By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor in Chief
Love is something that the three members of Na Leo know a lot about. Nalani Choy, Lehua Kalima Heine and Angela Morales, who have been performing together since their childhood days, often sing of love in their signature harmonies.
They will be performing for the first time at the Aratani Theatre on Feb. 15, in a special benefit for the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
“We’re known for our love songs, we’re hoping to put together a night of Na Leo songs, romantic and hula songs,” said Choy, in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.
The band members first met in seventh grade at Kamehameha Schools, where they were members of the concert glee club. Since those early days, they have released 18 CDs and racked up 22 Na Hoku Awards, the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
Their first hit, “Local Boys,” written in 1984 when the trio was still in high school, is a breezy ode to the cute Hawaiian boys down by the shore. As they’ve matured, their songs have turned to themes of family, love, and the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.
“The song ‘You Don’t Remember’ is the one that gets requested every Mother’s Day where moms are honored. I think you write about what’s important to you,” said Choy.
The women have managed to build successful music careers, even as they juggle the demands of raising families. They write their own songs, often drawing from experiences from their lives.
“We have 10 children between the three of us. Our career has always been worked around family and our kids, so we don’t tour as much as some of other artists do,” she said. “We try to look for opportunities to perform at nice arts centers, where our fans can have good sound and good lighting and we can give them a nice show.”
Choy recalled a turning point when a couple of their songs made the national charts.
“The girls and I sat down and talked about whether we wanted to take the next step — it was a conscious decision not to,” she said. “We looked at that lifestyle and what it would entail, all these relationships of musicians, broken marriages. We decided we would make our families our priority. It’s a decision that we never regretted.”
Choy is the band’s manager and handles the business side. Besides Na Leo, the three friends keep busy: Choy is vice president of Communications Pacific, a public relations firm. Before that she was a branch manager for the Bank of Hawaii in Haleiwa and Waialua.
Morales can be seen as “Aunty,” performing at Disney’s Aulani Hawaii Resort & Spa, and Heine is active with the King Kamehameha Festival.
Na Leo has a sizable fanbase in Japan, where they tour frequently. While familiar with Tokyo, Choy said this may be their first time in Little Tokyo.
“Not sure if we’ve ever played in Little Tokyo. We’re looking forward to playing there. After being together for 30 years, this will be a new one for us.”
Choy said that the group hopes to get into the recording studio later this year to work on their next album. She says the childhood friends have no plans of settling down.
“Angie has the first grandbaby of all of us and she says having grandkids is the best. I’m sure there’ll be grandkids in our future, but I’m sure it won’t stop us from continuing to perform,” she said.=
Na Leo performs at the Aratani, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo, on Saturday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m. To purchase premium tickets ($150 includes concert, pre-performance dinner and Na Leo meet & greet) contact Janet Hiroshima at [email protected] or (213) 628-2725, ext. 12.