Every year in Hawai’i nearly 2000 high school students compete in the Kamehameha School’s Song Contest where young song leaders direct their classmates in singing Hawaiian songs in eight-part harmony, a capella. Started in 1921, the annual Song Contest is a unique cultural celebration that has become a major event in Hawai’i, broadcast live on TV to all the islands, played on the radio and streamed on the internet. As the competition celebrates the resurgence of the Hawaiian language in 2008, One Voice documents the story of the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest through the eyes of the student song leaders. Through the stories and the lives of these young high school students, the documentary shares a story of the Hawaiian culture as it has survived, flourished and grown through the universal power of music and song.

Founded in 1887 and endowed by the legacy of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, a direct descendent of Kamehameha the Great, Kamehameha Schools is a statewide educational system for Native Hawaiian children of pure or part native ancestry. In 1888, some 120 years ago, the use of the Hawaiian language was prohibited at Kamehameha Schools. Subsequently, Hawaiian language was banned from Hawai’i’s public schools through an “English-only” legislation enforced in 1896. Eighty years later in 1978, the Hawaiian language was made an official language of the State of Hawai’i and today, there is a tremendous resurgence of ‘ōlelo Hawai’i which is enabling Native Hawaiians to experience a deeper connection to their Hawaiian identity, culture, and homeland.

Song Contest is a grand event that involves tremendous amounts of preparation and rehearsal. Following the elected student song leaders, we see how the tradition creates an unforgettable experience that builds class unity, instills cultural pride and builds character. Song Contest is the one event students anticipate all year long and each year the competition among the classes is fierce. There is no other place where you can find this kind of musical competition but at Kamehameha Schools. Students at the Kapālama Campus High School in grades 9-12 participate in the musical competition and while the film follows the lives of several song leaders as they prepare for the Song Contest, it also explores their lives outside of school by meeting their families, or ‘ohana, and revealing their hopes and dreams for the future.

The Kamehameha Schools Song Contest embodies the aloha spirit that is the center of a dynamic and thriving Hawaiian society in the 21st century, while paying tribute to the long history of Hawaiian song and culture of the days of old. For the students, it all culminates in one night of competition, when they sing with one voice. The documentary will be a testament to their song, their story that expresses a living, breathing, singing celebration of the Hawaiian people.

  • + Nominated for Best Documentary Director at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2010
  • + Hawai’i International Film Festival 2010
Sophmore Song Leaders Zack Lum, Max Mukai, and Ka‘ai McAfee-Torco