I first heard Keikilani and Leokani Lindsey, father and son singer-songwriters, at Packer’s Wharf during the visit of Hokule’a — a replica of an ancient Polynesian vessel that docked here in June of last year on her round the world voyage. I was deeply moved by their warmth and authentic joy in sharing their songs, and their ability to both write new songs and present traditional Hawaiian music with the best of the best.

This year, Keiki and Leo (as their friends know them) will play at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. They call themselves Mele’uhane (mele means “song,” ‘uhane means “spirit,” so “spirit song”). Keiki, the father, 42 years old, has been a working musician most of his life. Leo, the son, 22, began playing drums professionally at the age of seven. But it was when they came together as partners five years ago and began to write their own music that the fun really began.

Wampanoag artistans built a mishoon for Hokule'a's arrival. — Sam Low

“My dad plays something and my mind finds the perfect accompaniment for it,” Leo said. “I love working with my dad. The amount of energy we get. We just have the time of our lives right there on stage.”

“I’m honored that I get to perform with my son,” said Keiki. “It can be trying sometimes, and yes I’m critical, but Leo has shown me how good he can be. When we play with the best musicians, like John Cruz, I have to look over and make sure that’s my son.”

After seeing Hokule’a sail into Vineyard Haven Harbor and tie up at Packer’s wharf, Leo composed a song on the spot called Stars and Sails. This year, on their return to Martha’s Vineyard, Keiki and Leo will visit the Wampanoag tribe on Sunday for their annual pow wow.

“We wanted to personally thank the tribe for the reception they gave to our Hawaiian brothers and sisters when Hokule’a visited last year,” said Leo.

And what a reception it was. For the first time in 300 years, Wampanoag tribal artisans built a mishoon, a traditional dugout canoe, and paddled out to greet the Hawaiians, accompanied by cheers from hundreds gathered on land. And special ceremonies at Packer’s Wharf and on the Wampanoag reservation cemented a life-long relationship between the First People of Martha’s Vineyard and the First People of Hawaii. The students of Edgartown School also created a bond by bringing the visiting Hawaiians an overflowing basket of food they grew themselves in their own Edgartown School garden. And the bond continues as they connect with students in Hawaii via a special website (manyislandsoneocean.weebly.com).

“So we are really excited to sing for the students, teachers and parents at Edgartown School on Wednesday,” said Keiki. “We love to exchange mana’o (knowledge) with kids of all ages wherever we go.”

On Thursday, Mele’uhane will also sing at the Tisbury Senior Center.

In 2015, the duo received a Hoku Award nomination (The Hawaiian equivalent of a Grammy) for their debut album Meleʻuhane. The album evokes the history of Hawaiian music as it has evolved from 19th century compositions influenced by the flowing harmonies of missionary-introduced church songs, and into the 20th century eras of swing, jazz, and so on — gaining international acclaim.

But along the way Hawaiian music became somewhat commercialized and lost its authentic identity. Beginning in the 1960s, Hawaiians were swept by a cultural awakening — called the Hawaiian Renaissance — as they began to seek their roots as an indigenous people. In all areas of life — agriculture, land ownership, governance, art, and the values they live by — Hawaiians rediscovered themselves.

Keiki and Leo are an integral part of this Hawaiian Renaissance. In their songwriting, they reach back to authentic oli (chants) and mele (songs) and to the ‘olelo — the beautiful and evocative rhythms of the Hawaiian language.

“I want people to love Hawaiian music,” said Keiki. “But I also want people who don’t even know they love Hawaiian music or don’t speak the language to fall in love with the melody. When they fall in love with the melody that was crafted purposefully to convey an emotion of its own, then it compels them to find out what the song is about by reading an English translation of the Hawaiian words. And when they find out what the song is about, then it hits them again.”

Keiki and Leo’s first group album, The Garden, was nominated for three more Hoku Awards. In the summer of 2016, they celebrated the release of Leo’s first solo album, Here Comes Treble, which was nominated for Best Slack Key Album of the Year and features the world famous and unique Hawaiian slack key guitar style.

Slack key is based on what musicians call open tuning and is beyond my limited ability to describe technically, but it results in a rich sound quite different from standard tuning, and seems to dive deeply into one’s heart and soul. Leo’s innovative approach to the art of slack key assures him a place in what is now known as the new Hawaiian Music Renaissance.

During their visit last year, Keiki, Leo and I discovered that we are ohana members of a large extended Hawaiian family. Our ancestors were paniolo — the Hawaiian word for cowboys — on the big island of Hawaii. They roped wild cattle on the treacherous slopes of Mauna Kea, dodging trees and lava in a dangerous game with death. These Hawaiian paniolo were so good that when my grandfather brought them to compete in the world famous roping contest in Cheyenne, Wyo. in 1908, Ikua Purdy beat the best of the mainland cowboys and went home with the trophy for World Champion Steer Roper. I am hoping Keiki and Leo will play a famous song, Waiomina, that celebrates our paniolo ancestors.

Ka ua Kipu`upu`u
From the hard rain named Kipu`upu`u
Meke anu a`o Waiomina
To the cold of Wyoming
Na ke kelekalapa i ha`i mai, la
A telegraph brought us the word
Na `eu kipuka `ili
Of your mischievous lariats
Ikuwa e ka moho puni ke ao, la
Ikuwa is the champion of the world

Keikilani and Leokani will play traditional Hawaiian music and new compositions at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at ticketsmv.com, Ally’s General Store, Island Music or at the door, $15 in advance or $20 at the door.