Editor's Page: Hawaii’s Own Sound

How we named the best new albums in the Islands.

Photo: Linny Morris

HONOLULU Magazine has been reporting on local music all the way back to our days as Paradise of the Pacific, a century ago. Our coverage has grown up with the music, and with the local music industry. Over the last eight years, we’ve devoted pages to the subject with such articles as “The 50 Greatest Hawaii Albums of All Time,” June 2004, “50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii,” June 2007 and “100 Years of Hawaiian Music,” November 2010, among others.

There’s been a strong sense of history and nostalgia to these sprawling overviews. The music of the Islands, after all, is a way of understanding our shared local culture. But the music doesn’t stand still, of course. Since our first big poll of musicians and industry professionals in 2004, nearly a decade has passed and dozens of new artists have emerged, while veterans have evolved in their careers.

Managing editor Michael Keany steered the creation of this month’s cover story and has been the author or co-author of most of our music coverage, including 2010’s “100 Years of Hawaiian Music.” That article mentioned a handful of new releases but focused mainly on the 20th century. Says Keany, “I realized that, past the end of those 100 years, I didn’t have a good grasp on the canon of new music. But there’s been so much music coming out, I was selfishly interested in learning what the best of it was. I figured readers might be interested in the answer, too.”

Keany assembled a brain trust of 25 local recording artists, producers and radio personalities and asked them to name the best Hawaii albums released since 2000. We’re grateful for their enthusiastic and thoughtful lists. “They really helped identify the best of the new music from a wide range of perspectives,” Keany says.

There was more to sift than one might think. Since we’re in local media, we get copies of new releases in the mail weekly. The CDs pile up! A lot of it is pretty catchy, but we wanted to hone in on the music that seems likely to last, the music that future Hawaii music fans will look back to as the classics of our time.

Once we got the final list of 25, Keany, along with senior editor David Thompson and summer intern, Maria Kanai, listened to all the albums, interviewed the artists and producers for each of them. The result is 12 pages of essential reading—and essential listening—for anyone who cares about Hawaii’s music.

“It felt like the panel gave me a present,” says Keany, “and listening to the 25 best albums was a revelation. The most striking thing is how alive and strong Hawaiian language is. These young composers are fluent in Hawaiian in a way that many Hawaiian musicians haven’t been in recent decades. It’s exciting.”

If it feels odd that we’re listing albums in the age of iTunes, we were pleased to find that idea of the album, rooted as it may be in two-sided vinyl LPs, has survived. A lot of our picks were strong concept albums. Keal‘i Reichel’s album, Kealaokamaile, for example, is a song-by-song memorial to his grandmother, enjoyed best as a whole work.

On the other hand, it’s true that CDs are hard to come by now. Seven or eight of our 25 albums could not be found in local stores. But most are available through either iTunes or Amazon.com as downloads.

While the music industry is in flux and the format of the album may be in transition, the music of Hawaii is as strong as ever.