Kepa Keeps It Positive

Music is in the blood that runs through Kepa Kruse’s veins, and sharing stories is what makes him tick. His latest album, Electric Island, is a modern story of a Hawaiian boy growing up in the Islands who chooses to follow a road of positivity — the songs were created to help spread a message of inspiration to younger generations.

Kruse says he’s lucky to be able to do something he loves so much.

“And then you get to share it with people, and the best part is that it’s received,” he says.

The journey started when kupuna Helena Santos placed an ukulele in his hands.

“I remember one day I was getting ready to go play kickball with my friends, and she called me over,” says Kruse, who was attending Hanalei School at the time.

She insisted he play the instrument instead.

“I kind of liked it,” he says.

Kruse continued to play while attending Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, from which he graduated, and recalls carrying an ukulele in his backpack and having “battles” with his friends in the hallways.

“It was like the Hawaiian culture version of the show Fame,” he jokes.

The Kauai native eventually learned to play guitar and bass — and now he’s learning how to play the piano. “My whole mantra is to use what you’ve got. You’ve only got what’s available to you, so find the best way to make that useful,” says Kruse, who wrote, sang, played and mixed all the songs on Electric Island, while engineer Ron Pendragon did the mastering.

Kruse has plenty of stories to share, including what he calls the “privilege” of growing up on both sides of the island. His late mother, Keani Reiner, who died when Kruse was only 12 after a long battle with breast cancer, lived on the North Shore, and his father, John, resided in Koloa. His parents were original crew-members on Hokulea’s inaugural voyage to and from Tahiti in the 1970s.

“I was kind of the first child born of the canoe,” says Kruse. His father continues to be heavily involved within the paddling community and is almost finished building the 72-foot double-hulled sailing canoe Na Mahoe. Kruse says he learned plenty of lifelong lessons from both of his parents’ sailing knowledge, including the ability to plan and reach goals.

“A big part of it is having the vision — visualizing what it takes to arrive at a destination that you cannot see,” he says.

One thing he did not plan for but was an unexpected surprise was winning a Na Hoku Hanohano award for Best R&B Hip-Hop album of the year for his first album, Coconut Wireless.

“That gave me huge opportunity,” he says. “I was probably the most surprised person there in the room.”

He made the album while living in Los Angeles, where he studied acting. Though he landed several roles in feature films including Forever Strong, he still missed the Islands, and creating music was his way of coping.

“The industry was a harsh reality check for me,” says Kruse.

He missed his friends, surfing and, above all, the feeling of ohana, especially having lived at Koloa Camp as a child during a time when everybody knew their neighbors. “It was a real humble beginning. I never grew up having a nice home and nice stuff, but I always had appreciation for my neighbors.”

So, on April 2, 2012, coincidentally his 30th birthday, Kruse arrived back on island.

“It was the best birthday present I ever gave myself,” he says.

Without much delay, he got busy working on his new album and has continued to reach out to others through his music ever since. He particularly likes to share his talent and experiences with keiki, inspiring them to be creative, and he currently sits on the board at Kanuikapono Charter School.

“I like to foster that stuff because it’s a positive way to share your feelings and it’s something you can be proud of doing,” says Kruse, who plays gigs around the island with musicians such as violinist Aowl Owen. “I’m not old, I’m not wise, I haven’t gone through very much stuff, but I can tell you about my experiences. I can tell you we’re really lucky to be here — we’re super, super lucky.”

Electric Island was released Sept 25, 2015, in commemoration of the anniversary of his mother’s death and is available on iTunes.