As the weather grows colder for those of us in Northern climates, our thoughts turn to the bright and sunny shores of Hawaii.
I recently had the chance to talk to Robert Olson, an expert about Hawaii,
who answered my questions about the music of the Big Island.
Paula: When people think of Hawaiian music, why is it that
the first thing they think of is someone playing the ukelele in a
Robert: In my opinion (and I guess you are referring to Mainlanders and other
visitors) this is the image they get from the media (TV, commercials, print
ads or when they visit and attend the Kodak Hula Show or Polynesian Village)
An ideal of paradise is conjured up and it fits the ingredients!
Paula: What are some of the different styles of music on the Island?
Robert: Of course there is the beautiful Hawaiian guitar, sweet and soulful. Most
are based on history and myth, wonderfully sweet and soulful. The modern
hula guitar music is less traditional and came about with the arrival of
foreigners, this is the type of hula people think about when they have the
grass skirt vision. This is also where the ukelele comes in. All hula tells
a story, these are often comic, such as the one where tutu (grandma) goes
shopping while her husband makes the rounds of the taverns. A newer type of
music is Jawaiian, a Hawaiian reggae. You don't find a lot of hard rock
type stuff, (even though my sixteen year old is in a punk band!) it does
exist. A lot of modern music is easy listening romantic type or older songs
(50s, 60s. 70s) and covers redone Hawaii style. Some rhythm instruments
include large goards which are slapped, large rattling instruments which are
shaken and thick strips of bamboo which have many slits up the side, these
are shaken and hit against the body.
Paula: Who are some of the hottest popular performers in Hawaii right
now, both natives of the Island, and in general.
Robert: We have our masters which never go out of style. The King is Gabby Pahinui.
He died in the 70's and never left the charts. His songs are traditional
ballads, so sweet. His sons are popular now Bla and Cyril Pahinui. Ray
Kane is a national treasure, one of the last remaining masters. I saw him
last summer, a wonderful experience. Bruddah Iz was a beloved musician who
passed away last summer. Hawaiians believe that when a dearly loved person
dies the heavens cry. We had the worst rain I ever experienced (and I live
in Hilo, the wettest city in the country so I've seen rain before). The
entire State mourned Iz. Check out
I listen to traditional music mostly, that of Gabby, Sonny Chillingworth and
Paula: Any big festivals or concerts coming up?
Robert: Merrie Monarch in the Spring is the biggest of all hula competitions.
I would like to thank Robert for taking the time out to answer my questions. Down the road I am going to follow up
with some Hawaiian music reviews. In the meantime -- stay warm!