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50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii

An esteemed panel of musicologists, producers and artists select the 50 greatest songs in Hawai‘i music history.


(page 4 of 7)

24. Puamana (Sea Breeze)

Words by Charles Kekua Farden, music by Irmgard ‘Aluli, 1937



A beautiful tune extolling the Farden family’s home in Lahaina, Maui. Keola Beamer, who recorded a version of “Puamana” with his brother in 1978, remembers speaking with ‘Aluli about the song. “I asked her, ‘Auntie, how did you write this beautiful song?’ She said, ‘I was in my home, sweeping my floor, and the breeze was coming through, and I thought, oh, how beautiful,’” Beamer says. “Man, that day I went home and I swept my whole house.”


25. Kanaka Waiwai

Music by John Almeida, 1915​

Few other church songs have enjoyed the enormous local popularity of “Kanaka Waiwai,” based on the biblical verse in which Jesus tells a rich man to give away his possessions to gain eternal life. The origins of the song, which experienced a revival with the Sons of Hawai‘i’s 1971 recording, are often disputed. But the music, if not the lyrics, is widely credited to legendary musician John Almeida, who wrote more than 300 songs in his lifetime.  


26. Pua Līlīlehua 

Lyrics by Mary Kawena Pukui, Music by Kahauanu Lake, Late ‘60s

‘Ukulele master Lake made his impressive debut as a composer with this song for his soon-to-be-wife, Maiki, a kumu hula. His mentor, Pukui, provided the words, which describe both a flower and the wind and rain of Pālolo, Maiki’s hometown. “The song’s timing sets it apart as a new influence,” notes Hawaiian scholar Kimo Keaulana. “Most modern hula songs are composed in 4/4 timing, but this was in 2/4 timing, [setting a] precedence for other composers in the Hawaiian Renaissance.” 


27. Pua L​īlia 

By ​Alfred Alohikea, 1916

In the 1920s and ’30s, the handsome Alohikea, a consummate ladies’ man, was considered one of the Islands’ finest entertainers by such contemporaries as Charles E. King and Andy Cummings. Today, he’s best known as the composer laureate of Kaua‘i. Considered one of Hawai‘i’s most erotic love songs, “Pua Līlia” is a favorite among such recording artists as Robert Cazimero and Marlene Sai because of its dynamic melodic range, which showcases their vocal prowess. 


28. Mele Kalikimaka

By R. Alex Anderson, 1949​

“Mele Kalikimaka” has become R. Alex Anderson’s best-known composition, outpacing songs such as “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula,” which were, in Anderson’s heyday, his biggest hits. No surprise, as it’s truly become Hawai‘i’s way to say a Merry Christmas. The carol is well known on the Mainland as well, thanks to its original appearance as the B-side to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” release.


29. Waimānalo Blues 

By Liko Martin and Thor Wold, 1974

Hawaiian activist and composer Liko Martin originally wrote this song as “Na-na-kuli Blues.” But when Country Comfort recorded it for their 1974 album We are the Children, the group localized the song as a political protest about the development taking place all around them: “Spun right around and found that I’d lost/ the things that I couldn’t lose/ the beaches they sell to build their hotels/ my fathers and I once knew.” 


30. A Hawaiian Lullaby 

Lyrics by Hector Venegas, Music by Peter Moon, 1973

Venegas found comfort in writing the words to this local classic while his daughter, Krista, recovered from a long bout of meningitis. At the time, Venegas handled bookings for Sunday
Ma-noa’s Peter Moon, who asked if he could put music to the words. Venegas agreed, but didn’t hear the song until after the group had recorded it at Capitol Records, with Robert Cazimero singing lead. “I got chicken skin,” recalls Venegas, who estimates that about 30 artists have recorded the song since. 


31. Ipo Lei Manu

By Queen Kapi‘olani, 1890

Best known for her charitable deeds, Kapi‘olani composed this touching love song for her husband, King Kala-kaua, in 1890, shortly after he sailed from Honolulu for California. The king died in San Francisco in January 1891, never getting the chance to hear the song. “Sometimes sadness can be so beautiful,” says musician Robert Cazimero. “In this particular piece of work, it’s that overwhelming lamentation and sadness that makes the song and the singer rise.”  


32. Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

By E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen/Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, 1993

photo: brett uprichard, bigbamboostock


On its face, nothing could be simpler than this song. One voice, one ‘ukulele, one take. But something about it captured the essence of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s ineffable talent, and revitalized the beauty of a well-worn standard. It’s become a global sensation, and its popularity shows no sign of letting up. Leah Bernstein of Mountain Apple Co. says various edits of the song have been licensed 111 times to punctuate movies, television dramas, commercials and even Web sites.


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Honolulu Magazine October 2019