Hawaiian Music History – A Brief Overview

Music is a part of everyday life. We listen to it on the way to work, when we work out, while running errands; all too often in the background. Yet, music is a unique form of expression that charts history, tradition, and culture. Music is the very fabric of Hawaiian culture, its story interweaving through the centuries and evolving to the sound you hear today. European settlers may not have discovered the islands until the 1700s, but Hawaiians discovered the gift of song well before foreigners set foot on Hawaii’s shores.

One of the more curious things about the Hawaiian language is that there is no word for “music,” but its structure has been a mainstay of Hawaiian tradition. Mele, or chanting, was a ritual in ancient Hawaii, a means of preserving ancestral history. These chants chronicled stories of family lineage and legends of Hawaiian gods, tales visually told through the dance of hula. Rituals were guided by a drum beat and a small orchestra of stones, sticks, and rattles, laying the foundation for early Hawaiian music.

Contact with European settlers in the 1700s introduced Hawaiians to the cultures of the world. Missionaries brought Christian hymns and various European instrumentation such as the flute, violin, and the piano. But the Hawaiians were more fascinated with the guitar brought by Spanish cowboys, or paniolos. Hawaiians referred to Spanish music as Cachi-cachi because their fast and improvised style of playing quickly caught on. When the Spanish returned to their home countries, they left their guitars as gifts.

Keen on creating their own playing style, locals began slackening the strings, creating a distinct finger-picking style that suited their rhythmic sensibilities. “Slack-key” guitar became a local craze and encouraged the innovation of another playing style – “steel-guitar.” This involved sliding a piece of steel along the strings, which gave off a soothing, dream-like quality that would soon become the sound representing Hawaiian music.

These innovations inspired locals to embrace other forms of instrumentation. The melody remained firmly in the vocals, an emphasis on language and culture, while the sound, just as ancient rituals had dictated, provided harmony and support. Many were discovering they had innate musical talent and Hawaii quickly garnered such talent for an orchestra. In 1915, the Royal Hawaiian Band was invited to compete at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. This was the first-time people had heard of Hawaii, a culture and a language being expressed through song. It painted a lush portrait of the islands, an impression that everything is as melodic and polished as the music they performed.

The Royal Hawaiian Band put the culture of Hawaii on the map and it was Tau Moe, a family of four also known as, “The Aloha Four,” who popularized the steel-guitar. They were Hawaii’s very own supergroup, touring across the mainland, then the world. Hawaii’s island-born innovations and rhythmic harmonies had found a global audience.

The onset of recording made it possible for people to bring Hawaii home with them. In the 1920s, the radio programming of “Hawaii Calls” and live broadcasts of Hawaiian music made people feel as if they were truly there. Almost every hotel – the only venues big enough to house bands and orchestras – had radio equipment set up. A band that was entertaining guests was suddenly playing to the world. By the 1950s, Hawaii Calls was being broadcast to 750 stations.

Hawaiian music waned in the 60s. Local musicians like Don Ho and Joe Keawe still thrived, but mainland artists had flooded the scene, having tried their hand at the genre solely because of its popularity. Hawaiian music was in danger of becoming a fad had it not been for the next generation of musicians.

Gabby Pahinui put the emphasis back on culture. A slack-key and falsetto wunderkind, he had found inspiration through tradition. As Hawaiian music became more popular, it became increasingly about style. With mainland artists having moved on, the genre refocused on long-held cultural themes of sovereignty and national pride, thus spearheading a cultural awakening.

Hula was in the middle of a resurgence. The Merrie Monarch Festival, once a tourist-pageant, became a celebration of culture as hula groups, or halaus, were now required to create original chants for their routine. It was a license to create rather than repeat, introducing a new tradition to the festival by honoring those of the past. The Merrie Monarch gave rise to artists such as Keali’i Reichel and The Brothers Cazimero.

This renaissance ushered in an era of Hawaiian superstars. Sonny Chillingworth and Willie K were revered for their slack-key prowess, while Linda Dela Cruz and Amy Hanaiali’i Gillom’s falsetto wonder made them overnight sensations. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, simply known as Braddah Iz, remains as the most renowned Hawaiian musician of all time. His medleys of “Starting All Over Again” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” are in syndication to this day, while “Hawaiian Supa’ Man” is a suitably mythic representation of his talent and style.

Reggae didn’t arrive in Hawaii until the 80s. Initially shunned by traditionalists, reggae’s rhythmic wonder meshed well with Hawaii’s similar music sensibilities. Hawaii has since adopted reggae and the larger Jamaican culture with open arms. The Rastafarian flag is a symbol of national pride alongside Hawaii’s own state emblem. Reggae and Hawaii are inseparable on the radio today, breeding “Jawaiian” as a popular and meaningful subgenre in the canon.

What made Hawaiian music so pivotal was the culture. It made people stop and listen. Hawaiian themes, traditions, and the stories they tell are what define Hawaiian music as a genre. So long as artists take inspiration in the language and the culture, the music will remain essential to the world.

The History of Rock Music – Book Review

During the fifties and later, vital, energetic, and rebellious youth produced their own music in contrast to traditional music, becoming a target for censors and conservatism. When I saw this book with an Elvis-like drawing on its cover, I had to pick it up, because it reminded me of the times when most of us in my generation were, musically speaking, in love with Elvis and his successors.

The type of music called rock music sprung up from peacetime America but was adopted by the youth through the entire world. Although it started as an act of a rebellion, rock music became the governing music form for the next few decades, eventually turning into a customary music genre and leaving its throne of rebellion to other types of music. Rock music involves a vocal melody accompanied by musical instruments such as guitars, drums, and keyboard instruments.

When rhythm and blues met country music, rock music was born. The book, “The History of Rock Music,” gives this type of historical information alongside with the biographies of and information about famous rock stars who determined and shaped the course of rock music from early on. In addition to the musicians, Dick Clark with his television show “American Bandstand” promoted the rock music and coerced its respectability by the general population.

Among the earlier artists mentioned are Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Woodie Guthrie, and Bob Dylan, and from the sixties on come the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Motown, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Later, when hard rock surfaced, its representatives became Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and Black Sabbath. From seventies on, singer-songwriters came into the music scene like Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell.

The book not only gives information about music groups and presents several features from actual history, but it also provides details on the instruments and the evolution of rock music trends to the end of the nineties, from before Elvis’s time to Curt Cobain’s grunge.

“The History of Rock Music” is a volume from the Masters of Music Series, in hardcover and 64 pages, with ISBN-10: 0764151371 and ISBN-13: 9780764151378.

The author, Andrea Bergamini, has written other books on music like Beethoven and the Classical Age, Music of the World, and Le rock. Also, a great deal of appreciation goes to the book’s illustrator, Ivan Stalio, who has illustrated numerous volumes such as: The Atlas of World Religions, Adapting to the Environment, The Animal Atlas, The History of Technology, Life Cycles, Mammals, and Plants.

With its large pages filled with bright photos, graphics, and illustrations, this young adult book is a delightful book to read and enjoy for people of all ages.