Kalaʻe Camarillo, who earned his BEd in Exceptional Students and Elementary Education from the College of Education, was recently nominated for a Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award. A music teacher at Kapālama Elementary since 2013, Camarillo has been making news for his music awards as well as his afterschool ‛ukulele program.
Considered the Grammy Awards of Hawai‛i, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards featured a performance by Camarillo, his brother, and his aunty, Lehua Kalima this year. His song “Be Like You” was nominated for Song of the Year and Single of the Year. In 2020, his album “Feel at Home” was named the Contemporary Acoustic Album of the Year.
“I am so proud that Laʻe has chosen to use his teaching skills and musical talent not only to entertain but to provide music education to elementary students, who otherwise may not have access to these types of lessons,” said Professor Ku‛ulei Serna. “Laʻe is a true blessing to our keiki.”
Camarillo, who was born and raised in Kihei, Maui, is a third-generation music teacher and professional musician. His grandfather, George Camarillo, started the first ‛ukulele band in Hawai‛i public schools at Waiākea Intermediate, and his father, Rama, also became an ʻukulele teacher. Before his solo career, Camarillo and his brother, Kamaka, performed as the Camarillo Brothers.
In 2014, Camarillo started the Kapālama ‛Ukulele Band and has been running it ever since. He and his students perform all over the island, including shows at Kahala Mall, Salt Kaka‛ako, Outrigger Waikīkī, and Kani Ka Pila Grille. Although the program was on hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is resuming this year. Watch his students performing “Island Style” at Salt Kaka‛ako: https://youtu.be/owV-yALVNXI.
“The most important thing I can do for my students is to help them develop a love and passion for music that they will carry on throughout the rest of their lives,” Camarillo said. “I want my students to see the power of music and how it can be not only an expressive outlet, but something they can always find joy in.”
In addition to working full time as a teacher, Camarillo performs five to six nights a week at venues around the island. He says he keeps Sundays open for church and family, and he is grateful for his wife, Layla, for supporting his music career.
“I thank my wife for allowing me to work as much as I do,” Camarillo said. “We both know that I am extremely blessed to have two jobs that include music, my biggest passion. That is why I truly enjoy going to work every day and consider myself very fortunate to be in a position where I can easily shine light and positivity onto others.”
Camarillo credits the COE for preparing him to be a professional, particularly his former cohort leader, Carolyn Towata, and the Elementary/SPED program.
“Carolyn instilled in me the importance of being aware of how I conduct myself wherever I go,” Camarillo said. “I am often in the public eye and am always doing my best to present myself in a positive image. If it weren’t for the Elementary/SPED program, I would not have been prepared to teach every grade level and would have been intimidated to teach in an inclusive classroom setting.”
With plans to continue writing, recording, and teaching music, Camarillo says he is honored to follow in the footsteps of his family.