Under the Radar

The Hawaiian music recording industry is a funny beast. While there have been times of active recording and large scale album production, there have also been periods of big lulls. I would like to focus on one particular time period in which the Hawaiian music recording industry was not as strong, but produced some amazing music, namely the early 1980s to the mid-90s. We could bookend these years with the deaths of Gabby Pahinui and Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. What is interesting to note is that Gabby’s death signaled the end of the slack key recording boom of the 70s and Israel’s passing coincided with the beginning of the slack key recording boom of the late 90s and 2000s. So I have put together my top 5 under the radar Hawaiian music albums from the era.  All of these were recorded by big-time heavy hitters of Hawaiian music, but they are either albums that are out of print or extremely hard to find.  Also, it is rare that you hear these songs on the radio for that very reason. What I hope to do with this post is to expose you to some albums that you may not know about and also get you to appreciate these artists that continued to work and record during the dark years. When Jawaiian began to take over the air waves and the future of true Hawaiian music recordings was in limbo these individuals showed the true spirit of HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries.

Here in order of year of release are my top 5 under the radar Hawaiian music albums:


Haunani Apoliona “Na Lei Hulu Makua, Na Wahine Hawai`i” 1984.  This album is only available as an out of print lp or cassette and has yet to be released in cd or mp3 form.  This is a shame as it is a true gem of Hawaiian music, featuring exquisite slack key playing, impeccable vocals and that uniquely beautiful sense of Hawaiian vocal phrasing. I was lucky to find the cassette on ebay in a lot of random Hawaiian music albums.  Definitely a score! Fortunately a sample of one of the tracks from the album can be found here: http://ec.libsyn.com/p/8/f/1/8f13631f54f68094/04_Na_Kuahiwi_Elima___Kimo_Hula.mp3?d13a76d516d9dec20c3d276ce028ed5089ab1ce3dae902ea1d06c88736d5c85ff931&c_id=5335405


Moe Keale “Aloha Is a Part of Me, a Part of You” 1985. This album was printed onto cd but has since gone out of print.  This album features what I think to be one of the greatest compositions in the history of Hawaiian music, the English language song “Aloha Is…”  While IZ’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gets lots of attention from its inclusion in numerous Hollywood productions, this song is where it’s at. The mood of the song, subtle masterful `ukulele playing and spiritual lyrics and singing makes for a universal song of pure beauty. I discovered this album while working at an `ukulele store as it was part of a random assortment of albums they had to play while we were open. A quick burn onto my laptop while clocked in helped add this to my collection. Hear for yourself as someone put a recording of the song onto youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6B34PKhBWw


The Lim Family “Aloha Na Makana: Gifts of Love” 1988. Something about the Lim family always uplifts my spirits.  Their intricate and complex harmonies with masterful instrumentation just makes for something special. They always have unique song choice that is delivered in a way that is fine tuned yet so natural and real. This is an extremely difficult album to find, definitely snap one up if you see it either on ebay, at a garage sale or thrift store. Luckily a music teacher college of mine had a copy that I was able to borrow and burn for myself. The best I could do was find a link to their cover of the country classic “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol Days)” here: http://www.allmusic.com/song/grandpa-tell-me-bout-the-good-old-days-mt0002280872 


Led Ka`apana and the New Ikona “Nahenahe” 1991. Ledward of course has had a long and illustrious recording career, but his albums with his group Ikona aren’t that well known outside the realm of hard core Hawaiian music listeners.  This album along with “Jus Press” from 1985 are must have for any fan of Hawaiian music. This is another score from my days working in the `ukulele store. A mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks, there isn’t a misfire on the whole album. A highlight is his version of “Sands.” This steel guitar classic is in just the right place in Ledward’s hands. Sadly I couldn’t find any audio resources on the web to share so that you could get a feel for how great this album is.


Mel Amina “Ku Ha`aheo Kakou, E Na Hawai`i” 1996. I was unaware of this album until a close friend of mine and musician brought it to my knowledge. It just goes to show there are so many hidden gems out there buried under the thousands and thousands of Hawaiian music recordings. While Mel is well known for his work with his cousin Israel and the Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau, this solo album has everything: chanting, slack key guitar, Hawaiian vocals and a classic English language song just waiting to be discovered “Na Pali Outlaw.” Again, I couldn’t find anything online to give you a taste of the diversity found on this album so you’l have to seek it out yourself.

All these albums helped keep the flame of true Hawaiian music burning while outside influences threatened the vitality of the Hawaiian music industry. As Jawaiian music gained in popularity many artists were forced out of jobs and pressure mounted to change their sound. But these artists along with others from this era pressed on. They understood it was important to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries and create music that would last forever. It is my hope that as time goes on and more people see for themselves the greatness of these recording they get rediscovered and become available to the Hawaiian music listening public.

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