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Hawaii Pop

For underexposed mainlanders, Hawaiian music is mellow slack key guitar, or traditional falsetto with lots of guitar and ukulele, or maybe it’s the older hapa-haole songs — Little Grass Shack and Ukulele Lady. All that stuff has its place in the history of Hawaii’s sound, but there’s a new generation. The golden boy of the ukulele gets lots of play and it’s well deserved; Jake Shimabukuro is a remarkable musician and modest and charming in person. But even he’s not the only sound that pours out of the speakers on your rental car.

Henry Kapono is creating new rock and roll in the Hawaiian language. Nesian 9 is making reggae beat backed sweet soul with wow, those are great harmonies. And Anuhea, well, she’s kind of a big deal, it turns out, taking home two Na Hoku (Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts) awards for her accomplishments in Hawaiian music.

If you want to get a preview of what’s making air time on the islands, here’s a guide to Hawaii’s radio dial, by island. Click through — lots of the stations are wired so you can listen to the live broadcast from wherever you are. It’s not quite the same as listening while  sitting on the H1 in traffic, but you’ll get a sense of  that new Hawaiian sound, sweet voices, reggae beats, political rhymes… it’s all there and it’s all Hawaiian.  Tiny Bubbles need not apply.

Mighty Uke in Honolulu

I was beyond delighted to catch Mighty Uke in Seattle, but how much more thrilling would it be to see the Mighty Uke Roadshow in the homeland of the ukulele?! It’s showing at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on March 19th, 2010. Learn more on the Academy’s website.

“Aloha Oe” Considered

Queen Liliuokalani Statue by JMCD via Flickr

Queen Liliuokalani Statue by JMCD via Flickr

After a recent visit to Hawaii, KUOW’s Amanda Wilde has a new connection to an old melody. The last of the Hawaiian monarchs penned this tune. It was inspired by a poignant moment on top of a mountain on the Island of Oahu. Amanda spoke with KUOW’s Dave Beck about a classic tune that Sounds Familiar.

Falling in love with Hawaii will change how you feel about the iconic Hawaiian farewell tune. My friend Gregg supplied the sample tracks for this radio story. You can listen here.

Budget Travel: Reader’s Best Photos

Here on Holoholo Wale I try to look into the corners and behind the usual sun, surf, and sand stories about Hawaii (though I call that beer, beaches, and babes). But every now and then, I remember — Hawaii is freaky gorgeous, really, just breathtaking, and the sun, surf and sand, while not the be all end all of Hawaii, is what draws a lot of us there in the first place.

There’s an excellent reminder of just how remarkable the islands are on Budget Travel — they’re running a slideshow of their readers’ best Hawaii photos. Have a look and be amazed.

Kanikapila Means Jam Session. Sort Of.

Kona Kitchen, a Hawaiian style restaurant in North Seattle, hosts a once a month kanikapila — or jam session. It’s at a funny time of day — nine to noon, that’s right, in the morning — but there’s still a decent showing. Yesterday morning (September 12) there were 12 or 16 musicians there. There were a few guitars, a bass, a lap steel and a couple of ukuleles.

The folks who show up at Kona Kitchen play a lot of traditional tunes or songs written in Native Hawaiian. I like to go because I can’t really read along with the words so I have to listen to figure out the patterns in the music. Most of the tunes are fairly simple three chord numbers, easy enough to strum along to once you’ve got the key and can hear the changes. I lurk on the edges, look over shoulders at music books, or try to train an eye on some other uke player’s fingers in order to keep up, but I never even pretend to sing along, no can do.

I went hunting for some kind of etiquette advice about what, exactly, you’re supposed to do as the newbie at the jam, but not much turned up. Maybe there’s a song book that everyone uses, maybe now and then everyone goes rogue. Maybe there’s a leader or maybe it’s just the player that starts the song. Maybe they ask the new kid what she wants to play — that song about the seaweed, what’s it called? — or maybe you have to shout something out. Maybe you need to throw in a couple of bucks or maybe it’s just a show up and play thing. Eyes and ears open, that seems to be the trick. Oh, and tuning up. That’s good too.

I’ve yet to attend a kanikapila in the islands — but a little judicious searching turns up this event in Kona. The Ukulele Underground has a regional get together section on the forum. Kona Web has a calendar that includes some jam listings if you’re on the Big Island. Honolulu on the Cheap mentions uke lessons at the Windward Mall this fall. I couldn’t find a definitive resource — I’d probably just ask at the nearest music store — that’d be a real music store, not a place selling cheap lacquer souvenir ukes — to find out if there’s a jam where outsiders are welcome.

I walked away from the Saturday morning jam with the tune from Ipo Lei Momi stuck in my head. There are worse ways to preoccupy your brain than filling it with a racy little Hawaiian song.

Iz, Gabby, and the Sounds of Hawaii

Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track –it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track — it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement — then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”

Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980,he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands — he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.

If you want the academic take, Dancing Cat records has A Brief History of Slack Key that includes a lot of arcane information about tunings and the harmonics and why it’s called slack key. But I’d skip all that and go straight for the the sound of the rain on Maui, the surf, the wind, and Hi’ilawe.

Kalama Heritage Festival

Kalama, Washington, is a little strip of a town along a river that bears the same name. John Kalama, a native Hawaiian, shipped out from the islands to work the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. His travels took him to the land of the Nisqually tribe on the banks of the river where he found a new home and a wife, Mary Martin, the Nisqually chief’s daughter. For the past few years,  the town of Kalama has hosted a powwow/luau that celebrates the bond of these two people — the native Hawaiians and the Nisqually tribe.

A few years back, I went to photograph the festival. I met ukulele master Bill Tapia, I believe he’d just turned 96. He was teaching workshops and giving a concert. I ran into Mr. Tapia in the lobby after his workshop, he was unwinding and bossing his handlers around. He looked me straight in the eye. “You were in my workshop,” he said, “but WHERE IS YOUR UKULELE!?”

The Kalama Heritage Festival takes place this weekend, August 28-30th. There are more details on the festival site, here.