Our interview today is with Paul Hanna, an Oahu singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose music – marked by a unique combination of stringed instruments, and led by his aloha vocals and soft acoustic guitar groove – will make every surfing enthusiast want to listen to his songs over and over.
Friends with Prof. Bruno Castello da Costa since Prof. Castello da Costa’s first season in Hawaii, Paul has already spent time in Brazil and in other countries in South and Central America, Europe and Africa, and through his music he communicates his message out to the world. A message of hope, solidarity and love, that has forever made us from SurfingPedagogy.com big fans of his work, and therefore it is with great joy that we now present our community with some of Paul’s life stories and perspective over Hawaii, Music, Surfing, Life and beyond.
We hope you enjoy the talk!
PS: Paul has presented us with two of his songs, so we can listen to them as we enjoy the interview (song #1: Noah’s Ark; song #2: Crapshot; for lyrics, please click here).
PART 1 – INTRODUCTION
SurfingPedagogy.com: HELLO PAUL, CAN WE START BY HAVING YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?
Name: Paul Youssef Hanna
Home town: Kāne’ohe
City where you grew up: Kāne’ohe
City where you currently live: Nuʻuanu
SurfingPedagogy.com: PAUL, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION? DID YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO COLLEGE? AND DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES? HOW DOES MUSIC FIT INTO YOUR LIFE?
Paul: Hey Soneca… I am now a Math/Art/Music Teacher at Assets High School here on the island. I left Civil Engineering because it wasn’t the right profession for me. My heart needs to be in what I do always. The youth are where my heart is at. Their future, their minds, the positive impact they can be. Their voice. Thank God for Engineering though, it taught me a lot of lessons and most of all, it helped me get the math teacher position. I play Capoeira with Besouro Hawaii, and I love the water (Jacaré: Bodysurfing). But most of my free time these days is spent writing music and recording. My medicine is my job, my health, and music. If you turned me upside down and shook me, music would fall out of my ears and my pockets. I cannot go without it. My mind works in music, and my body moves to it. The music is in the classroom, in the air, in my ears. Lots of humans cannot live without music. It is our freedom. They sung it during the slave days, they sing it in protest, in joy, in sadness, while walking, in the shower, EVERYWHERE IS MUSIC. Eu não posso viver se não tenho música. Nunca. (I could never live without music.)
SurfingPedagogy.com: HAVE YOU WORKED AS AN ENGINEER BEFORE? WHAT MADE YOU QUIT THAT JOB AND TURN YOUR ATTENTION INTO BECOMING A SCHOOL TEACHER?
Paul: My Father owned a construction company for over 30 years… Each summer since I was a kid, I would work digging in the trenches laying pipe. In High School, Math was my best subject. Deep down I knew what I loved. I loved the globe and the people in foreign, but I didn’t know the importance of doing and working in a field in which I was using my given talents. No one told me this secret. I had to learn the hard way.
After graduating from Engineering school, I left to Brazil to jogar (play) Capoeira with Capoeira Besouro. While I was overseas, I became more aware of self and realized that we live once, and it’s crucial to do what you are born to do… Quando eu voltei para o (When I was back to) Hawaii, I decided to leave right away to Los Angeles to study Sound Engineering. There I learned how to record… I had no idea how a song was created… This opened my eyes to a whole new type of journey. A place to release my voice.
After Sound Engineering school, don’t ask me why, l became an engineer and worked… But after work I napped, woke up, and recorded till I slept, everyday for almost 5 years… 11 years later on Jan 10th 2012, I slipped my resignation letter under my bosses’ door and left Engineering for good.
My whole life I worked with youth around the world. Ghetto, Favela (slums), Special Education, At Risk, Tutoring, Orphanage, Youth Camps… My calling. So leaving Engineering opened up that door to work with youth as a lifestyle.
SurfingPedagogy.com: HOW WAS IT FOR YOU TO GROW UP IN HAWAII? WHAT DOES NATURE AND THE OCEAN REPRESENT IN YOUR CULTURE? HOW DO PARENTS RAISE THEIR CHILDREN IN SUCH CONTEXT?
Paul: As I write this, I am looking at the South shore of O’ahu. It is a small island, we all need the birds, the mountains, the flowers, and the water. It is hard for a local to leave and live in the big city or in the middle of land. We need these things. The ocean is our place of play. We were very loyal to body surfing growing up. Hopping in barrels and getting slammed at Sandy Beach on the east side.
Since my parents immigrated from Egypt, they were not as passionate of the water as the local familes here. Parents here take their children out to the water on a board or not, and get them wet at an early age.
The Ancient Hawaiians lived in with the Ahupua`a system. They used the fresh water from the rain as it ran down the mountains, and set up their life from the mountain to the ocean. Slowly buildings were put up to match the flock of people and the old, ancient ways are now very scarce. Only a few Ahupua`a are still working.
SurfingPedagogy.com: IF WE TELL ANYONE WE’RE FROM BRAZIL, MOST PEOPLE WILL IMMEDIATELY ASSUME WE ARE TERRIFIC SOCCER PLAYERS OR, AT LEAST, BIG FANS OF THE SPORT. IS THAT ALSO TRUE FOR HAWAIIANS AND SURFING? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS, AND WHAT IS YOUR RELATION WITH THE OCEAN AND THE WAVES?
Paul: It is similar… Waves are a big part of a lot of the youth and a lot of the people. We are so grateful to have such beautiful water and waves and as you know, there is no feeling like camping out in a barrel.
SurfingPedagogy.com: IN COMPARISON WITH OTHER COASTAL PARTS OF THE WORLD WHERE YOU’VE HAD THE CHANCE TO VISIT SO FAR, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE HAWAIIAN BEACHES AND WAVES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FACT THAT SO MANY SURFERS FROM ALL OVER THE GLOBE DREAM OF VISITING YOUR HOMELAND?
Paul: I know this world is full of sweet spots where the waves are beautiful… Hawaii is just one of the many places. I think more and more wave-riders are discovering that out for us and it’s a great thing. There are many different types of waves all over the globe, and Hawaii has one type. I do think it is magical that some of the biggest are here though… It is amazing. Powerful Monsters.
SurfingPedagogy.com: THE MINUTE WE STEP OUT OF THE AIRPLANE, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SMELL THE FRESH AIR AND THE TROPICAL AROMA OF OAHU. BESIDES GREAT WAVES, HAWAII IS GIFTED WITH SOME OF THE MOST ASTONISHING MOUNTAINS, RAINFORESTS, WATERFALLS AND MANY OTHER NATURAL BEAUTIES FROM MOTHER NATURE. WOULD YOU MIND SHARING WITH US YOUR TOP-3 THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO GO ON THE ISLANDS THAT NEWCOMERS SHOULD NOT MISS?
Paul: I feel like I need to just say that the visitor should find these spots… 😉 Mix with the locals and discover them. Many of these spots are hidden, and that’s what makes them full of magic. I still don’t know all of them…
PART 2 – MUSICAL INFLUENCES
SurfingPedagogy.com: WHAT HAS MADE YOU DECIDE TO SPEND YOUR SUMMERS VISITING OTHER CULTURES? WHEN DID YOU START TRAVELING OUT OF OAHU? WHAT COUNTRIES HAVE YOU BEEN TO ALREADY, AND HOW DO YOU THINK THAT THOSE EXPERIENCES MAY HAVE REFLECTED ON YOU?
Paul: I have to thank my sister who took me on my first journey outside of the US… We visited a few countries in Africa one summer and that’s where my eyes and heart opened and realized that there is life outside of me… People… They are a gift.
I have spent time in several countries in South and Central America, Europe and Africa. Not enough though… Visiting Haiti was very important to me because that journey came at a time of my life where things were dark.
Traveling is something that I encourage all my students to do. It is an important part of gaining consciousness of the world, learning self awareness/discovering one’s self, and seeing and experiencing adventures outside of our everyday box.
SurfingPedagogy.com: HOW DID MUSIC ENTER YOUR LIFE, AND WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT THAT YOU HAD A GIFT FOR SONGWRITING?
Paul: I took lessons on various instruments growing up thanks to my parents… However, I couldn’t stand the structure of learning to read music and having a teacher. I escaped from formal lessons and in high school I started on the Ukulele.
I lived by one of the grandfather musicians here on the island, Kelly Boy Delima of the group “Kapena”, and I would hear them rehearse and would strum along on my ukulele… Then throughout high school we would meet up on the weekends and sing all night long.
My last year in High School, I will never forget Earl Hale. He was the Custodian at our school. He taught me how to play the upright bass. RIP, he passed away a few years later.
In college I was mostly listening to music since studying was my life. I was lucky to become a DJ on 90.3, the University of Hawaii College radio station. I was able to broadcast all this music that I collected from all over. That was a blast.
After college I left to Brazil and when I came back I went to a school for Sound Engineering. That’s when I learned simply, how to record a song. Multitrack recording… Wow… I was amazed. Then I fell into my cave and all I did was write and record.
I think a lot of people have artistic gifts… They just have to be courageous enough to release their emotions and feelings through art.
SurfingPedagogy.com: YOUR MUSIC SOUNDS VERY “SURFING”. WAS IT MEANT TO BE THAT WAY FROM THE START, OR DO YOU THINK YOU COULD EXPLAIN US HOW DID YOUR STYLE MATURE AND BLOSSOM INTO WHAT IT HAS BECOME TODAY? HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE SET OF INSTRUMENTS YOU ARE USED TO EMPLOYING IN YOUR RECORDINGS?
Paul: Growing up in the islands, Reggae and Hawaiian music is what our ears were treated to… So that is the heavy influence till this day.
However, I was lucky enough to travel and picked up music from where ever I visited. I have been fortunate to listen to all types of music from all genres and many different countries. Soda Stereo is a band I want to mention only because I was introduced to Rock in my late 20’s.
What I love to hear is the warm, woody, natural sounds of acoustic instruments. Classical guitars, upright basses, harmonies, upright pianos, and woodwinds such as the bassoon and flutes and harmonicas. However, on my current project I am working with Kapena and Bu Print Studios and we are adventuring out of my comfort zone, which I am grateful for.
SurfingPedagogy.com: LIKE MANY OTHER SONGWRITERS, IT SEEMS TO US AS YOU’VE CHOSEN TO FOLLOW YOUR OWN WAY INTO MUSIC, PLAYING UNDER YOUR OWN NAME AND INVITING FRIENDS TO HELP YOU RECORD, RATHER THAN FORMING THAT TYPICAL 3 TO 5-MEMBER BAND. WAS THERE A REASON FOR YOU TO MAKE THAT DECISION? HOW DO YOU SEE NOT HAVING TO DEPEND ON OTHERS AND, WITH ONLY AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR AND YOUR OWN TALENT, BEING ABLE TO PASS YOUR MESSAGE OUT TO THE WORLD?
Paul: Well, as much as I need people around and I love them, as much as I like to hibernate… I have been solo for many years with my music. However, I am done with solo…
I want a family to play music with, feed off each other and all of us give our hearts to the music. I cannot depend on myself. I need others so we can join each other to spread the message. I I I I I I I …. Too many I’s. No good… Me Me Me Me… No good… Finding my music family is the next gift I hope God gives to me.
SurfingPedagogy.com: THROUGH YOUR MUSIC YOU MANAGE TO BRING UP ISSUES THAT ARE QUITE RELEVANT IN TODAY’S SOCIETY, BUT THAT MANY TIMES ARE NOT DISCUSSED AS OPENLY AS MAYBE WE OUGHT TO: SOCIAL INEQUALITY, WAR, PREJUDICE, SPIRITUALITY, ALTRUISM AND ENVIRONMENTALISM, TO NAME THE ONES WE RECALL RIGHT NOW, AS WE THINK OF YOUR SONGS. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO ADDRESS THOSE THEMES, AND HOW DOES IT FEEL WHEN YOU REALIZE YOUR VOICE IS BEING HEARD?
Paul: My goodness… What volcanoes me are these topics… Human kind. Consciousness for our neighbor. Equality. Respect. Giving. I CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE OPPOSITE OF THESE SIMPLE WORDS! I cannot stray away from writing what erupts me… And what erupts me is injustice in our society and ignorance.
We need to take time to journey within ourselves and love ourselves and use our natural gifts and not conform to the painting that society is vandalizing us with. The music is a plea for all to step back and think…
You missed love in there, Soneca ;). Many a times I have loved a woman and many a times it has been the focus of my lyric. Mainly asking why did she go, or give me my partner…
My lyric is a reflection of what I want to see and who I want to be… There is no doubt that when I receive emails from fans it is a good feeling. I try, however, to not allow any praise marinate in my mind. In and out. Then back to work.
SurfingPedagogy.com: IN REGARD TO THE ARRIVAL OF WHITE MEN IN HAWAII SINCE THE EARLY 18TH CENTURY, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ALL THAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THEN – FROM THE FIRST SIGNS OF DISRESPECT TO THE HAWAIIAN CULTURE, ALL THE WAY UNTIL HAWAII’S ANNEXATION BY THE USA AND TODAY’S TOURISM INDUSTRY? DO YOU THINK THERE IS A CONSENSUS ON HOW NATIVE HAWAIIANS FEEL ABOUT HAOLES AND THE OCCIDENTAL CULTURE? DOES IT SOMEHOW PLAY AN INFLUENCE IN YOUR SONGS?
Paul: It’s funny because my Capoeira nickname is Gringo… ANYONE who visits the island is welcome… But there is a rule of thumb. We have to respect the traditions and roots, the Aina (the land), and the people and their ancestors. There are many Gringos here that are not faced with any discrimination or segregation because they fit in.
No one here likes to see buildings built… No one likes to see big malls and brand name shops… It does break our hearts. One of our sweet little towns, Kailua, has now become a destination on every tour bus. It has changed drastically… As anyone from their homeland, whether it’s here, or in ANY other city in the world… Each people/place have their principles, sacred places and traditions, which causes heartache when they are breached.
PART 3 – SONGS, LIFE AND BEYOND
SurfingPedagogy.com: WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR SONGS? ARE THEY AVAILABLE AT YOUR WEBSITE, AMAZON.COM OR ELSEWHERE?
Paul: www.PaulHannaMusic.com (click on the music link to get to the albums).
SurfingPedagogy.com: HOW DO YOU KEEP UP YOUR SCHOOL JOB WITH YOUR MUSICAL WORK? DO YOU PLAY ON A REGULAR BASIS IN OAHU, WITH FRIENDS, IN CLUBS AND/OR INVITED BY OTHER BANDS?
Paul: My work does not feel like a job… I am blessed for this… I am in my world, which allows me to be myself. The only stress I face is the stress that comes from learning a new lesson from a new experience with the students. I sometimes go in on the weekends when no one is there for a few hours to plan the week but other than that, after school I am able to rest and exercise, which is KEY for me. Then my evenings I give to my music.
I do not actively play live, something that will happen at the right time I believe…
SurfingPedagogy.com: HOW WAS IT WHEN YOU MOVED TO SAN DIEGO, IN TERMS OF YOUR VISIBILITY IN THE CALIFORNIAN MUSICAL SCENE? DID YOU GET WHAT YOU EXPECTED WHEN YOU DECIDED TO LEAVE OAHU? ARE YOU PLANNING TO MOVE AGAIN IN A NEAR FUTURE?
Paul: Being on the Mainland was a great learning experience for me. I loved my time in San Diego and Venice Beach. I learned a lot, went through a lot, grew a lot. I wasn’t ready for the music scene. Moving back home has settled me and now that I am living the right way for Paul, I do believe I am ready and it is time for the music to enter into the world on a bigger scale.
Moving? Honestly no. I do see myself leaving for tours during summers and winter breaks. That is the ultimate goal.
SurfingPedagogy.com: HOW ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURES IN OTHER COUNTRIES: DO YOU STILL INVEST YOUR VACATION TIME TO TRAVEL ABROAD AND VISIT NEW PLACES OUTSIDE THE U.S.? HOW DO YOU SEE OUR PLANET SO DIVIDED, WITH SO MUCH TECHNOLOGY AND WELL BEING IN A FEW PLACES VERSUS POVERTY, ILLNESSES, VIOLENCE, ETC. IN MANY OTHERS?
Paul: I haven’t been able to leave the comforts of home for over 2 years now and I really need to… I need to go to the countries and areas that I love to refuel. Places where the people are living simply, family life, grateful for every little thing, simple food, and the corruption of social media hasn’t entered yet. I hope to leave to Egypt or Kenya this summer.
I cannot stand division, I do not understand it. It’s not in my blood. Me and a friend were just speaking of millions spent on this and that, when these millions could literally feed and shelter thousands of people for years. Materialism and greed is on the rise and social media is a genius for they found the keys to enter into all of our minds. We must battle daily against the negative side to it.
However, there is a positive side to technology. Readers for the dyslexic, connection with family around the world, beautiful videos that show us different parts of the world, ways to promote positive messages, and many more. There are no secrets anymore… We see everything. We know everything that’s going on everywhere. I do believe though, that the youth of today are seeing it all and they are taking a stand against injustice and as long as we remain conscious of our neighbor and just delete our egos, the world is turning to a more greener, healthier place.
SurfingPedagogy.com: FROM ALL THE SONGS YOU’VE WRITTEN SO FAR, DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ONE? CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ITS LYRICS?
Paul: I think any musician that writes music and lyric will have a difficult time answering this question because each song written has a history behind it. A memory, a dream and tons of emotion and soul placed into it… But the one that comes to mind is called Kiki. When the earthquake hit Haiti, my friend showed me a picture of a young boy who was rescued after being buried under the rubble for 8 days. His name was Kiki.
The picture hit me because when the quake hit, that day I wanted to get on a plane to go there… So I wrote Kiki, which describes the beautiful streets of Port-au-Prince and how the children are playing and the streets are dancing. Then comes the earth shake, his days underground and then his rescue… It’s a long song/story.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with the photographer Matthew McDermott. It was very special for me to be able to connect with the person who took the picture that created Kiki.
SurfingPedagogy.com: DEAR PAUL, IT WAS GREAT TO HAVE YOU HERE AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR STORY WITH US, WE WISH YOU THE VERY BEST. WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEAVE A FINAL MESSAGE TO OUR FRIENDS AT SURFINGPEDAGOGY.COM?
Paul: Bruno, I’m so happy that I now know your nickname…
Soneca, I appreciate all our years of friendship and all your art that you have done for my music and album covers, of which some are here in this interview. I am thankful for you and what you do. Educating the people about the ocean and the waves and the art of surfing. I know we will meet one day. Vai com Deus, amigo (The Lord be with you, my friend).
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