The New Hawaiian Love Songs

“Working in a grind / But I don’t really mind / ’Cause I know I’m gonna make it happen,” sang Anuhea (Jenkins), lyrics from “Barista by Day,” one of the tracks on her self-titled debut album. The song was inspired by a feeling of promise she felt even as she was making ends meet slinging lattés in Paia, a short trip from her hometown of Makawao, Maui. “She was barreling down the do-it-yourself path,” says Wyatt, whose clients have included the legendary Keali‘i Reichel and chart-topping Na Leo Pilimehana. It was around then that he discovered her. They met at the cavernous, acoustically chaotic Hawaii Convention Center. She serenaded him on guitar. “I was convinced right then [that] she could become the biggest star I’d ever worked with,” Wyatt recalls.

What followed was confirmation. “She’s a great songwriter and a great performer and—just as important—is a tireless, hands-on worker,” he says. “That’s the magic combo to become something special. I’ve got plenty of gold and platinum on my walls. But Anuhea will be the biggest success story of my career.”

Drawing crowds of up to 1,000 on tours, she played more than 100 headline shows across the United States in 2011 (not counting Hawaii). 2012 is looking even busier. Anuhea will contract to be distributed by Universal Records and continue to do what she loves best: Perform and record her own music for a growing fan base. Her home will still be Hawaii. “I can’t live anywhere else,” she says.

Hawaiian by blood, Anuhea spent her childhood and teen years in Hawaiian-only school. The new album, “For Love,” is about growing up and her life experiences, says the 26 year old. “The last album was about how boys suck,” she laughs. “Now, I’m writing about my personal journey, growing up as a woman. I write about my own life.”

Anuhea, who won the Na Hoku Hanohano (Hawaiian Grammy) for Most Promising Artist, considered the accolade to be “Not an award, but an obligation,” she says. “Hawaii is not only what people think it is. There’s more than palm trees and hula. I don’t want to change anyone’s beautiful idea of what it is, but I do want to show them more.”

There’s a sweetness, an innocence, to Anuhea’s tunes, as well as an unmistakable Hawaiian influence. “But I was also raised on MTV: Salt ‘n Pepa, TLC and NSYNC [were some favorites],” she says. “I listened to everything the average mainland kid did, but in addition to that I had the Hawaiian music and culture.”

As for her own sound, Anuhea classifies it as a hybrid of American pop, tradition Hawaiian mele and reggae. It’s fun, catchy and there’s no need to worry about parental advisories.

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