With the highly anticipated launch of Hokule`a and Hikianalia from Hilo tomorrow, I thought it appropriate that I discuss some of my favorite mele about sailing and navigation. With the prevalence of interest in Polynesian navigation and wa`a I am surprised that there isn’t more music centered around this topic. While these concepts are deeply imbedded in Hawaiian chants, as the wa`a was a central theme in the culture, much is lacking in the realm of modern Hawaiian music.
What is interesting is that there are a lot more songs about modern sailing vessels than the traditional ones. This isn’t too surprising as Hawaiians were pretty intrigued about most modern things that were introduced here and tended to write songs about them. One of the first mele that comes to mind is “Na Ka Pueo” This is a widely recorded song about a cargo ship that sailed between Hana, Maui and Honolulu. This song has made its way as an early falsetto recording by Genoa Keawe and Bill Lincoln to modern slack key interpretations by Ledward Ka`apana. I would recommend checking out Martin Pahinui’s version on his little known album Martin Pahinui. His falsetto is so reminiscent of his father’s it gives me chicken skin. This album along with sound samples can be found here.
Another one of my favorites about modern boats is “Moku Kia Kahi.” This is a unique recording in Hawaiian music as it modulates between the minor and major keys between the verse and chorus. It’s a really tricky number, but when you see a group able to nail all its changes, it is magic for the ears. The lyrics of this song cover some of the basics behind handling a ship, from the timing of getting the right winds, slacking the lines, setting the anchor and lifting the paddles. While many Hawaiian mele are metaphors for love making, it is especially more so with songs about ships, so you make the connections! As for recorded material, the true masterful version of this song is by the Sons of Hawai`i. This album is a must for any serious Hawaiian fan. The instrumentation is truly amazing, with interactions between the ukulele, bass and steel guitar that is nothing short of masterful. Also, don’t miss out on George Helm’s version from the album A True Hawaiian. Get a taste here. Now that album is a MUST. That one is definitely on my ever growing list of future blog topics.
One other from the Sons of Hawai`i is “No Ke Ano Ahi Ahi.” As the opening track to Folk Songs of Hawai`i, also known as the faces album, the opening lines “E na luina! E huki mai i ka heleuma! Ho`omakaukau e holo aku!” is a call to the sailors to pull the lines and get ready to set sail. And sail they do, well almost, as this song recounts the anticipated voyage of King Lunalilo to America that he unfortunately never made. Either way the song mentions the unfurling of the sails, the lifting of the anchors and the fluttering of the flag that would have taken place had he not died from tuberculosis at the too young age of 39. Here’s a little sample.
But it is Hokule`a and Hikianalia that are setting sail, so why all this talk about 20th century boats!?! You’re right, I just wanted to give a little background to some other songs that do cover sailing in case there were some important songs you weren’t familiar with. And there are many more, but those are some of the more important ones. So onto the traditional sailing vessel, the wa`a, the ones that will carry our spirit and our drive for a more sustainable earth for all, the ones that will carry the message of Malama Honua to all corners of the Earth!
I’d like to start with a recording that was first released in 1977 by Roland Cazimero, during the time of the first launching of the Hokule`a voyage. The album Hokule`a – The Musical Saga was co-written with legendary chanter Keli`i Tau`a. The songs are pleasant musical compositions in the vein of much of the Cazimero’s music, but the magic lies in the lyrical content. As this was an important step for modern Hawaiian composing that put into song the contemporary goings on of the Hawaiian people. This spirit is at the core of Hawaiian composition, to capture what is happening in song. That is the essential trait of Hawaiian music, to put into words and music the historical events and the observations of what is happening with the people. This album somehow got lost with time and I myself just recently discovered it. It is not hard to find, being available on mele.com here and on iTunes as well.
A more well known composition concerning the first voyage of the Hokule`a is the song “Star of Gladness” originally by the Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau and later by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole as a solo artist. What’s really great about this song as it was composed by an actual member of the Hokule`a sailing team, Boogie Kalama. There is some useful information about him and the composition of this song here. The recording by the Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau is from their album Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha which was released in 1984. This album is readily available on iTunes and mele.com as well. Also, from that same album is the song “Mo`olele O Lahaina” which talks about another wa`a that was built on Maui and has been used as an inter island source of sailing knowledge and mobile educational source. But one final note on “Star of Gladness” is that is was, as mentioned later, recorded by Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. What is cool is that there is footage available of him performing this song in Miloli`i available on youtube. This is important, as this small fishing village in South Kona was the launch point for a voyage of Hokule`a to the South Pacific in 1985. Some details about Mau Piailug’s time in Miloli`i is explained in great detail here.
One final number of importance is “Hokule`a Hula” by Carlos Andrade. The specifics of this song is covered in detail here and I would recommend you take the time to read this description for the background of this mele. What I can tell you is that this song is well recorded with notable versions by Peter Apo and Carlos’s group Na Pali. A full version of Carlos Andrade’s version is available here for a listen.
With the launching of Hokule`a and Hikianalia we have reached a significant point in the history of Hawai`i where we have a central theme to focus our energies to Malama Honua, or take care of our Earth. Here is where we can incorporate HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries into our lives. As these wa`a sail around the world exchanges of information are available like never before. By incorporating social media and the modern informational exchanges available on the internet, it is possible to stay in touch digitally and spiritually. Visit the facebook page, the website or join their google+ community site. Either way, it is easy to get involved on this historical voyage.
A beautiful thing about the culture of Hawai`i and its music is how it is ever changing and evolving. From the original oli about the journey from Tahiti to Hawai`i, to the mele of the late 19th and early 20th centuries about the modern sailing vessels, to the modern rediscovery and rebirth of the Hokule`a voyaging canoe, the music has been this bind that holds the journey together. Join us as we sing these songs together, swaying and bobbing with the music as the wa`a does along the deep and vast oceans of our Honua. EO!