I must tell you that I am very picky when it comes to Hawaiian music. I was never a fan of Don Ho and his Tiny Bubbles. I also remember being entertained by Hilo Hattie on the Harry Owens and the Royal Hawaiians on TV back in the 50s. Through adulthood, I have just lost interest in Hawaiian music, save for the occasional hula at a wedding or party.
In the 90s, I learned of the great IZ*, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, who died an early death but made a huge impact with his falsetto Hawaiian singing. I do like the ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, though it is hardly traditional. But what do I really know about its roots and meaning?
From the experts:
Music and rhythm have played central roles within the Native Hawaiian culture. From the beginning, mele or chant, was important for Native Hawaiians as it allowed them to remember myths of gods. Early Hawaiians told their stories through chants in two general categories, mele oli and mele hula. Mele oli is a chant usually performed by one person and generally recounts historical events and tells stories of legends. Mele hula is accompanied by dance movements that help translate ancient legends and stories. Native Hawaiians used different objects for instruments like the ʻuliʻuli (rattle instrument), ipu (gourde rattles), pu’ili (a pair of hollowed bamboo sticks).
In the nineteenth century, Hawaiian music evolved to a more western style as string instruments were introduced and that music is known as himeni (hymns). The ukulele and slack-key guitar were introduced by the Portuguese, modeling their traditional “braguinha.” The music of Hawai‘i is mixed with vibrant rhythms and poetic lyrics that tell stories of the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle. The popularization of Hawaiian music around the world began in the last quarter of the 19th century, mainly through the publishing of many of the songs of Queen Liliuokalani in the United States – Aloha ʻOe (Farewell to Thee) was her most famous song. The stories and legends of the Native Hawaiians come to life through the sounds of the islands. Some popular Hawaiian musicians include: Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole (Brother IZ), Kui Lee, Kealiʻi Reichel, Keola Beamer, and Ledward Kaapana. To this day, the Native Hawaiian culture is perpetuated through Hawaiian chants and himeni that embrace the depth and significance of the people of Hawaii‘i and their history.
Perhaps the funniest encounter we ever had was with a Hawaiian singer named Arnold in Waikiki, on our very first trip to Hawaii. He was singing and playing guitar at Chuck’s Cellar across the street from our hotel. We went over to hear him since we were taking guitar lessons at the time. We even started singing with Arnold on many of the songs, and “forced” him to sing additional versus of well known songs. When he joined us for a beer during a break, Arnold could only speak pidgin, the singing voice and enunciation disappeared!!!
*IZ= Israel Kamakawiwo’ole-his best popular album was “Facing Future” released in 1993, and topped by the medley, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World”. You must find it on You tube or your favorite music service if you do not know about it. It is quite uplifting, and provides a glimpse into this artist who left us too early, due to severe obesity.