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Q+A Alan Yamamoto


On Feb. 13, the local music industry will be recognized with the first-ever “Best Hawaiian Music Album” category at the Grammy Awards. As president of the Hawai‘i Association of Recording Arts, Alan Yamamoto knows this is a big boost for Hawaiian music, no matter who wins.

Q: The local music industry has pushed for a Grammy category since the mid-'80s. How does it feel to finally have one?

A: It's taken us a long time to get to this point. We've worked hard to make people realize there is more to Hawaiian music than Alfred Apaka and Don Ho.

Photo: Guy A. Sibilla

Q: There was a big hubbub over how to define "Best Hawaiian Album," specifically, whether Hawaiian lyrics should be required.

A: I felt strongly that the albums needed to be based in Hawaiian language, because that's Hawaiian music. It was hard to explain to some of the members of the National Academy [of Recording Arts and Sciences], who work on pop, jazz or rock music, why it was so important. We compromised. The album needs to be "predominantly" in Hawaiian, but there's no fixed percentage.

Q: In the past, though, that requirement would've excluded some Hawai'i greats, such as Don Ho or Cecilio & Kapono.

A: Well, in order for people to qualify for "Hawaiian Album of the Year" for the Hökü Awards, their album needs to be 75 percent in the Hawaiian language. When we started talking about the Grammys, a lot of people were saying, "The requirement isn't fair, because it would exclude groups like Nä Leo." But the person who turned the tide at those Grammy meetings was Ken Makuakane. He told the members, "I produced Nä Leo. I wrote some of their songs. Call it Hawaiian pop or whatever, but that is not Hawaiian music." I would like to see another category for English-lyric songs that are Hawai'i music, but we wanted to start with something more pure, more fine-tuned.

Q: The nominated artists are The Brothers Cazimero, Keali'i Reichel, Ho'okena, Willie K and Amy Hänaiali'i Gilliom and various slack-key guitarists for an instrumental compilation. Do you think any important albums were left out?

A: There is one, and that is Nä Palapalai's Ke 'Ala Beauty. Everybody expected them to make it. I think people just weren't as aware of them outside of Hawai'i.

Q: Any predictions on the winner?

A: I don't want to say! [Laughs] OK, OK, Keali'i. He's the best known, with the most sales, so he's got the edge. But you never know.

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