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Singer Faith Thompson Ako returns to Laie for two shows in March at the PCC Marketplace Gazebo

Faith Ako plays the ukulele by the ocean wearing a white ginger lei and a yellow pua keni keni lei.

Faith Thompson Ako said she was born and raised on Moana Street and left Laie at 27 with two small children. She was the youngest of 15 children and described her family as a musical one. She said they all played instruments and sang, though they had no formal training aside from the church choir. “My piano was my first love.”

Ako said she drew inspiration for her album, “Ku'u A'ina Aloha," from her childhood in Laie. “I remember [songs] from the May Day programs at Laie Elementary and Kahuku High School,” she said.

Ako returns to the North Shore for two shows at the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Marketplace Gazebo on March 14 and 19 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. each night.

Laie Heritage

She also attended BYU–Hawaii for two and a half semesters, and she was exposed to music from around the world through various clubs there, Ako said.

Additionally, she is an avid participant in hula, having found “quite a few” hula groups to work with in California, she explained. “I play. I sing. They dance,” she said. “We tell the story together.”

Her work with various hula group directors inspired and motivated her as she worked on the album, she said, because of their passion and support for her.

Another one of her inspirations, she said, was Auntie Genoa Keawe, an influential Hawaiian musician who spent part of her own childhood in Laie and was also a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the NEA website, Keawe, who was born in 1918 and passed away in 2008, received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2000.

Ako also spoke of her maternal grandmother, who lived in Laie who inspired her music. She said her grandmother was blind in one eye, played the harmonica and “was a firecracker!”

According to Ako, it was through this side of her family, and this grandmother specifically, where her family gets their musical talents.

When Ako’s grandparents came to Laie from Samoa, she said, Laie was a “purely Hawaiian” town with very few Samoans. She said her grandmother, a “visionary woman,” was the one who prompted the move. “She said, ‘We’re gonna go on a boat somewhere. We’re gonna go on a mission,’” Ako said. “That mission was to Laie.”

Ako said her grandfather, a carpenter, helped build the temple, as well as the Church College of Hawaii (now BYUH).

Her Album: “Ku'u A'ina Aloha”

“Ku'u A'ina Aloha” contains two songs written about Laie: “Nani O Laie” (“Beautiful Laie”), and “Laie Kuu Aina” (“Laie, My Beloved Land”). The latter was written by Sam Kamauoha during the 1940s, and Ako said she received permission from Kamauoha’s family, who are from Laie, to cover it in her album.

Ako said it was common for Hawaiian artists to go to a certain beach, hill or mountain to cultivate the feelings they needed to write their music. “I can’t do that,” she said, “because I live here in Northern California, and right now it’s about 40 degrees.”

“If I lived at home in Hawaii, it would be so much easier for me,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate it until now that I’m older and have lived in California for 37 years … When I’m home in Hawaii, I look at the mountains and the ocean, and it brings on new meaning for me. How did I not realize [how beautiful it is] growing up here?”

Many of Ako’s family members live in Hawaii, and she is able to visit frequently, she said. On one such visit in 2015, she took the photo that is now the cover of her album. In the background of the photo is Mokolii, or Chinaman’s Hat.

Another topic on “Ku'u A'ina Aloha,” which took four years to record and produce, is the Savior. The song “Your Love” is written about him, and Ako’s feelings about “what our Primary teachers … [and] kupunas used to talk about.”

Ako said her entire album, not just “Your Love,” was inspired by “all the church leaders I’ve ever had,” including Primary and Young Women’s leaders.

“The Church has always been great about teaching … music from a young age,” she said.

A Family Pride & Joy

Hope Moea’i, a Hauula resident and Ako’s older sister, said she was proud of her sister. “I always think of my mom as looking down on her with pride.” Moea’i said her favorite song on the album is “Nani o Laie.”

“She didn’t mention it,” Moea’i said of her sister Ako’s nomination for the Hawaiian Album of the Year award. “She didn’t dwell on it.” The nomination came as a surprise to Moea’i, but she thought it was well-deserved.

“Every album I think she’s just getting better and better,” Moea’i said. “Ku'u A'ina Aloha” is Ako’s 4th album.

Ako said she received and continues to receive a lot of support from her family with her music career. Moea’i said Ako always makes them feel very appreciated.

Chauncey Ako, an adjunct faculty in Exercise Science, and Faith Ako’s son, said when his mom first went into music professionally, he was shocked. “I was a senior in high school … We said, ‘You’re too old already, Mom!’”

He said his mother worked incredibly hard to record and produce her albums, and that he was “extremely, extremely proud of her for following her passion.”

“She never would have thought about getting this nomination 25 years ago,” he said.

His own children, he said, love “Ku'u A'ina Aloha” and play it “all the time” at his house. His personal favorite songs are “Nani o Laie” and “Your Love.”

His children provided vocals for the song “Keiki O Ka Hula,” but they didn’t hear the song until the album was released.

“I feel blessed and privileged to have her as a mother,” he said. “I think this is full circle for our family, and our [great-]grandparents who came to build the temple and had a vision of thriving in Laie.”

New Releases

In December 2021, Ako released a new single, a duet with her cousin and BYUH alumnus, Joe Napeahi. Ako said she returned home, they recorded the single in studio on Dec. 9, and “nailed it!” The song, “Behold Laie,” has been sung by many people before at town gatherings and functions, said Ako, but she and Napeahi are the first Laie residents to record it.

She credited Esther Macy, a music teacher at Kahuku High School, for encouraging her to record “Behold Laie,” and also thanked Honolulu-based Dave Tucciarone, music producer and recipient of the Grammy Award and the Na Hoku Hanohano Award, for the use of his studio and recording equipment.

“This one’s for you, Laie,” Ako said. “Behold Laie” is available to listen to on Pandora, Apple Music and Spotify.

Ako will also be performing in Northern California at the Blue Note Napa on April 12 at 8 p.m. She said people can get ticket information on her website faithakomusic.com.