schedule of live-in courses on subjects such as Rekindling the Creative Spirit, Quieting the Mind and Waking Up in Paradise.

Perhaps the most colorful of Molokaʻi's creative souls are Jonathan and Daphne Socher. They stumbled on this outpost island nearly 30 years ago and decided to open a business that it certainly didn't have – a design shop for making kites. Today, the Big Wind Kite Factory and its Plantation Gallery Gift Shop still inhabit the same building it originally established in the tiny town of Maunaloa. The Sochers continue to design and craft their colorful flying concepts, and travel abroad to kite festivals every year, bringing back new ideas, huge dragon and eagle-shaped kites from Bali, and plenty of interesting merchandise for their gift shop, which stocks sarongs, souvenirs, jewelry, beach supplies, exotic tribal art and the largest selection of books and CDs on the island.

For three decades the Sochers have made good on their belief that Molokaʻi visitors eventually, inevitably discover the essence of the island, which has something to do with the wind and more to do with play. Says Jonathan, who is as big-bearded as Saint Nicholas: "Molokaʻi is for people who don't need anybody to tell them how to relax."

In short, keep your eye on the creative people of Molokaʻi. The island has great power and many teachings. People who know Hawaiʻi are watching Molokaʻi because this island has something peculiar and genuine to offer. Its residents are independent, honest folk, proud of their island home. They create in the spirit of its wild isolation.

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