The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 5: From Prussia With Love

royal hwn band

One of the most influential people on the sound of Hawaiian music came from an unexpected place. Having being chosen by the king of Prussia to be sent to Hawaii by request of King Kamehameha the Fifth, Henry Berger changed the face and direction of Hawaiian music for many generations to come. After the death of his father when Henry was four years old he went to live with a talented musician uncle. Under the tutelage of this uncle who was well known as the preeminent village musician and exposure to music in church, Henry went on to join the German army where he was trained in military marches. It was through this schooling that he gained the skills that impressed the king enough to choose him over ten other applicants to fill King Kamehameha the Fifth’s request for a band leader.

Soon after arriving in Honolulu in 1872 Henry went immediately to work. It is reported that he gave a piano recital the very next day and conducted a band concert within a week. He quickly befriended future queen Liliuokalani and by 1877 and assumed full leadership of the “King’s Band” which was to later renamed as the “Royal Hawaiian Band.” In 1879 he became a naturalized Hawaiian citizen of the Kingdom. He worked closely with Liliuokalani helping her arrange her songs. Later, starting 1893 he started the band program at Kamehameha Schools. And he also started what was to be later known as the Honolulu Symphony. During his time as band master he conducted over 32,000 concerts. The Royal Hawaiian Band is still functioning today and is the oldest municipal band in the United States. (For more information on the history of the Royal Hawaiian Band go here for a detailed history by David Bandy).

But these posts are not history lessons though. Rather, I would like to look at how the outside cultures influenced the music that was being made in Hawaii and how these elements influenced modern Hawaiian music. First if we look at the German military march of the mid to late 19th century we hear music set to a strict tempo with an oom-pah beat-like quality. A bass drum or a low brass plays the down beat with a high snare and the alto brass playing the off beat. The final strain is extremely lyrical with a blustery ending.

We do know that Henry worked very closely with Liliuokalani during the 1870s and 1880s. It was during this time that she composed a large number of her songs. If we compare her compositions before and after the arrival of Henry Berger we can hear a marked difference. Compare for example the songs “Pauahi O Kalani” and “Ka Hanu O Hanakeoki” Now, I know we are comparing a choral arrangement and a recording by the Sons of Hawaii, but I choose these two because they are faithful reproductions of the original. One, a choir from the Kamehameha Schools and the other by the leading Hawaiian music group playing an arrangement carefully researched by leader Eddie Kamae.

“Pauahi O Kalani” was written in 1868 before the arrival of Henry Berger. The melody is lofty and lyrical. It is full of romanticism and lofty ambition. This is the type of song that shows signs of influence from the church and their hymnal culture (see my previous post “The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Muisc Part 2: The Church). In comparison “Ka Hanu O Hanakeoki” written in 1874 is driving, with a fixed rhythm. The melody builds from a secure start in the lower registers and constantly rises to the upper registers, finally the song ends with a flourishing crescendo. These elements line up well with those found in the German military marches that were so familiar to Henry Berger and that he surely shared with Liliuokalani.

This is not to say that Liliuokalani’s compositions before Berger’s arrival didn’t have elements of European marches. Through the church and European cultural influences before Henry Berger, Liliuokalani had exposure to musical elements found in the European marches that had seeped into to much of the music created on that continent. Also, Liliuokalani did continue to compose beautiful songs with hymnal qualities after Berger’s work with her. The point is through working with Liliuokalani, Berger made these elements more formalized in her composing. Through his work directly arranging her compositions for the Royal Hawaiian Band, Berger had his direct hand on her songs. It is Liliuokalani herself that called him “The Father of Hawaiian Music.”

One song in which we can point at a direct correlation to a European march is in what was to become Hawaii’s anthem “Hawaii Ponoi.” It is documented that the lyrics were set to the melody of the Prussian hymn “Heil Dir Im Siegerkranz which was loosely based on the English anthem “God Save the Queen. Hear the similarities?

It can’t be underestimated either the influence Henry Berger had on the direction of Hawaiian music through his work with the Kamehameha Schools from 1893-1903. By now Henry Berger had made formalized arrangements and standardized sheet music for many many Hawaiian songs. It was now during his work at the Kamehameha Schools that he taught and spread these standardized arrangements. During his time there he taught hundreds of students of Hawaiian ancestry how to read music and to play various band instruments. Many of these students went on to perform with the Royal Hawaiian Band and further more many of these musicians were some of the first Hawaiian music recording and touring musicians in the 1910s and 1920s. And on top of that just to show the extent of Berger’s influence, many of the off spring of these musicians went on to enroll at the Kamehameha Schools and continued this tradition. Ask any professional Hawaiian music artist of today and almost all of them have some connection to music through the Kamehameha Schools. I cannot site all the examples here as that would take up an entire blog post in itself.

So I don’t feel Liliuokalani was exaggerating when she called Henry Berger the father of Hawaiian music. From Berger’s work with Liliuokalani, to the arranging of the Hawaii state anthem, and his tireless dedication to song documentation and teaching at Kamehameha Schools, his hands are all over the development of Hawaiian music in the 20th century. We can still hear the steady tempos, low down beat with high off beat and bombastic endings in Hawaiian music today. And all these elements originated in the military marches of 19th century Prussia. By the 1920s there existed in Hawaii a unique melding of American Hymnal church music, romantic Mexican Ranchera ballads and the European March. All played on Spanish guitars and the newly invented Hawaiian ukulele which was based on Madeiran folk instruments. Rather amazing don’t you think?

This all set up the next change in Hawaiian music as Hawaiian musicians began to travel around the United States and spread this newly created blend of modern music. Next the sound of Hawaii continued to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries as it began to incorporate elements of American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music. Those things will be covered in my next posts. Keep coming back!

The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 4: The Madeiran Musicmakers


The history of Hawaiian music was altered forever with the arrival of three woodworkers from the Madeira Islands in 1879. The Portuguese had been arriving in Hawaii in small numbers since the 1850s, mostly as cast aways from whaling ships. But it wasn’t until 1878 when the Hawaiian government made a concerted effort to import Portuguese labor from the Madeira and Azores Islands to balance out the increasing number of Chinese laborers found on the sugar plantations that the Portuguese population significantly increased.

It was a very conscience decision to bring in labor from these islands. With a majority of the sugar plantation labor being of Asian decent there was a desire by the plantation owners to diversify the labor population. Various European options were explored, but it was decided that the islanders of Madeira and Azores with their familiarity with sugar cultivation, comfort with island living and a similar terrain and climate to Hawaii, would be the best source of new labor. So starting in 1878 and over the next ten years about 10,000 Portuguese people arrived in Hawaii with about 3,000 of them serving as sugar plantation workers.

The second ship to arrive in Hawaii from the Madeira Islands with plantation labor and their families was the Ravenscrag. Among the 419 people on this ship were Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias and Jose do Espirito Santo, who were cabinet and instrument makers from Madeira. It is believed that not only were those interested in working the sugar plantations brought to Hawaii, but those with specialty skills as well to help diversify the plantation labor and encourage stability among the workers. And in fact Madeira was well known for its wooded forests and talented woodworkers, thus these islands were named Madeira for this reason, as Madeira is Portuguese for wood.

Woodworkers held an important role in Madeiran society, they built cabinets, furniture and almost more importantly musical instruments. Madeira has a strong folk music tradition and it is said that almost every Madeiran has some familiarity with playing one of the many small stringed instruments native to those islands. Most of these stringed instruments are versions of those found on mainland Portugal. One of these is the cavaquinho which was brought to Madeira in the 1850s and renamed the braguinha. Braguinha means “little braga” and is a reference to the its small size relative to the well known braga which was already familiar to the Madeirans.

Here is a picture of the cavaquinho:


And here is a picture of a braguinha:



So it was the braguinha that was one of the two instruments brought to Hawaii by these Madeiran wood workers. Along with the braguinha the other instrument brought here on this fateful voyage was the rajao. Here is a picture of a rajao:


As you can see from these pictures all three of these instruments bear a striking resemblance to the ukulele so closely associated with Hawaii today. This is because the ukulele is the offspring of the braguinha and the rajao. It is interesting how the ukulele came to be by combining elements of each instrument’s size, tuning and style of play. In Madeiran folk music the rajao played the rhythm while the braguinha played the leads. By taking the size of the braguinha and adding the tuning and playing style of the rajao, the ukulele was born.

From the Hawaiian perspective they must have been highly intrigued with these new instruments. According to legend when the Madeiran immigrants landed in Honolulu they kissed the ground and started playing music and singing songs on their braguinha and rajao. The Hawaiians were probably familiar with this passionate singing and playing as it is not to far removed historically and culturally from the Mexican Ranchera music brought here by the vaqueros (see part 3 of this series). Again, Hawaiians at this time were fascinated with things from the outside world and had a strong desire to take these things and adapt them to make them their own.

Soon after arriving here and seeing an interest in their native instruments, Nunes, Dias and Espirito Santo began building versions of the rajao and braguinha. According to Nunes’ granddaughter he simply removed the top fifth string from the rajao to create the first ukulele. This would correspond with the original Hawaiian g, c, e, a tuning. Whether it was a matter of convenience, efficiency or appeal, the smaller bodied braguinha was preferred for the design of the instrument. These first ukulele were built using the most common large hard wood in Hawaii the acacia koa tree. Some of the first ukulele looked like this:


Soon Hawaiian makers emerged as well. One of the most well known in the early years was Jonah Kumalae and later Ernest Kaai. Soon after other Hawaiian makers started shops including the most well known and only one still in business today Samuela Kamaka. Here is a picture of a Kumalae ukulele:


And a Kamaka:


So how did all of this change Hawaiian music? It is interesting how the musical influence of the Mexican vaqueros set up a need for a more accessible and easier to play stringed instrument in Hawaii. You have to figure that after the vaqueros returned to Mexico and left their guitars here, there weren’t a large number of instruments available for the Hawaiian public. With no knowledge of how to build them or access to the wood making tools needed to make such a detailed product, there were only a small number of instruments to go around. There may have been a  few guitars brought here on whaling ships or by church missionaries, but considering there is little of any documentation of this and given the limited cargo space available on those long voyages, it is unlikely.

So while Hawaiians had created a specific style of singing and song composition based on the Mexican ranchera music and church hymns with roots in their native language and chants, they had no easily available instrument to play on. The ukulele was a perfect accompaniment, it was small, easy to play and had a strong rhythmic quality that would support this new form of music developing here. They were also easy to build and not long after the Medeirans arrival here they were being produced in large numbers and available for a relatively cheap price. Unlike the guitar which was large, hard to build and not easy to get, everyone began to play the ukulele. This made every Hawaiian a music maker. Anyone could get an ukulele and start writing and making music. With the spread of church culture and church based education systems in Hawaii, singing and song composition were skills available and known to anyone. These combining factors allowed for a hot bed of new music emanating from Hawaii. All the stars were aligned for HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. Songs, lyrics and melody could be created and shared by everyone with no limits placed on what was the norm or the accepted folk form. It was being created in real time without prejudice or bounds.

So that leads us to the million dollar question, where did the word “ukulele” come from? Great question and there are three main theories behind this. The most commonly shared one is that upon observing the playing style required by the fingers of the first Madeiran performers, the Hawaiians called it “uku lele” which would translate as “jumping flea” as that is what the motion of the fingers on the strings resembled. A second theory is that “uku lele” stands for another translation of the tearms “uku” for “gift” and lele” for “flying.” This interpretation says the Hawaiians saw the ukulele as a gift that “flew” here from afar. And finally the third theory is that “ukulele” comes from a simple alteration of “ukeke” or a combination of “ukeke and mele.” Ukeke being the simple single stringed gourd harp native to Hawaii and “mele” meaning song.

We will never know for sure. It is common in the Hawaiian language to simply “hawaiianize” an outside word to fit it into the phonetic system of the Hawaiian language. See “kika” as a term for “guitar.” With “braguinha” and “rajao” neither really fits in nicely with any Hawaiian linguistic sounds or syllabic structure. Also, the original instrument was altered so it would make sense that a new term was necessary, not a “hawaiianization” of the original word. The “jumping flea” interpretation is plausible as Hawaiians often came up with terms for new items by describing the action being done, or the event taking place with the new item, see bicycle “ka`a hehi wāwae” “vehicle feet press”.

For the interpretation of “uku lele” as “flying gift” it is documented that this term was coined by Queen Liliuokalani. My interpretation is that looking for a more poetic and lofty description if this instrument, Liliuokalani devised her own interpretation of “ukulele” to fit in with her heightened view of Hawaiian music and musicians. Something that the term “jumping flea” did not accomplish.

As for the third theory, this one makes the most logical sense to me, but the linguistic history doesn’t support it. It is rare for Hawaiians to change a native word to fit in to describe a new item. While the ukeke does have a string on it making somewhat similar to a ukulele, the similarities end there. They are completely different in size, use and function. On top of that it is rare for the Hawaiians to alter a native word. The jump from “ukeke” to “ukulele” isn’t something that happens in the Hawaiian language. I can see the possibility of the name “ukeke mele” as the ukulele is like a musical, “song-y” variation of the single string “ukeke” but there is no evidence of Hawaiians shortening or combining parts of two words to create a new word. Sometimes Hawaiian words get changed by non-native speakers when they are hard to pronounce, but because ukulele were being built and used in Hawaii by Hawaiians I don’t se how a bastardization of “ukeke mele” (if this is the actual source) would get changed to “ukulele.”

So I think it is a combination of all of these. The Hawaiians were very fond of word puns and subtle relationships between words. Word play was common and similarities between sounds and meaning were often explored and appreciated for the possible variation in meaning and interpretation. With only 13 letters and limited rules for syllabic structure, this was necessary to create a diverse language to describe the diverse world and world view available tot he Hawaiian speaker. So the fact that “ukulele” filled three functions, described the manner in which it is played, gave it a poetic description and also subtly referenced the only known stringed instrument in pre-contact Hawaii, “ukulele” was the perfect fit!

We may never know the exact reason for the naming of this new instrument the ukulele. But for the purposes of this blog entry we can look at the influence this instrument had on the development of music in Hawaii. Again, most importantly the accessibility and ease of playing the ukulele made in instrument of the commoner. This opened up the possibility of song creation and song performance by almost anyone. Also the rhythmic qualities of the ukulele supported the syncopation and bouncy tempos of Hawaiian music.

Over time, most significantly through the contributions of Eddie Kamae (see my post on the Heart of the Ukulele and part 2) and Jesse Kalima, it became a solo instrument. Filling the gap left by the waning popularity of the steel guitar, the ukulele became a lead instrument in the hands of these talented players. This was later developed by Herb Ohta, also known as Ohta-San, (my favorite album being “Pacific Potpourri”) who made important physical changes tot he instrument. Replacing the high re-entrant “g” string, with a low wound “g” note that made for a linear progression of the strings from low to high and opened up new melodic range and possibilities. He also asked the Kamaka family to build a larger sized body and neck length to support more notes and the increased demand on tonal variation.

This was taken to new levels by Peter Moon in his work with The Sunday Manoa as he explored deeper chordal, melodic and technical possibilities with the ukulele. See the song “Pua Lilia”. From there, building on the advancements of these four important figures in ukulele playing, the doors were open for other skilled players like Tony Fernandez and Kelly Boy DeLima. And of course this culminated in the amazing skills of Jake who is not a Hawaiian musician per se, is without peer in modern ukulele playing and has shown the amazing complexity possible with this small four stringed instrument with roots in the Madeira Islands.

And there are many gaps in between these important players that could be filled with a thousand blog posts, some of which I hope to cover in the future. From the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 to the vaudevillian appeal of the ukulele in the 1920s to the tourist culture of 1950s and Elvis’s subsequent use of the ukulele in popular movies to Arthur Godfrey’s lessons on his popular radio show to Tiny Tim’s eccentric playing on the Tonight Show and to Jake Shimabukuro’s YouTube video of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” the ukulele has a long and storied history.

While the music of Medeira never took hold here in Hawaii, its instruments surely did. That’s why I titled this post the “Medeiran Musicmakers.” They literally “made” music by building these first ukulele. Using their hands and the woodworking skills native to their homeland these three simple Medeiran cabinet makers changed the course of Hawaiian music forever. There was a movement to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. The people of Hawaii took this small four stringed instrument and adapted it to their music playing, and in return their music playing adapted along with it.

If you haven’t already please see the first three parts in this series where I cover the Polynesian music foundation, the church influence and the music of the vaqueros. Stay tuned for future posts about European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music as I explore the theme of the influence of world music on modern Hawaiian music during our World Cup season.


The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 3: Los Vaqueros



Shortly after the establishment of the Christian religion in Hawai`i the next major influence on Hawaiian music came in the 1840s in the form of Mexican vaqueros who came here to teach the Hawaiian people the basics of how to care for and manage the cattle that had grown to large numbers since their introduction in the 1780s. These cowboys not only brought their musical culture in the form of song structure, melody and lyrical themes, but in their instruments as well.

A popular form of music in Mexico during the early 19th century was Ranchero music. Having recently experienced a political revolution and upheaval, the people of Mexico were enjoying the first fruits of its independence. The people of Mexico developed and grasped onto Ranchera music as a way of expressing a national pride and identity. This was especially true in the rural areas of the country where there was a strong backlash against the aristocracies that had previously ruled.

It is pretty evident to hear the influence of the Ranchera music sung and played by the Mexican cowboys on early Hawaiian music. Ranchera music is identifiable by its use of a 3/4 waltz time, but the 2/4 and 4/4 time signatures are also used. The songs are most commonly in a major key with a short instrumental introduction to start off the song. Verses are sung and instrumental sections are inserted between verses. The song topics are usually centered around love and nature. They are most commonly sung accompanied with just the guitar. Sounds like I am describing Hawaiian music!

It is undeniable that there was a huge influence on Hawaiian music from the Mexican cowboys and their Ranchera music. While the missionaries had introduced the concepts of melody, harmony and general song structure, it was really in the rural hills of Kohala and throughout the Big Island that Hawaiian music as we know it began to take shape. A specific structure was now in place, musical introduction, verse, musical interlude, tag. The tempos were now accessible, the 3/4 and 4/4 signatures and the feel of the slow romantic love song became the norm. Take a listen to a short sample from the Smithsonian Institute Folklore website of the song “Los Carinosa (Be Kind To Me)” to hear the similarities.

Obviously I would not be telling the story if I failed to mention the most significant contributions from the Mexican cowboys: the guitar. The guitar was the most important part of ranchero music. It set the rhythm and played the melody line, often simultaneously, two distinctive features of what has come to be known as slack key guitar. It is well documented that the first Mexican cowboys to come here brought their guitars with them and showed the Hawaiians how to play. Using the style familiar to the Mexican cowboys as inspiration, the Hawaiians mimicked and added to their own flavor to their guitar playing. What is not totally clear is how the tunings were adapted and or changed. We do know that traditionally there are a number of tunings that were used in Mexican ranchera music. Most were based on the standard Spanish tuning brought to Mexico by the first Spanish to come to the new world. Over time these were changed slightly, but were still very close to the standard tuning. I do believe there was a tuning structure that was common to the Mexican cowboys that was slightly altered by the Hawaiian once they had guitars in their hands. But because documentation doesn’t exist for this, it is purely speculation has to how or why the tuning was changed.

What is most important here is that it was the Vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys that brought guitars here, introduced a specific structure and style of singing and playing that had a big effect on how Hawaiians began playing and composing music. Most specifically in the realm of the rhythms, structure and melodies. One composition that clearly shows this is “Adios Ke Aloha” Here its very title hints at the influence from Mexico. The song is a song of love lost set to a 3/4 time with a melody that is very clearly Mexican in origin. Another tune that shows this influence is “Waialae” 

While the Ranchera music had the most influence on how the Hawaiian people began to play music, we must also look back to the Jalisco Son has having an important role as well. Son music is unique from Ranchera music in that it is played in ensembles and utilizes dance to accompany the singing. As music in Hawaii moved from a solo performance on the guitar to ensemble playing accompanied by a dance with multiple guitars and other stringed instruments such as the violin and ukulele, it is important that we look at the possibility that son music had an influence on this presentation of music in Hawaii.

One final thing to note is the how these developments in Hawaiian music occurred in the rural areas where cattle ranching was common. My last post discussed the role of the church and New England missionaries on Hawaiian music. While these influences did reach some rural areas, it was mostly centered in Honolulu and the urban centers. The more rural parts of Hawaii were till open to outside influences and they mostly came from the vaqueros from Mexico.  This can be seen in the thematics of the songs that were centered around stories of love and love lost rather than themes centered around church faith and Biblical teachings.

At this point the fundamental structure and style of music in Hawaii has been established. By the 1860s a distinct identity of Hawaiian music has been created. Borrowing elements from New England church singing including melody and harmony and incorporating the Spanish guitar from Ranchera music as the rhythmic template with additional melodic flourishes from the guitar with lyrics about love and romance, modern Hawaiian music was born. Much of this happened right in the Kohala district on the Big Island as it had the unique combination of a strong church influence and the Mexican cowboys. From here it spread to the outside areas where it was modified and adapted by the Hawaiian people throughout the islands. In turn the music became to HO`ANALU….go beyond known boundaries. It is during these exciting times that the music morphs and changes with each new influence from the outside. The Hawaiian people were amazingly open and free with how they would take music from the outside and make it their own.

Next we will look at Portuguese Folk Music from the Madeira Islands and then down the road discuss the influences of European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music as I explore the theme of the influence of world music on modern Hawaiian music during our World Cup season.

The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 2: The Church


This is a continuation of my last blog post that covered the influence of outside musical cultures on modern Hawaiian music. If you haven’t already please see part 1 in which I introduce the topic and discuss the elements of traditional Polynesian and Hawaiian music that laid the foundations of modern Hawaiian music. These posts were inspired by the current World Cup happening in Brazil which got me thinking about all the different forms of music from around the world that were brought to Hawai`i and had an influence of the music from here. What I will be covering in part 2 is the influences of New England Church Music on modern Hawaiian music.


The first missionaries to establish a strong presence here were Protestants from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Massachusetts. Led by Hiram Bingham this group of New England missionaries arrived on Hawai`i Island in 1820 and quickly asserted their influence on many of the religious and daily activities in Hawai`i. One are where their influence was clearly evident was in the music. The first way their influence became evident in what was not allowed. When the Queen Ka`ahumanu converted to Christianity a ban was placed on the performance of traditional Hawaiian religious practices. This prohibited the performance of hula and the accompanying chants, as these were directly associated with religious ceremony.

In its place church hymnal singing was introduced to the people of Hawai`i. First the concepts of melody, counter melody and harmony were placed at the forefront and established as an emphasis for the presentation of a song. Singing schools were created by the missionaries at the newly built churches. A repertoire of tunes was created consisting of adaptations of Protestant hymns with composed Hawaiian lyrics. Topics were predominantly restricted to those of Christian faith and Biblical teachings.

What was taken from these times are group singing, complex harmonies and melodies based on Christian hymnal music. All these elements played a key role in the development of modern Hawaiian music over the next 200 years or so as we hear all these elements still strongly in the music of today. Of course we still hear large group choral singing if Hawaiian music inside and outside of the church. Many schools continue to have choral groups that sing in this manner, not only singing tunes of Christian nature but adapting modern Hawaiian tunes for this environment. One of the most well known examples of this type of singing is in the annual Kamehameha Schools song contest. Here is a recent example from the 2014 concert. Worth noting is that many modern Hawaiian music performers come from the Kamehameha Schools system or from a church singing background.

One final aspect of Hawaiian music that was supported and fostered by the missionaries was Hawaiian falsetto singing. The idea of breaking one’s voice in this manner was already in place and utilized in Hawaiian chants, but the hymnal singing put a melodic value to this technique. Later coined leo ki`eki`e, this has become an important part of Hawaiian singing. Originally this was a technique restricted for use by the men, but later in the the 1950s and it became a signature techniques for females, mostly resulting form the amazing talents of Genoa Keawe and Lena Machado. I would highly recommend the album Hawaiian Songbird to hear this amazing vocal technique in action. Today this style has come back into favor among the male singers and an annual falsetto singing contest is held every year on the Big Island to showcase singers of leo ki`eki`e. One of the most well known male singers of this style are the Ho`opi`i Brothers who can be seen and heard here.

While it is unfortunate that the influence of the Christian missionaries on the religious ways of the Hawaiian people resulted in the initial reduction of the use of the hula and chanting in daily life, it did allow for an opening for new musical influences. Later during the reign of King Kalakaua these harmonic and melodic elements had become firmly rooted in the music of Hawai`i which when combined with the traditional chanting created an entirely new style of music that is still in use today. This is true HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. Here is a theme that unfolds time and time again in the history of Hawaiian music. With the outside world coming into Hawai`i change is inevitable, but what endures through all these changes are the fundamental foundations of the original Hawaiian musical characteristics. The traditions of Hawaiian music have the unique ability to be flexible enough to take on new influences, but strong enough to remain true to the original values and intent.

Please come back as I will next look at the influences of Mexican Ranchera and Jalisco Son Music on modern Hawaiian music. Future posts will cover Portuguese Folk Music of the Madeira Islands, European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music as I explore the theme of the influence of world music on modern Hawaiian music during our World Cup season.

The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 1: Background and the Polynesian Foundation


Something that I truly love about Hawaiian music are the various influences from other musical cultures that you can hear within the distinctively Hawaiian sound. As a small group of islands set in the middle of the vast Pacific ocean, Hawai`i existed in isolation for hundreds of years. But after Captain Cook’s landing here in the late 18th century, Hawai`i became open to the influences of cultures from all over the world. This can be seen in the food, dress, language, religions and definitely in the music of this place. With the World Cup upon us I thought it appropriate that we look at how the music from around the world came to Hawai`i and influenced traditional Hawaiian music.

There has always been an element of HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries in Hawaiian music. The people of Hawai`i have taken pieces from all the different cultures that came here and adapted them into the traditions of the Polynesian ethnomusicology. I will present this topic in two separate blog posts. First I will take a general look at the traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian influences that laid the foundation for modern Hawaiian music. Then in part two I will break down the outside influences on the modern Hawaiian sound from the outside world. Again, please use the links embedded in the bold phrases for further reference.


Clearly, and most importantly, modern Hawaiian music is firmly rooted and influenced by the musical culture that existed for hundreds of years in Hawai`i and thousands of years throughout Polynesia. When we look at the Polynesian musical culture it is very clearly chant based. An emphasis is on repetitive monotone vocals accompanied by rhythmic percussion instruments, most importantly the ipu and ipu heke, the single and double gourd hand drum. What I would like to focus on are the aspects of traditional Polynesian music that are still alive in the modern Hawaiian musics. First of all I would like to note that the traditional Hawaiian musical chants originally brought here from Polynesia are still in use today. It is still alive and in no way did ever disappear. Again, I am focusing on modern Hawaiian music, the music that adapted from the traditional style by taking on influences from around the world. Also I would like to say that when I say “traditional Hawaiian” or “traditional Polynesian” I am referring to the music that existed prior to contact and exchange with the outside cultures.

Obviously the most important aspect of traditional Hawaiian music that is still in use today is the language. Now not all modern Hawaiian music is sung in Hawaiian, but it is a very integral part of what makes a song “Hawaiian.” Many modern Hawaiian songs are actual direct adaptations from traditional Hawaiian chants. Some words have been changed or certain verses have been omitted, but it is very common to hear songs that took a traditional Hawaiian chant and set it to a melody and played with modern instruments. Some examples would be “Hole Waimea” and “A Kona Hema `O Ka Lani” .

Other than the use of language there are some very clear musical components implemented from traditional Hawaiian music. One is the topic of the musical composition. There is a strong sense of place in many modern Hawaiian songs. Lyrics acknowledge and give praise to a specific area in the islands. This can be a district, and island, a mountain or hill, a bay or a specific valley. The place specific aspects are emphasized, a certain wind or a certain type of rain associated with that area is often referenced. A song that really shows this is “Hilo Hanakahi” in that it mentions a place specific aspect for each of the districts on Hawai`i Island. See the lyrics here and a performance here. Another lyrical influence from traditional Hawaiian music is the praising of chiefs and other royal figures as a song topic. Important chiefs and their accomplishments are mentioned. Notes about lineage and propriety rule are outlined. I would mention “Lei `Ohu” as an example of this. I would strongly recommend Gabby Pahinui’s version of this Hawaiian classic.

Also songs can talk about topics of everyday life from fishing, gathering seaweed or the planting of food. Originally the Hawaiian people wrote chants to accompany these activities of normal Hawaiian living. The song “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai” is a fine example of this as it talks about the process of picking seaweed down by the sea side. There are a number of other topics that have been employed as the theme for modern Hawaiian songs, from love to creation, to birthing of children, to religious ceremony, to the praising of gods, really too many top mention here. The point is that these chants laid the lyrical and thematic foundation for modern Hawaiian music.

Musically there are also a number of elements form the traditional music that you will hear in modern Hawaiian music. Often many songs that are direct applications of a traditional chant are in a minor key, see “Wahine Holo Lio”. This is often used to match the common melodic scale of the chant and to emphasize the repetitive and often quick recital of the words. Another technique you will see specific to song structure is in composing verses. Sometimes when starting a new verse the composer will use the word, or a word with similar sounds, that ended the previous verse. This is most often referenced in usage in the song “Hi`ilawe” Again there are many more examples that could be cited. But for my purpose I would just like to point out a few to give you an idea about what elements of traditional Hawaiian music having originated in Polynesia that have been put into use in modern Hawaiian music. To summarize, mostly, the use of the Hawaiian language, thematic lyrical elements based in a sense of place and daily activities, use of minor keys and the starting of a new verse with a word or sound that ended the previous one.


Now let’s look at the music from the outside world that has come into the sounds of the modern Hawaiian musical tapestry. Of course I cannot cover everything and also others will have other opinions about what has influenced modern Hawaiian music and how. I can only quote the great Hawaiian philosopher Mary Kawena Pukui when she quotes the traditional Hawaiian proverb: “`A`ohe pau ka `ike i ka halau ho`okahi” “All knowledge is not taught in one school.” For our purposes I will be covering the following influences: New England Church Music, Mexican Ranchera and Jalisco Son Music, Portuguese Folk Music of the Madeira Islands, European Royal Music, American Ragtime and Jazz, American Big Band Music, American Country and Folk Music and Caribbean Reggae Music. These will be presented in multiple parts over the coming weeks as the World Cup unfolds.

Come back for part 2 as I break down how New England church music influenced modern Hawaiian music….


Hana Hou Dat Bass!!!



Hands down, next to the Sons of Hawai`i, my favorite Hawaiian group of all time is Hui `Ohana. Coming from the remote area of Kalapana on Hawai`i Island, they came onto the Hawaiian music scene in the 1970s with a purpose. By mixing their old school traditional arrangements with very forward thinking musical composition they had a sound that was like no other. I like to think of them as a Hawaiian music power trio. Each member on their own was a force; Dennis Pavao’s soaring falsetto, Ledward Ka`apana’s innovative reverbed electric guitar and Nedward Ka`apana’s thundering bass combined to create something that was true to the roots of Hawaiian music and yet so modern and cutting edge as well. Talk about HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries!

What I would like to focus on is Nedward’s bass playing. To this day, after no matter how many listenings, I am still fascinated with how he approached his instrument. Historically the bass player in Hawaiian music plays a solid backing for the rest of the band to build off of. Usually the bass player focuses on the root notes, leaving wide open spacing for the other instruments like `ukulele, steel guitar and slack key guitar, to embellish over. What was unique about Nedward’s playing was he seems to take the opposite approach. It sounds as if he is constantly soloing over the chord progressions, never settling in one region of the neck and never repeating the same pattern more than once.

This approach to bass playing reminds me quite a bit of legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown. Ray was well known for his combination of a walking bass line that is melodic and inventive, supplemented by unsurpassed tone and rhythm. Here is an example. That is Nedward’s playing in a nutshell. I will point to the song Kaimana Hila as an example. Make sure you are listening on headphones or external speakers, as built-in computer speakers won’t properly capture the bouncy rhythms of the bass.

Stay with me on this myspace page as I site examples from other tunes on this amazing album. It should let you play them without an account, if not, you should be able to login using your facebook information if you have one. You are probably saying, “wow, myspace that still exists?!” Well it does, and I have found it to be a nice resource for streaming music. If this doesn’t work, try spotify as these songs are available for streaming there as well.

Really this entire album is full of extremely inventive bass lines that explore the melodic potential of this often over looked and undervalued instrument in Hawaiian music. On Ka Makani Ka `iIi Aloha”  the slow ballad is built on a bass at steady tempo that is accentuated with subtle flourishes in the upper registers. Also listen how he intersperses the steadiness of the bass with short walking phrases during the chorus. By the guitar solo Nedward has already introduced three different techniques of bass playing within one song. During Ledward’s spacey lead parts, Nedward is almost soloing in his own right. Again the flourishes in the upper registers are there, but notice how he quickly jumps back to the lower end of the bass creating a sound that is full and balanced. At times it sounds as if it is Nedward himself who is doing the soloing!

“Punalu`u” is another song that features a jazzy walking type bass line during the verses. Listen to the alterations he adds to the end of the first verse starting at the 22 second mark. He enters into some sort of improvised free wheeling section that is all over the place yet still firmly situated in the root notes. You never feel like he is veering too far off course, but on close examination what he is doing is truly revolutionary. There is no other bass playing I have found that had explored this type of approach to the bass. Again during the solo he employs what is sort of a signature Nedward technique, a low note on the root and then a jump to the relative high tone with quick embellishments. During the end ha`ina section he settles back in to a “normal” bass line, taking you full circle back to something familiar after the world wind tour of notes the song takes you on.

Another section I would like to point out is on the song “Kealohalani” at the 1:18 mark. I am not sure I can put into words what he is doing here. Take a listen for yourself. He builds a phrase that ends in a crescendo of notes at the 1:31 point in which I believe he is doing note sliding that one would associate with Jaco Pastorius. I am firmly convinced by playing such as this that Nedward must have been familiar with jazz playing from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew sessions. Otherwise Nedward independently conceived of bass playing techniques that are considered at the forefront of the capabilities of this instrument.

Finally listen to what Nedward is able to accomplish on the instrumental tunes at the end of the album. The sliding techniques are featured somewhat again early on in “Ku`uipo Onaona” but also of note is the slight syncopation he uses right at the end. On “Maunaloa” what I find interesting are the sections in which he complements Ledward’s fast picking with some forward thinking use of right hand techniques. Not only are the quick slides there, but he seems to be using some quick fluttering of the index and middle fingers interspersing with the walking bass lines.

What this all adds up to is an approach to his instrument that is HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. My question is where did it come from? Was he mimicking techniques from the jazz realm that he adapted to Hawaiian music? Is this something he heard another bass player from Kalapana doing? Or was this completely invented on his own? What I do know is I haven’t been able to find another bass player in Hawaiian music approaching the bass in this manner and I have yet to hear someone consistently play this way. I do hear inflections of some of these techniques played during isolated sections in some bass players, but I have yet to hear someone apply this approach to every song one plays.

I hope you listen to and appreciate the musicality of Hui `Ohana in a new light. Often Dennis Pavao’s falsetto and Ledward Ka`apana’a guitar playing get mentioned as being the notable aspects of the group’s sound, but for me, what Nedward is doing in the back ground is equally important. What is does for me as a musician is inspire HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries in how I approach my playing. I hope it does for you too.