The literal definition of the phrase “kani ka pila” breaks down in this way: “Kani” translates to sound and “pila” means either any string musical instrument or to play music. In its colloquial use, the phrase “kani ka pila” simply means to gather together and play music.
Most recognize music—melody and songwriting—as simply another form of storytelling.
That’s why it’s no surprise that when my author friends Patricia Wood
and Holly Kennedy
“kidnapped” me yesterday at the Hawai’i Writers Conference, we ended up at Kani Ka Pila Grille
, an open-air restaurant at Outrigger Reef on the Beach
that features nightly live musical entertainment.
I’ve heard kani ka pila referred to as backyard-style. That is, the playing—storytelling—starts with a few musicians and, as more show up, others join in. Some nights at Kani Ka Pila Grille, award-winning Kawika Kahiapo and Martin Pahinui play; other nights, it’s some other well-known Hawaiian music great.
We had just ordered an appetizer of poke nachos—raw fish served over a crisp wonton—and some not-so-healthy onion rings and buffalo wings when best-selling author Jackie Mitchard
and her assistant Pam English pulled up chairs and joined the conversation. A little later, Karin Slaughter—author of numerous international best-selling thrillers—wandered over.
O’ahu is known as the “gathering place,” after all.
Located in the middle of the Pacific and known as the most remote body of land in the world, Hawai’i exists in its own time zone. But I think time works in another way here. More times than I can count, I run into just the person I seek, know, need, want. It’s like a conspiracy is going on. Out of the thousands of people in Waikiki, the elevator doors open and there’s one of the two people I know attending the Hawai’i Writers Conference
. I sit down in my seat at the opening ceremonies and bend over to place my Starbucks chai safely beneath my chair when a woman walks up and asks, “Is that seat taken.” I look up. It’s the other person I know.
Of course, the opposite happens, too. I hop out of my car after an evening yoga session at Diamond Head Yoga
, and there is the man who three years before berated me for what he told me—I’m paraphrasing here—was an utterly stupid idea for a book. Oops.