You’ve probably already heard Paula Fuga’s inimitable jazz-infused lyrics matched my Hawaiian language and instruments like the nose flute and ‘ukulele. She’s on the forefront of modern Hawaiian soul, singing about the grit and glamour of love, and everyone can relate to her.

“The music is as Hawaiian as the person playing the music,” Paula has said. Freed from the focus of preservation, she has embraced the freedom of innovation.

I talked with her last October for my Advertiser column (no longer available online), and have included our full interview below.

What I’m Reading | Paula Fuga

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

“Honua,” a collection of poetry by Sage Uilani Takehiro. She writes some in pidgin, and some in Hawaiian. She’s a local girl from Hilo.

–How did you discover it?

I met her at an event a few months ago and took her number down, and then I couldn’t remember why I had this number in my phone. Then one day this friend who’s a poet came over and she was with Sage. … She had this book and I asked her if she had an extra copy I could buy and she just gave it to me. I was so stoked. She doesn’t stick to one style of writing, it’s just whatever comes to her mind. She’s really bold, and I think it’s very real, especially growing up and living in Hawai`i and seeing the same things she’s seen.

–What do you like about it?

There’s a poem in here that talks about her father and how his words cut her…how her father says things that make her feel terrible, like kanakas are stupid or kanakas are lazy. My grandmother used to say the same thing, not realizing I am kanaka, too. I love the rawness and that she is able to express herself in the way that she needs to and the way that she sees fit. For me as a writer and a musician, I can’t be as bold as she is because I work with kids and I want to be a teacher one day and I have to be careful what I say.

–Does it give you ideas about how to be more daring with your lyrics, poetry, and new ventures, like the Lilikoi Festival?

I guess so. When I’m reading her work I’m thinking of how it relates to me and my life, and I think of how I could express certain ideas that I have in different ways—not like her, or anything like that. I am working on a book of poetry, so it was very refreshing seeing her book and know that she’s this young woman who’s even younger than me—I’m 28—and that she can do it she did it. It inspired me to continue with my book and be more bold and say what I think and not be afraid. It makes me feel a little braver.

–Do you feel able to say more with poetry than as a musician?

Yes definitely because poetry is a lot more deep. With poetry you cannot hide, versus a song. You can sing the words of your song and hide behind your melody, and sometimes people catch on and sometimes not. But if you’re reading a poem, it’s a lot more deep. I’m a lot more nervous when I recite poetry than sing a song.

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