Nalani Jenkins had been making music most of her life as a singer and musician, both solo as a member of the Na Leo Pilimehana award-winning Na Hoku Hanohano trio. So in 2020, when she heard about Make Music, an international music festival that takes place on June 21 of every year, she decided that Hawaii should join the party.
“We were working with a person who had lived in France and he told me about this wonderful celebration that started there and spread all over the world,” Jenkins said. “I had never heard of it, so I looked it up and found that there were 1,000 cities in 120 countries, and I thought, ‘Where is Hawaii?’ Hawaii didn’t have a chapter.”
Jenkins thought that didn’t seem right.
“We make music here all the time,” he said. We are very good at it. And it’s such a cultural and local thing that we needed to have this celebration here and join the rest of the world.”
Jenkins stepped up, contacted the international organization Make Music, and went on to found Make Music Hawai’i. When Jenkins hosted the inaugural Make Music Hawai’i event on June 21, 2020, he had to go virtual. As venues reopened, the event took place live and in person at the Bishop Museum, in bars and nightclubs, and anywhere people wanted to make music. It continues to have a virtual presence as well.
The annual event has spread from Oahu to most of the neighboring islands, and Make Music Hawai’i 2023 will include music events on Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Oahu and the Big Island. The performances are free for all and participation is open to anyone who wants to participate and sign up.
Participants in previous years have included Jenkins and fellow Hoku Award winners Jerome Koko and Bobby Moderow, but performers of all genres and experience levels are welcome, including people who have never performed for a public audience.
Jenkins emphasizes that performers can get on stage for free, and that participation includes having the time and place of their performance posted on the organization’s website.
“The platform is a stage, but in this case it’s more of a virtual platform to highlight Hawaiian artists,” he said. “From there it’s really up to them, but I know the importance of being able to practice your craft, share it, have other people join you and enjoy it. That’s the spark that I hope will start more music everywhere.”
Among the island artists who experienced a career boost through Make Music Hawai’i is Honolulu resident Rexie Ah Chong. A veteran artist with a day job to pay the bills, Ah Chong was struggling to find club work in 2021 when the person booking acts for a Chinatown nightspot suggested he look into Make Music Hawai’i.
“I went ahead and started profiling with their online platform… and then I immediately got a call to do a quick lunchtime presentation in downtown Honolulu, which I thought was amazing,” Ah Chong said. “I was able to connect with the sound engineer (for Make Music Hawai’i) and do concerts for his company and (for) Next Door almost every month throughout 2022, and also got sponsorships through Music Day. So it’s really been a blessing in a way because I was just looking for gigs, but I got a lot more out of it.”
The connections Ah Chong made also resulted in several recordings, including an upcoming project with Hoku winner Kapena De Lima.
This year, Ah Chong is taking a break: she is pregnant and her due date is June 20.
But for Mililani resident J.Lyn, Make Music Hawai’i Day is an event not to be missed.
J.Lyn will celebrate her birthday on June 21 with a concert at Buffalo Wild Wings in Pearl City.
“I love acting. It’s my first love with entertainment,” she said. She had learned of the event through the NAMM Foundation, a support organization of the National Association of Music Merchants, when she was teaching elementary school music classes.
“During the pandemic, the NAMM Foundation was a great way for music educators to get involved in the community, and they had something called Make Music Day. After doing some research, I wanted to get involved as soon as possible. I saw that it was not only an event where people performed that day, but there was also an exchange of songs.”
It was through the Make Music Day song sharing program in 2021 that J.Lyn connected with Nigerian singer-songwriter Davani Abdul. He took one of his songs, “Tonight,” and recorded it his way; she took one of his songs and made it his way.
“It’s really cool, just to take an idea and stick with it,” J.Lyn said of the collaboration process. She’s waiting for word on a song-swapping partner for 2023, but she’s counting down the days until she takes the stage at Buffalo Wild Wings.