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100 Years of Hawaiian Music

Hawaiian music, however flexible, has its own distinctive personality.


(page 6 of 8)

Gabby Pahinui plays with his sons and friends.

Photo: Courtesy Panini Records

The Seventies: The Hawaiian Rennaissance

In 1971, George S. Kanahele published an editorial in The Honolulu Advertiser decrying the decline of Hawaiian music. “Popular Hawaiian music is in its death throes,” he wrote. “Add it to the necrology of Hawaiiana, for soon it too may be buried alongside the ancient mele.”

But the decade’s worth of unchecked development and expansion after statehood had begun to rankle many. The political awareness sparked by local events such as the Kalama Valley evictions, and even national pop culture such as Alex Haley’s Roots, began to manifest itself in Hawaiian music as well.

Sunday Mānoa led the musical revolution with its album Guava Jam. By expertly infusing traditional Hawaiian music with contemporary elements, Peter Moon and the Cazimero Brothers suddenly made it cool to like Hawaiian music.

George Helm was an outspoken critic of the occupation of Kahoolawe.

Photo: Courtesy Panini Records

“Peter was the mastermind,” says Jon De Mello, president of Mountain Apple Co. “That intro to ‘Kawika,’ a song that originated as a chant, but now to hear elements of be-bop? It was electrifying, and it really opened the floodgates for everything that was coming.”

Gabby Pahinui, for example, had been playing around town and releasing records for years, but his eponymous 1971 album (known as the Brown Album) became an instant classic that repopularized slack key guitar. Hui Ohana’s 1973 Young Hawai‘i Plays Old Hawaii did the same for falsetto, and the rest of the ’70s would be full of similar revivals.

“No longer were we courting the Mainland,” says Harry B. Soria Jr. “We turned inward, recording ourselves, awakening ourselves. And all the cultural aspects worked together: sovereignty, self-determination, language, instruments, hula. At first they were individual pursuits of people who had these passions, but they all started to intertwine and act together. It was a new direction and a new century.”

Photo: Steve Brinkman



Hula Resurgence

Hawaiian music (mele) , has always been inextricably linked with oli (chant) and with hula, a relationship borne out by the sheer number of prominent musicians who also worked with hula halau—Genoa Keawe, Kahauanu Lake, the Brothers Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Manu Boyd, Kealii Reichel. When, in the 1970s, the Merrie Monarch Festival transformed from its original incarnation as a tourist-oriented pageant to a more rigorous, creatively exciting hula competition, it couldn’t help but fuel the inventiveness of Hawaiian music as well. One key element was co-founder George Naope’s new requirement that competing hālau dance to their own original chants. “It ensured that nobody could get by solely by repeating,” says Stillman. “The creativity that was licensed as a result really took seed.”


Cultural Awakening

“In a lot of ways, the Renaissance happened just in time,” says Amy Stillman. “When people my age started looking around for our culture, there were still living sources to learn from."

Local bands such as Kalapana and C&K melded Hawaiian with contemporary rock music.

Photo: Bishop Museum


Soft Rock Rules The Radio

Not everyone was speaking Hawaiian in the ’70s. Thanks to Cecilio and Kapono, Country Comfort, Olomana, Kalapana, The Beamer Brothers and others, it was a blockbuster decade for radio-friendly, folk-inspired local music. Many of the songs addressed serious concerns of the day, but couched them in a palatable, English-language form. The live music scene was just as hot as the radio—from the free Sunshine Festivals in Diamond Head Crater to the jam-packed weekly gigs at Top of the Shoppe and Territorial Tavern, there seemed to be music around every corner.



Essential Cuts from the Seventies

[1971]  Sons of Hawaii’s The Folk Music of Hawaii, [ 1972 ]  Gabby Pahinui’s Gabby (The Brown Album), [1973]  Gabby Pahinui’s Rabbit Island Music Festival, [ 1973 ]  Hui Ohana’s Young Hawaii Plays Old Hawaii, [ 1973 ]  Sunday Manoa’s Sunday Manoa 3, [1973 - 1980]  Palani Vaughan’s Ia Oe E Ka La, Vols. 1 through 4, [1974]  Country Comfort’s We Are the Children, [1975 ]  Emma Veary’s The Best of Emma, [1975]  Melveen Leed’s Hawaiian Country, [1976]  Olomana’s Like a Seabird in the Wind, [1978]  Beamer Brothers’ Honolulu City Lights, [ 1978 ]  The Brothers Cazimero’s Hoala, [ 1978]  Nina Kealiiwahamana’s Nina



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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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