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Meet Lillian Kuikahi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lillian Kuikahi.  

Hi Lillian, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Ever since I was a kid, I loved music. I always dreamed of being a singer, a rockstar, or an artist. In elementary school, I used to rewatch the Scooby Doo Hex Girls scene over and over on repeat, dreaming of what it would feel like to be on stage, for people to cheer my name and the songs I created. 

I was born and raised in Michigan, by my Hawaiian father and my French-Canadian mother. My middle name “Kuu Lei Aloha Kaleo Onalani” meaning “my beautiful child with a heavenly voice” was gifted to me long before I was born. My grandfather, Robert Kahalaemiolaonamoku Kuikahi, was a musician long before I was born. Thus, passing on his passion for music to my dad and then onto me. 

I’ll never forget when my dad taught me how to play La Bamba on the ukulele, I thought it was so cool. Growing up with a Hawaiian Dad, you’re gonna learn how to play the ukulele. That’s just how it goes. I immediately started practicing and absorbing it. So much so that in the first or second grade, I played that song for my elementary talent show on the ukulele. Being up there felt like a dream. The following summer, sitting in my garage with my younger brother and sister, my dad brought in a keyboard he got. Showing me the 2 or 3 songs, he knew how to play, I was hooked. I wanted to learn everything I could about it. 

I remember making my first song in the 3rd grade. My older sisters weren’t home as much Buti remember showing them my song and them praising me and how good it felt. In 5th grade, I had taught myself about 7 songs on piano and I entered the talent show to do a medley of them. The last song I played was I got a feeling by the Black-Eyed Peas. I remember that I was only allotted like 2 minutes of stage time but once I got to that song, everyone went crazy and started clapping along and singing. The feeling was so good that I couldn’t help but keep going. My teacher tried to get me off stage to stop but I couldn’t help myself. Until they shut my mic off, Lol. I believe that my uncle has a recording of that and I would die to see it today. 

From there my passion for music was ignited. I was an introverted kid with a lot of anxiety, trying to survive in a chaotic household. So most often, I receded into myself. I didn’t have many friends, so most likely, I’d be by myself in my room playing music or video games. 

Onwards to middle school and high school, I was a huge band nerd. I began playing trumpet in 6th grade, saxophone, and clarinet in 7th grade, and euphonium in 8th grade. Once I hit high school, I learned to play flute, and then in 10th grade, I really struck up the bassoon. I ended up switching that as my main instrument and playing trumpet in the marching band. 

So, during all of this time, I had every intention to become an engineer. I really struggled with low self-esteem and confidence so I never thought that I could be something more or that it’d be possible for me, so I went with the “safe” route. I did really well in school, I was great at math and CAD. Engineering came so easy to me. 

At 17 I enlisted into the Air Force National Guard as a KC-135 Crew Chief. And right after high school, I was flown out to Texas for 6 months where I did my training. My plan was to use the AF to pay for college and then get a degree. My time in the Air Force, it taught me a lot about myself. Music was still on my mind at this point and when I got to tech school at Sheppard AFB, I became the golden bullet (leader or in charge) of their marching band. 

I’ve always struggled with depression so when I came back home to Michigan that’s when it hit me the hardest. Looking back now I’m realizing that all these choices were just the safe route and not what I really wanted. When I moved back home to Michigan, I got medically discharged from the Air Force and hit rock bottom. 

That fall I went to CMU for a semester before transferring to Mott community college in Flint. When I moved back home, I was really depressed and suicidal. Around that time is when I dove deep into spirituality. 

While living at home, I was going to therapy and trying different antidepressants. Both of these things really helped me. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the fall of 2019. About a month before finals, I ended up getting diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. Diffuse sclerosing papillary thyroid carcinoma. While this was the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced in my life, it has transformed me into a better version of myself. Before cancer, I had more of a pessimistic outlook on life, but after my surgery, something changed so optimistically. 

When 2020 came, I met my fiance, and I was going to school for engineering. Once covid hit though, something changed. I realized that I would never want to sit at a desk for the rest of my life, that kind of career wasn’t what I actually wanted. I ended up writing my first song during this time called Homebody. It has yet to be released but will be later this year. Once I started to write music, it gave me a feeling I felt when I was a kid. So, I decided to chase that feeling. 

I dropped out of school, and my parents were pissed. All of my family was so upset and disappointed. But I knew that it was the right thing for me, even if I hadn’t believed I could do it yet I knew that I would find a way. 

Once I wrote Homebody, it was a hit, and everyone around me in my family or friends knows all the lyrics. I play it all the time around the people I love and I feel like that really gave me the confidence to keep pursuing music. 

I knew when my family was finally okay with me pursuing music when for Christmas of 2020, they all banded together and got me 2 hours of studio time. I was elated. At that moment, I felt so accepted and validated. I ended up recording the first version of Sweet Girl, and it just made the fruition of my dreams feel even more real. 

Spring of 2021 I started at Mott Community College in the music technology program. I was working on production and music theory. Everything felt like it was falling into place. Amber and I had our own place and a dog and I was pursuing my dream at school. Every Friday, I was in the school’s recording lab, using it to record multiple songs I wrote. My professor, Dr.Withem told me there was an event with a famous producer, Mike Kuz, where you could pay for 30 minutes of his time to show your music and offer feedback. I paid $50 for this event and waited 2 weeks. 

When the day came, I was so nervous. I pulled up to the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village and waited in my car. At this point, I had Homebody recorded and the first version of Sweet Girl. I was going to flake on the event, but I felt like it was out of my comfort zone in a good way and that this would be a great experience. When I showed up, I remember walking in and Jon Connor was there. He happily greeted me, and we exchanged names, and then I sat between him and Mike. To me, this was huge, especially being from a small town in Michigan. I was thrilled. 

After playing my music for them, they both praised my songs and said I had a great voice. Quickly after that Jon had given me his phone number and said that he would love to work together. I was freaking out at this point; this was insane to me. Going from not believing in myself to making a huge step and gaining such a great connection was unbelievable. I was so proud of myself. 

After that, I met up with Jon and his music group, All Varsity Music. He eventually invited me into the group/label after working with them for some time. I’ve been in some of their music videos and even recorded music with other artists such as Ace Gabbana. 

Shortly after, Sylvestor Broome reached out to me, and I actually did my first video interview. It was awesome! That was also a huge milestone for me. Shortly after, Dr.Withem reached out to me and said that there was a conference at Mott to get more funding and by showing the work that our program does, it can help gain more money. So, I submitted my music for the conference, and then a couple of weeks later I got a check for $50. That was the first time I made money off of my music. I mean I can’t even describe the feeling of fulfillment I had. 

After this time in 2021, I spent a lot of it writing music and working. Going through another mental health hurdle but still moving forward. I stopped going to school and decided to work full-time and pursue my music. I’ve been active on social media creating content as well as music. Then in early 2022, I ended up releasing my first single, Sun Day Dreams 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
No, definitely not. My voice, family, and myself. After my cancer surgery, I had scar tissue on my vocal cords. That definitely made this more difficult for me. It made me insecure that I couldn’t become an artist or a singer because of my limited range. But after about 3 years post-surgery, I’d say my voice is doing just fine, still very different from how it used to sound though. 

My family was very hesitant and unsupportive at first. It took me some time to convince them that pursuing music was meant for me. I come from a long line of settlers, as I like to call them. People who just settle for good enough, stable, and safe. And not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s just not what I want for my life. So, trying to convince them was hard. But after some time and showing them what I’m capable of, they quickly became supportive. 

The most difficult challenge has been me. It’s taken me a long time to build up the confidence to pursue my dreams. My head can get so loud, and it was really tough in the beginning to change my view about what I was capable of. I know that I can do anything if I set my mind to it. But sometimes, trying to convince yourself when you have low self-esteem can be so hard. It took a while, but after dropping out of school and writing more, I truly feel confident that music is for me. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I write and produce my own music. I love to make a mashup of indie and alternative combined with my Hawaiian roots. I want people to make memories with my songs and give them nostalgia when they hear them years down the road. I’m definitely known for being Hawaiian; it can be pretty rare, especially in Michigan. 

I am most proud of how far I’ve come. I came from a small town with small dreams. And after working on my self-esteem and confidence, I’m pursuing something that gives me life. I mean I am a cancer survivor; I’ve battled depression most of my life, and I haven’t let any of it stop me. I’ve continuously taken steps closer to the future that I want, and I’m so proud because I never thought I could. But seeing all of this fruition for myself, including this article? Holy shit, I’m beyond proud. 

I’d have to say everything about myself! But if I had to pick one thing, I’d say my authenticity. No matter what situation, no matter who’s around, I’m always going to be myself. I feel like most artists, hell most people, try to sell a version of themselves they think people would like, but I’m just being me, and that’s more than good enough. That’s valuable. 

What matters most to you? Why?
A little esoteric, but I think universal healing and the collective consciousness. I am a cleansing stone; I love people and any way that I can help I will. I’m that person who pulls over to give your car a jump or a push in the snow. But I’m also the person to give you my honest opinion if you come to me for advice. I think that everyone could benefit from the love and helping each other. I’ve spent so much of my life alone and receded into my head and horrible thoughts that all I want to do now is spend my time helping others not feel that way. I enjoy creating spiritual content and self-help content on Instagram. It’s important to me because everyone is a reflection of myself, and if I’m helping you, it’s really helping me. 

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