Merrie Monarch is always a multi-sensory feast. Of course, we see hula. Folks there get to enjoy the fragrance of all the lei onstage and off. And we are treated to group after group of live music.
The question is: what form/s of acknowledging the musicians is/are appropriate? On one end of the spectrum, there is the manaʻo that acknowledging musicians would detract from the focus on hula; therefore, not acknowledging them is appropriate. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, there is the manaʻo that the musicians contribute an important dimension to the performance, and thus they should be acknowledged. In between are many other manaʻo. So Iʻve gathered and arranged some of the comments from the Facebook conversation that followed my own post on why musicians are not acknowledged. All attributed quotes are used with permission.
Complicating this question is the reality that many musicians live and breathe humility. and would not ask to be acknowledged for their contributions to the performances. This is a common refrain among musicians.
Natalie Ai Kamauʻu: “itʻs about the hula . . . no need say my name.”
Kale Hannahs: ”I would say that the consensus with most musicians who play at MM is that we have many opportunities through the different performances we do throughout the year to be recognized. This is our chance to kako’o the halau that support our music and let them take center stage.”
Eric Keawe: “”Merrie Monarch” Hula is the focus. “Na Hoku Hanohano” Mele is the focus. There is a time, a season and a place for everything. Musicians I am sure are honored to perform when asked. Our kupuna who started this event did it for aloha without recognition because it was all about hula.”
Derek Ho’okani Higa, who has performed at Merrie Monarch as both dancer and musician, has a more specific perspective: “I feel when a musician takes on the challenge playing for a halau at MM you basically almost become part of the halau and everyone contributes to being one unit. The dancers, the musicians, the kokua, etc. all represent the halau together not separately. So when everyone takes the stage, it’s the halau taking the stage which includes dancers, musicians, ho’opa’a, etc. Yes, the musician plays a big role in the performance but they/we are there to support the halau.”
Viewers, in contrast, are curious about who the musicians are, when they hear music that they like. Not everyone knows who all of the musicians are, and not everyone can identify voices readily.
Anne Blankenship: “the support musicians should be acknowledged – it increases the viewers’ appreciation of the whole experience. Plus it informs those of us on the continent, just in case we don’t know who the musicians are, so we can buy their recordings.”
Wanda Certo: ” I would really like to know names of all of the musicians. There are voices we all know but one never knows when other musicians support by playing bass or rhythm guitar or something like that.”
Karen Smith Cooper: “I understand hula is the focus, but honestly, I would love written and/or videoed acknowledgement of the musicians.”
Kuʻualoha Hoʻomanawanui makes a further point: “not all the musicians are professionals, and not all play together except in special gigs like MM, and it would be nice to show the range of hawaiian music practitioners.”
Musicians do work hard at rehearsing as well as in the performance, and some viewers feel that a gesture of appreciation is warranted.
Kalani Ka’ana’ana: “Our musicians sacrifice a great deal and love what they do so for us to give them a pat on the back is one small way we can give back to them so they in turn can provide for their families by doing what they love. We are so fortunate to benefit from their passion. Big mahalo to all you musicians!”
And three articulate comments make the case in favor of acknowledging musicians in terms of the intrinsic importance of the mele in hula.
Kalani Ka’ana’ana: “I le‘a ka hula i ka hoʻopaʻa and with that I add my manao that I do feel the musicians do deserve the respect they earn for providing the kahua for the ʻōlapa to do what they do best.”
Lucia Tarallo: “the word is the foundation of hula, without the word, there is no hula for hula is simply a physical mime of the word!!!”
Lovena K. West: “it is truly the mele that inspires the dancer..at least some acknowledgement would be proper!”
BJ Allen, executive producer of the King Kamehameha Chant and Hula Competition, chimed in with a sobering reality check from a production perspective: “Although it is a necessary and certainly vital component to have the muscians accompany a halau-where do you draw the line? It is challenging enough to stay on task-especially at MM-with live television coverage-every second you use equals money being charged.”
Michael Crabbe, co-founder of southern Californiaʻs E Hula Mau competition, weighs in with more production insight: ”many musicians would agree that the focus NOT be placed upon them and to remain haʻahaʻa. We also forget all the support staff and kokua who languish behind the scenes as parents, seamstresses, cooks etc. There is a place for light commentary I agree, however, for a balanced televised presentation it is necessary to keep the commentary on the haumana, kumu hula and story. Just my manaʻo.”
Then the spectre of even more politics, again from BJ Allen: “Somehow-someone will be forgotten, the “regular” group may be offended their muscians are being affiliated with “another” group, it is endless.”
So, this is not a simple open-and-shut case. Honor the hula by placing–and keeping–it front and center, or enhance the experience and appreciation of viewers who have genuine interest and desire in being able to support the music?
Pehea la e pono ai?
In my next post, Iʻll comment on some of musical highlights from Hula ʻAuana night.