I am working on a series of posters for Hawaiian music this season and I wanted to trace the significant ways in which Hawaiian musicians and musical practices contributed to the history of American music during the opening decades of the twentieth century, an era during which craze swept the United States for Hawaiian and Hawaiian-themed culture and music in the form of live entertainment, sheet music publications, phonograph recordings, and imported instruments such as the ‘ukulele and the Hawaiian steel guitar. Since most scholarly attention on Hawaiian music has been devoted to indigenous practices, my concentration herein will focus on the interplay between Hawai’i and the United States in the commercial arena of popular music meant to address a sizable gap in literature and appreciation of the music style’s evolution.
This series resonates with key themes of many of the performers we will be hosting in our Hawaiian shows I am titling “SOUNDS OF PARADISE” : November 7th featuring Stephen Inglis and Patrick Landeza joined by Bassist Chris Lau. Andy Wang and Claudia Goddard open the show ! then on February 19th HAPA RETURNS with Barry Flanagan, Kapono Na’ili’ili, and Tarvin Makia! Next March 3 will host – Masters of Hawaiian Music Concert with Leeward Kaapana, George Kahumoku, and Jeff Peterson and finally in April (date to be determined) Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival.
To begin context, the popularity of Hawaiian music began nearly half a century before Hawai’i became a state. The musical “cultural tsunami” onto the mainland is a cornerstone influence of musical practices which originated outside the nation’s borders and calls attention to the international, ethnically diverse, and multicultural roots of contemporary American music. Along with other lineage, our music today would not be what it is without the direct influence of Hawaiian Music. The Hawaiian language has no word that translates precisely as music, but a diverse vocabulary exists to describe rhythms, instruments, styles and elements of voice production. Perhaps in the culmination of this paper we should coin one. Indeed, music author Peter Manuel called the influence of Hawaiian music a “unifying factor in the development of modern Pacific musics”.
At the time of statehood, there is noteworthy significance on the political and cultural slashes that emerged between Hawai’i and America in this era.
This musical encounter was determined to a great extent by inequities of power; between a small set of islands and a nation with imperialistic ego. The silent struggle (arguably still) of local island produce and art goods failing to keep pace with American mass production and distribution; the desires of islanders overwhelmed by commercial demands of American mainstream markets. This clash in cultures found outlet and expression through music; whether in songs composed by Hawaiian musicians that combined elements fro both Hawaiian sources and American popular genres or in Hawaiian-themed songs written by Tin Pan Alley composers that perpetuated cultural and racial stereotypes in Hawaiian fallacy folklores. Because of heavy demands for a body of product sought of Hawai’i by America music and control of its identity became a major struggle over authentic representation of Hawai’i and Hawaiian music(s). Alarmed Hawaiians consequently worried that the future of Hawaiian music would not be determined by musicians and composers of the islands but by non-natives affiliated with the American music industry putting their capitalistic interests first. Thankfully though in the short term a certain amount of these fears were realized, yet over the course of the century Hawaiians eventually would regain a measure of power and influence.
Next let us explore a brief explanation of nomenclature to articulate a unified definition of Hawaiian music.
Stay tuned I will write more soon.
Our Artistic Director / Founder at Summer Stage Mainstage Center for the Arts Mr. Ed Fiscella also points out that “all of the entertainers we are having this year are proponents of slack key guitar. A style of playing that is unique to Hawaii having its origins in the waves if Spanish cowboys who were brought in to work the ranches. These cowboys entertained themselves playing Spanish style guitar. The Spanish Cowboys were in Hawaii for a relatively short time but their musical influence [permeated the islands] continued. However, they never taught the Hawaiians how to play. This lack of formal instruction left the Hawaiians to figure it out for themselves bringing about the slackening of strings, open tuning, and non-traditional aspects of slack key. Often, families had their own secret timings which made their sound unique and indistinguishable to others. These timings were kept secret and the only way to learn them was by watching, listening, and doing. The difference between slack key Hawaiian music and HAPA haole is that slack key is authentically Hawaiian where as HAPA haole is mostly American music with Hawaiian influences. Today, with many of the great slack key virtuosos in their later years, there is a move to teach slack key in an effort to preserve it. No longer is it highly secretive. There is only so much time left to learn from the remaining great masters such as Ledward Kaapana and george Kahumoku. Stephen inglis? Patrick Landeza, Jeff Peterson and Barry Flanagan are the new era of slack key players who are taking the sound and styling of slack key into new arena’s of popular music and out of the strictly Hawaiian traditions.”
/!\ image caption : when I say or speak of Hawai’i I think of my ohana there much love to my friends Hoku (far right), her hubby and friends …