Leah is looking for a few good poets among the youth of
Maui...but more about that later.
“Right now I feel really good in life”, says Leah, “I
feel that I’ve done enough so that I know myself and feel relaxed
with that...but when I was younger I was quite vain and wanted to be rich
and famous and all that. What I thought I wanted was actually an illusion.
Now I’m more content to be happy with the moment and live like that.
When I get old, I don’t want to just have three good stories to
tell over and over!”
Born in Manhattan and raised in San Francisco, Leah has lived on Maui
for nearly a decade. As a 14 year old, she was one of the youngest people
to obtain a wholesale licence in California, and as a solo teen, began
her extensive travel of the world. Her parents met as honor students and
nearly put her up for adoption so they could focus on school. But partly
because black kids weren’t getting adopted, they kept her.
Her younger brother has autism and did not speak as a child, although
he did have temper tantrums. Leah became his voice, expressing his thoughts
and feelings that others could not understand. One of her recent films
that can be seen on Akaku TV, “Oh Yes I Can”, documents the
relationship. Although shy as a kid, Leah developed an “I don’t
care what other people think” kind of attitude, partly because her
brother would often do “outrageous “ things in public.
“When my Father became a hippie, I couldn’t afford to care
about that either. I never was ashamed of those things and almost proud
of my family’s differences. That has really helped me do my thing
and I constantly define who I am for myself.” Her other younger
brother became the youngest assistant trader on Wall Street.
In Hollywood, Leah worked on films with Clint Eastwood, Bet Mitler, and
Eddie Murphy, people she admired as a kid, and appeared in Magnum P.I.,
Cheers, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a host of commercials. She
was the first African-American model on the cover of Waikiki Beach Press
in 1980. Having founded Leilani Films in 1995, her independent film series
“Walk-A-Bout With Leah” can be seen anytime by internet request
on Maui’s AKAKU TV. She also instructed MCC students based upon
her book “Lets Do Hollywood”, a guide for aspiring actors,
writers and film makers on succeeding in Hollywood.
“Dianne Carol asked me one time: ‘What did you think of my
scene?’”, Leah recalls with a big laugh. “At that point
I realized that no mater how good you are you can’t be so sure,
you need feedback and confirmation... but it was a big honor to be asked.”
Recommended by Maya Angelou’s niece, Leah went around the world
with the “High Priestess of Soul”, Nina Simone as her personal
assistant during the year of her big come-back. “She carried the
aura of Diva”, says Leah, “but she was a very feeling person
who asked me to take care of her like a child, getting her dressed and
ready to go on stage. She was wild but grand! I loved her.”
Leah began her career at 18 as a show girl dancing with big bands in Honolulu.
“I was probably the only black girl there entertaining the Japanese
men, but I loved it.”
After 15 years though, it was time to quit and she put all her energies
into her daughter, coming to Maui specifically to give birth. Not surprisingly,
her daughter, Chaka Ra, was among those chosen to represent Hawaii in
the Miss Teen All America Pageant of 2002, and was chosen for The People
To People Student Ambassador Program chaired by George Bush.
But Leah is much more than a film maker, award-winning poet, photographer,
editor, dance instructor, world class traveler, model, and
proud mother. She is a spiritual philosopher.
“The Meaning of life”, says Leah, “ is what you make
it; it’s a matter of perspective.” She continues with a poem:
“The Great Spirit has blown air into your lungs so that you can
live. You have a right to live just like anyone who has lived before you
or anyone who lives now. Weather you’re rich or poor, healthy or
sick, you’re responsible for everything that happens to you. The
one who passes the blame can’t get control over anything. You have
to say, ‘I’m responsible for what happens to me.’ Once
you accept that with a positive outlook, you can create a better result.
With the winds of your will you must learn to steer. With spiritual insight
you can obtain true wealth. With the winds of your will you must learn
to steer. In life you surely live as long as you can breath. It makes
you feel more alive than others. You lay in a spectrum between life and
death for as long as you live. All of life is a struggle. Is it a struggle
to maintain a quality of life? Pay attention my fathers, my mothers, it
is life within. Of course it can be without you and you can be among the
walking dead. As long as you got breath, you got opportunity to struggle.
Seize hope with every breath you take. You’ll never be perfect,
you’ll never be done, ‘till you’re service to humanity
has won. Be a winner. Pay attention to the light that dwells within you.
The Great Spirit has blown air into YOUR lungs so that YOU can live. Live
life knowing a few things. Live life knowing that you’re capable
of murder. Live life knowing that you’re also capable of saving
lives. To some degree you’re capable of doing whatever you can imagine.
The wind of my will is strong. With a love for peace I shall become more
wealthy. I shall seek to become the greatest life within me, and then
When asked of her main passions in life, Leah’s eyes light up, and
she says: “My passions are making love, making movies, and being
a family person. I love people, all types of people, I love culture. I
love to dance, I love to party. I love sound...music, waves, birds. And
I like to get over my fears. Right now I’ve got a big passion for
poetry and writing.” Leah also finds inspiration from Hawaiian chants:
“Even though I don’t understand the words...they make me cry”.
She admires the Kahuna philosophy of “Do no harm”. Leah feels
that it’s not what she’s doing, it’s how she’s
doing it that brings her the mastery of creativity she has, such as in
raising her daughter. “I put my whole creativeness into it”
Leah is presently working on a one woman show focused on poetry, as well
as a book of poems called “From the Waters of Maui”. However,
her main ambition right now is starting a poetry group, The 808 Poets
that will evolve into a touring stage show and film. There will be a DJ
aspect to the show entwining the spoken word performances of poets with
Hawaiiana visuals along with live video of the poets performing. It’s
a multi media thing she learned about in Europe combined with the “spectacular
grace” of the Honolulu shows she was in.
“I’m interested in young, passionate voices from for the Hawaiian
poetry group... visionary, new age, and pensive people who know how to
deliver. They might come from the rap scene into this more intimate media.
It will expresses the pride of the survivor saying ‘This is who
I really am, and this is what my skeleton looks like, but I’m still
standing’ kind of vibe... rhythmatic, outrageously interesting and
healing. Sometimes you have to go a bit crazy and push yourself to the
outer limits of your imagination to get to the real nectar of life.”
It’s a poetry group, with Leah’s guidance, where it will be
secure to be “out there” on the creative edge. Those interested
are encouraged to call Leah at 1-800-509-2488 for more information.
With typical candor Leah notes that “I’m not just an artist.
I’m someone who thinks about marketing. Why can’t it be doubly
good? That’s the way I see it! Maybe there are those times when
creativity takes you to a deserted island and you lay there naked as a
self indulgent healing process, but when I bring out something to share,
I want everybody to be glad to pay for it.”
Hearing the manao of this delightful person was an inspiring pleasure.
She is the poetic process!
1998 © Leah AnnalamahTunkara