HERE IN HAWAII – Hawaii Musics (Plural) – Part 2

Hawaiian Musics (Plural) – Part 2

[Click here to first read “Part 1”]
In the first two decades of the 20th century, paralleling America’s fascination with the ukulele there was a craze for pseudo-Hawaiian “novelty” songs. Some featured nonsense words, like “Yakka-Hula Hickey-Doola.” Some were risqué ditties, like “They’re Wearin’ ’em Higher in Hawaii.” Others were vaudeville numbers built on ethnic jokes, like “O’Brien is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian.” You probably won’t hear those songs in public today.Few composers on Tin Pan Alley had ever been west of New Jersey; but their songs did help to get Hawaii’s visitor industry going.

Fortunately, by the 1930s, songs combining proper Hawaiian and English words had become hits on the radio, and are still in the repertoire of local musicians. Known as hapa-haole (half-Caucasian) songs, these include “On the Beach at Waikiki,” “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” and “My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua.” (You know that one . . . it’s “where the humuhumunukunukuapua’a goes swimming by.”)

By now, show-bar and luau entertainers have gotten hundreds of thousands of people – maybe even you – singing along to “Pearly Shells” or “The Hukilau Song.” Hapa-haole songs are still being written; and in a delicious irony, there is now a rendition of “Little Grass Shack” sung entirely in Hawaiian!

Just as on the mainland, there was a folk-music revival here in the 1960s and ’70s. Young local musicians sought out obscure, older musicians in rural places, and got them recorded. Among their traditional and vintage songs, in both Hawaiian and English, many were accompanied by slack-key guitar, a style that local guitar players immediately took up and celebrated.

As the two generations played and recorded together – almost always acoustically, not amplified – new popular songs were composed in both languages. A burgeoning interest in “world music,” since the 1980s, has stimulated interest in Oriental and Polynesian musical styles, particularly in drumming. And Hawaiian songs have now been cross-pollinated with the Reggae rhythms of another famously musical tropical island – Jamaica – to produce the sound known here as “Jawaiian.”

You can hear the music of the islands on Big Island radio stations, but bear in mind that our huge mountains block the signals, so most stations broadcast from the east side can’t be heard in the west, and vice versa. KHBC in Hilo (1060 AM and 92.7 FM), KAPA (100.3 FM in Hilo, 99.1 in Kona — website offers live streaming radio broadcast), and KWXX in Kona (101.5 FM) have Hawaiian music formats.

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