Music of Hawaii

From Academic Kids

(Redirected from Hawaiian music)


Hawaiian music refers to the musical style native to the Hawaiian Islands of the United States. The style revolves primarily around the hula as well as three kinds of guitar-based music -- steel guitar, slack-key guitar and the ukulele.


Native Hawaiian folk music

Hawaiian folk music includes several varieties of chanting (mele) and music meant for highly-ritualized danced called hula).


Main article: Hula

The earliest known music of Hawaii was the hula, which featured a chant (mele) accompanied by ipu (a gourd) and 'ili'ili (stones used as clappers). Listeners danced in a highly ritualized manner. The older, formal kind of hula is called kahiko, while the modern version is auana.


Main article: Mele

In the pre-contact Hawaiian language, the word mele referred to any kind of poetic expression, though it now translates as song. The two kinds of Hawaiian chanting were mele oli and mele hula. The first were a cappella individual songs, while the latter were accompanied dance music performed by a group. The chanters were known as haku mele and were highly-trained composers and performers.

Kalena Silva, associate professor of the University of Hawai'i and a chanter himself, describes a number of more specific kinds of chants, which express emotions like angst and affection, as well as to praise or request a favor from another person. Other kinds include:

Mele chants were governed by strict rules, and were performed in a number of styles include the rapid kepakepa and the enunciate koihonua [1] (

History of modern Hawaiian music

Modern Hawaiian music includes a distinctive style called slack-key guitar, which is well-known throughout the world. There are also a number of Hawaiian rock, pop and hip hop performers.

Queen Lili'uokalani and Henry Berger

Queen Lili'uokalani was the last Queen of Hawaii before the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown. She was also a musician and composer, known for the unofficial Hawaiian anthem "Aloha 'Oe". Though she arranged the music for "Aloh 'Oe", and wrote the lyrics, she appropriated the tune from a Croatian folk song called "Sidi Mara na kamen studencu".

Lili'uokalani was one of many members of the Hawaiian royal family with musical inclinations. They studied under a Prussian military bandleader, Henry Berger, who was sent by the Kaiser at the request of Kamehameha V. Berger became fascinated by Hawaiian folk music, and wrote much documentation on it. However, he also brought his own musical background in German music, and heavily guided the Hawaiian musicians and composers he worked with. As a result, the traditional Hawaiian music that he documented was a hybrid of native and German styles [2] (, brought both by Berger and Lutheran missionaries.

Birth of modern Hawaiian music: Guitars

Guitars first came to Hawaii with Mexican cowboys (vaqueros) brought by King Kamehameha III in 1832 in order to teach the natives how to control an overpopulation of cattle. The Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) used guitars in their traditional folk music.

Steel guitars arrived with the Portuguese in the 1860s and slack-key had spread across the chain by the late 1880s. Legend has it that a ship called the Ravenscrag arrived in Honolulu on August 23, 1879, bringing Portuguese field workers from Madeira. One of the men, Joao Fernandes, later a popular musician, tried to impress the Hawaiians by playing folk music with a friend's braguinha; the Hawaiians called the instrument ukulele (jumping flea) in reference to the man's swift fingers. Others have claimed the word means gift that came here or a corruption of ukeke lele (dancing ukeke, a three-string bow).

Late 19th and early 20th century

1913 sheet music cover

In the 1880s and 90s, King David Kalakaua promoted Hawaiian culture and also encouraged the addition of new instruments, such as the ukulele and steel guitar. Kalakaua's successor, his sister Lili'uokalani, composed music herself, and wrote several songs, like "Aloha 'Oe", which remain popular.

In about 1900, Joseph Kekuku began sliding a piece of steel across slacked keys, thus inventing steel guitar (kila kila); at about the same time, traditional Hawaiian music with English lyrics became popular -- this was called hapa haole.

Vocals predominated in Hawaiian music until the 20th century, when instrumentation took a lead role. Much of modern slack-key guitar has become entirely instrumental.

Slack-key guitar

Main article: Slack-key guitar

The slack-key guitar (ki ho'alu in Hawaiian) is acoustic and fingerpicked. The strings are "slacked", or loosened, which creates unusual tuning. Each string typically has a major chord, or more rarely, a chord with a major 7th or 6th note. Playing techniques frequently mimic the falsettos common in Hawaiian singing; these include "hammering-on", "chiming" and "pulling-off".

The style originated from Mexican cowboys in Hawaii in the late 19th century. These paniolo gave Hawaiians the guitars and taught them the rudimentaries of playing, and then left, allowing the Hawaiians to develop the style on their own. Slack-key guitar adapted to accompany the rhythms of Hawaiian dancing, and the melody of Hawaiian music. Hawaiian music itself, which was promoted under the reign of King David Kalakaua as a matter of national pride, drew rhythms from traditional Hawaiian beats and military marches, and drew its melodies from Christian hymns and the cosmopolitan peoples of the islands (although principally American).


In the early 20th century Hawaiians began touring the United States, often in small bands. A Broadway show called Bird of Paradise introduced Hawaiian music to many Americans in 1912 (see 1912 in music) and the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco followed in 1915 (see 1915 in music). The increasing popularization of Hawaiian music influenced blues and country musicians; this connection can still be heard in modern country. In reverse, musicians like Bennie Nawahi began incorporated jazz into his steel guitar, ukulele and mandolin music. Inspired by Nawahi, Sol Ho'opii became a legend in Hawaiian music and helped invent the pedal steel guitar.

In the 1920s and 30s, a group of men came to be known as the Waikiki Beachboys and their parties became famous across Hawaii and abroad; most of them played the ukulele all day long, sitting on the beach and eventually began working for hotels to entertain tourists.

Modern Hawaiian music

In recent decades, traditional Hawaiian music has undergone a renaissance, with renewed interest from both ethnic Hawaiians and others. The islands have also produced a number of well-regarded rock, pop, hip hop, soul and reggae.

Hawaiian Renaissance

Main article: Hawaiian Renaissance music

The most influential slack-key guitarist was Gabby Pahinui, who began recording in 1947. Leland Isaacs Sr., Sonny Chillingworth, Ray Kane, Ledward Ka`apana, Keola Beamer, Peter Moon and Leonard Kwan came a few years later and helped popularize the sound, especially after the Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s. George Kanahele's Hawaiian Music Foundation did much to spread slack-key and other forms of Hawaiian music, especially after a major 1972 concert (see 1972 in music).

Modern slack-key festivals include the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival and the Gabby Pahinui/Atta Isaacs Slack Key Festival.

Don Ho from the small Honolulu neighborhood of Kaka'ako figures among the more widely known Hawaiian musicians. Although he perhaps does not produce completely "traditional" Hawaiian music, Ho has become an unofficial ambassador of Hawaiian culture throughout the world as well as on the American mainland. Ho's style often appears to combine traditional Hawaiian elements and older 1950s and 1960s-style crooner music with an easy listening touch.


Main article: Jawaiian

Jawaiian is a Hawaiian style of reggae music, a genre that evolved in the late 1960s and early 70s in Jamaica. Reggae has become popular across the world, especially among ethnic groups and races that have been historically oppressed, such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines [3] ( In Hawaii, ethnic Hawaiians and others in the state began playing a mixture of reggae and local music in the early 1990s. By the end of that decade, it had come to dominate the local music scene, as well as spawned a backlash that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin compared to the "disco sucks" movement of the late 1970s [4] (

Hip hop

Main article: Hawaiian hip hop

Hawaiian hip hop crews include the Nomasterbacks, Lightsleepers, Direct Descendants, HI State, Deadmonkeys, Audible Lab Rats, Sisters in Sound, Omega Six and Earth Movers. Asita Recordings is a prominent local hip hop record label, and QuadMag a long-standing zine that covers the Hawaiian hip hop scene.

External links


  • Cooper, Mike. "Steel Slide Hula Baloos". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 56-57. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools