Disneyʻs “Moana” — Musical Musings

The animated film “Moana,” Disneyʻs latest foray into the island Pacific, was released in the U.S. last Wednesday Nov. 23. In our present-day world saturated by social media, Moana sailed onto our horizons amidst swells of anticipation for Disneyʻs latest, but also tsunamis of criticism on issues of representation. Pacific Islander scholars and activists are legitimately concerned. On the one hand, we enjoy it when our little-known region has new spotlights thrown on our islands, our people, and our life ways. On the other hand, we are thrown into having to explain what is and isnʻt part of our islands, our people, and our life ways. Itʻs exciting when we get to say “yup, thatʻs how it is!” But historically our experiences have too often left us having to say “no, thatʻs not how it is!”

So what is there to say about the music of “Moana”? Well, for starters — It is NOT Hawaiian music, for a very fundamental set of reasons. The film is NOT set in Hawaiʻi. The story itself is NOT set in Hawaiʻi. The characters are NOT enacting an exclusively Hawaiian story. And therefore, there is no reason why the music should be Hawaiian music. So, guess what? The music in “Moana” is not Hawaiian music.

Disneyʻs story line draws upon legends associated with the superhero Maui, a character revered in island groups across the Pacific who now have distinctly separate cultures, languages, societies and histories. Maui is a “Hawaiian Suppaʻ Man.” But Maui is also a super hero known to Tahitians, Maori, Samoans. Tongans, Tuvaluans, and others. The legends of Maui date from epochs before many of our islands were even settled–before there were “Hawaiians” or “Tahitians”, for example. We can celebrate the fact that Hawaiians share Maui with our Pacific relatives. But Hawaiians do not have a monopoly on Maui, or how he should be depicted.

Moana–the princess, now thatʻs another story. Thatʻs where Disney steps in with a princess-able story that can sell movie tickets and merch. In time for  Christmas holiday shopping.

Polynesia — the setting. Moana is the daughter of a chief of a Polynesian tribe. DISCLAIMER: There is no traditional place named “Polynesia.” Polynesia is a region named by the French naval explorer Jules Dumont DʻUrville, who published his schema of Malaysia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia in an article in 1832 after circumnavigating the globe in the 1820s. There was no Polynesia before Dumont DʻUrville. Islanders recognize Polynesia as a region only because western scholars used Dumont DʻUrvilleʻs classifications, and we learned about Polynesia in school. Islanders use the name “Polynesia” nowadays, because it is often more recognizable to outsiders, so it becomes a point of reference for us to be legible. Get it?

Now letʻs get to the music in “Moana.”Disney needed two things, musically speaking: 1) a composed soundtrack to work in tandem with the plot; and 2) island-flavored music for a story set not in Hawaiʻi, but in “Polynesia.” So skipping Hawaiian music, Disney turned to the Pacific recording artist most well known on the world music touring circuit: the New Zealand-based band Te Vaka. Its founder and frontman is singer-songwriter Opetai Foaʻi. Opetaiʻs father is from Tokelau, and his mother is from Tuvalu. They met while attending school in Samoa, where Opetai was born. His early childhood was spent in Tokelau, where he was surrounded by traditional song forms, especially the fātele of Tokelau, but also the siva from Sāmoa, and the ubiquitous yet beloved ʻukulele-based pan-Pacific pop. The family moved to Auckland when he was aged 9. All these elements make their way into Te Vakaʻs music that is described as “south Pacific fusion.”

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Two signature elements of Te Vakaʻs sound–strong choral harmonies and lively slit-log percussion rhythms–are the framework for the filmʻs title track, “We Know The Way.” The lyrics are credited to Opetai Foaʻi and Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is Disney; might as well get the hottest Broadway dramatist on board, right? (“Hamilton,” for those dear readers not immersed in musical theater.) So there is one verse in Tokelauan language, but the main lyrics are in English. The better so that fans can sing along.

The featured vocal talent in the film are Native Hawaiian teen Auliʻi Carvalho who voices Moana, and athlete and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of Samoan heritage who voices Maui. Their songs are in English. Auliʻi wails on Moanaʻs feature song, “How Far Iʻll Go,” and The Rock gets Mauiʻs song “Youʻre Welcome”–complete with Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping. These and other English-language songs on the soundtrack are delivered in the inimitable Broadway / musical theater style of singing. (Think “Let It Go.” Thatʻs the sound.)

This is all by way of noting that, aside from the Pacific sonic flavor from Te Vakaʻs drumming, the soundtrack is actually classic Disney musical. Nothing more, nothing less.

Dear Readers, I highly recommend visiting the Facebook page and archives of the community group named “Mana Moana: We are Moana, We are Maui.” The articles articulate the issues of representation and appropriation from a critical islander perspective.  They have kindly gathered key articles and commentaries in an archive.

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Aloha 2016!

Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! Hereʻs wishing everyone the best in happiness and aloha for 2016.

Iʻm back. Resolution #2 for 2016 is to renew my commitment to Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure. (Resolution #1 relates to health & fitness, I journey I began in October and, I am thrilled to say, is sticking!!) After several months of figuring how to balance teaching and university obligations and have a life–while working on health & fitness, no less–Iʻve been observing all kinds of things happening in the worlds of Hawaiian music and hula. Iʻve also been observing all kinds of things that are not happening in the worlds of Hawaiian music and hula. And Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure has always been a place to set down some thoughts, and invite thoughts, reflections, contributions, corrections, amendments–anything to contribute positively to our collective listening and viewing pleasure.

grammy-awards-logo_20110621150950Above all, a HUGE shoutout to Kealiʻi Reichel and Natalie Ai Kamauʻu for the nomination of their CDS for the GRAMMY Award in the category “Best Regional Roots Music.” The awards will be announced on “musicʻs biggest night,” scheduled for February 16, 2016 on CBS.

Keko KR-1106     591992_1

Lots more to come. Stay tuned, dear readers. Iʻm back!!

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A mystery: “Nanea kō maka i ka leʻaleʻa”

A popular song of the “swipehouse” variety, about eyes sparkling mischievously. Recorded over the past 60 years by quite a few notable artists in the Hawaiian music firmament.

Tonight I went hunting for a source for the lyrics. And to my surprise, there was no clarity to be had, only questions and more questions.

I look in my index of published songbooks. “Nanea kou maka” appears only once, in a 1974 volume published in Japan. There are six verses, listed in the following order:

  1. Nanea kou maka
  2. Puliki kou lima
  3. Eia mai au
  4. I loko aku wau
  5. Ko ohinu aku wau
  6. Haʻina

Bishop Museum Archives has this mele in the collection of Vivienne Huapala Mader. Alas, I am not in Honolulu, so I cannot run up to Kalihi. The song is not published in Kimo Alama Keaulanaʻs two volumes of Puke Mele; it is not in He Mele Aloha, and it is not in Chikao Toriyamaʻs magisterial Hawaiian Mele 1001 tome.

I head online to Huapala Hawaiian Music and Hula Archive (huapala.org). I always caution everyone to use information from Huapala.org carefully. While the compilers labor mightily to provide a valuable service, the fact is that disparities appear from time to time between information on the site and information in other sources. So, caveat emptor! Huapala.org has “Nanea ko maka” — with five verses, as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

Furthermore, Huapala.org credits the source of this song as “Recorded by Charles Davis, Translation by Vicki ʻIʻi.” I have 13 albums by Charles K. L. Davis in my iTunes Library. “Nanea kō maka” is not on any of those albums. Perhaps I am missing the album that has “Nanea kō maka”?

So I go looking through my iTunes library to listen to how the song got recorded. And the mystery only deepened.

Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses (Waikiki 45-586) in the late 1950s or early 1960s, in the following order:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Koohinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Leinaʻala Haili recorded 5 verses on her album Leinaala (Makaha M-2022) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Puliki ko lima
  5. Haʻina

Sonny Chillingworth recorded 4 verses on the album Ka ʻAina o Hawaii (Lehua SL-2040):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

In the 1976, the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders, with Darrell Lupenui as the lead singer, recorded 6 verses on the album Hula Gems (Poki SP-9013) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Ko hinu
  5. Puliki ko lima
  6. Haʻina

Melveen Leed recorded 4 verses on her 1980 album Melveen Leed with the Best of Slack Key (Lehua SL-7046) as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

Sometime in the 1980s, Tony Conjugacion recorded 5 verses on his second album Hawaiian Hope (Kahanu KHR-1011), as follows:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Eia mai au
  3. Puliki ko lima
  4. Ma loko aku au
  5. Haʻina

In 2000, Mike Kaʻawa recorded 4 verses on his CD Hwn Boy (HBR-9001):

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. I loko aku au
  3. Eia mai au
  4. Haʻina

And most recently, Nate Kanae recorded these 4 verses on his CD from the Manaleo Hawaiian Cultural Foundation:

  1. Nanea ko maka
  2. Puliki ko lima
  3. I loko aku au
  4. Haʻina

One thing is clear to me:  the fact that Pua Almeida recorded 6 verses before the Japanese songbook was published in 1974 is a compelling factoid for believing that the song has six verses, and not five or four.

The bigger mystery is what should the order of verses be? Puaʻs order is different from the Japanese songbook. But hey! Puaʻs order is identical to that of the Aloha Pumehana Serenaders. So maybe the Japanese songbook got it wrong? But Sonny Chillingworth and Melveen Leed both sang the “Puliki ko lima” verse second, which is where the songbook has it.

The “I loko aku au” verse also moves around on the recordings. It is variously the second, third, and fourth verse.

I suppose the next step is to compare and translate the text, and figure out what logic would place the “Puliki ko lima” verse second or fifth. Then figure out where “I loko aku au” should go. What a puzzle.

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Hoʻolohe Hou Radio

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.49.20 AM

Congratulations to Hoʻolohe Hou Radio, a 24/7 streaming Internet radio station which just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter fundraising drive.

Long-time musician, record-collector and uber-fan Bill Wynne launched the radio station as “a unique and exciting new concept in Hawaiian music edutainment.” The station, which is hosted on the Live365 platform, is an outgrowth of Wynneʻs excellent Hoʻolohe Hou blog.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.49.20 AM

To quote from Hoʻolohe Hou Radioʻs press release: “Enterprising Hawaiian music lover and musician Bill Wynne has launched Ho`olohe Hou Radio from the basement studio of his New Jersey home via internet radio platform Live365. Unlike any previous endeavor in Hawaiian music radio, the station features primarily out-of-print recordings from Wynne’s archives of more than 25,000 Hawaiian music recordings – in various archaic media dating back to 1906 – which he has spent thousands of hours painstakingly remastering. More than this, the station is a first-ever attempt at Hawaiian music “edutainment” with Wynne offering commentaries throughout each programing day on the historic and cultural importance of the music and artists heard on the station.”

Click here to visit and like Hoʻolohe Hou Radioʻs Facebook page.

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Bibliographies: Collections of Lyrics, Ukulele Books pages are up!

Click on “Bibliographies” in the menu under the banner. There are two pages newly posted (like, yesterday!): “3. Mele and Song Lyrics–Printed Collections” and “5B Ukulele Books”. Other pages in progress:  Songbooks, Instruments (General), Hawaiian and/or Steel Guitar, and Slack Key Guitar. Thank you for your patience through this huge project.

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kaleimailealii.net is stealing content again

Back in 2011 I filed complaints against this rouge site, kaleimailealii.net, scraping content from “Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure.” I went through the formalities of filing DMC complaints with hosting services, and for awhile it seemed like the scraping subsided. Well, itʻs back. My content, with my name removed.

“And I think to myself, what a wtf world . . . “

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Resource!! A video archives at UH West Oahu

Uluulu at UHWO 1 Uluulu at UHWO 2

So I picked up this information card outside Native Books / Nā Mea Hawaiʻi. Wow–look at what UH West Oʻahu is making available, open access, no login required!!

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What Iʻm Listening To . . . Hāliu vols. 1-3 by Kūpaoa

Kupaoa KL HV01 Haliu vol 1 1 4PAN1T1PKSTC 4PAN1T1PKSTC

First, a story. About ten years ago, I sat in Marsee Auditorium at El Camino College in Torrance, California, listening to a concert by the incomparable Kekuhi Kanahele. She pulled out all the stops on her array of oli-infused vocal stylings. In the midst of the musical feast, she changed directions radically and pulled out a golden-oldie, the kind of song that used to be pulled out at kani ka pila singsongs, the kind of song that screamed “old folks music,” music for rocking chairs on the front porch. The song? “ʻImi Au Iā ʻOe.” Beloved, but in general not the fare of contemporary recording artists searching for new songs and innovative sounds. Right in the middle of this concert of new songs and innovative sounds, Kekuhi and her musicians took a giant sonic leap back at least 75 years. Knowing that many of us grew up singing this song (and others like it), and she invited everyone to sing along. An auditorium of diasporic Hawaiians and ex-Hawaiʻi residents were swept into this communal experience of strolling down memory lane. I donʻt recall Kekuhiʻs exact words (how was I to know I would be writing about them some 10 years later??), but the sense was this: these old songs are treasures, and we should sing them once in awhile so that we donʻt forget them. What a compelling way to illustrate this point, by erasing the distance between stage and audience, and for five minutes creating community through singing.

Ten years later, honoring  is exactly what Kūpaoa is doing. And they are deploying an interesting creative model to do so. The duo of Līhau Hannahs-Paik and Kellen Paik are known for award-winning Hawaiian language compositions, to which are applied their impeccable Hawaiian-language performance and euphonious blend. So this series comes as a bit of an unexpected delight.

Their goal for the series is written in the liner notes to Hāliu vol. 1 (and reproduced on their website):

“As Kūpaoa, we have made a determined effort to contribute to growing the genre of Hawaiian music by recording original songs, either from our own hearts or from the minds of our talented contemporaries. . . .  While we dearly love the new music we have put forth as Kūpaoa, we have a special place in our hearts for all of the songs that we cosider more traditional mele, older songs whose poetry has been expressed by dancers for generations. This unreleased album is but a temporary departure from the mission that weʻve worked so hard to define . . . Available exclusively through us, this new collection of treasured works represents our attempt to hāliu, to turn and acknowledge the noteworthy efforts of those who came before us.”

The project began as a sideline to their touring activities and their formally recorded output on their own Hulu Kūpuna record label.  On Volume Two, Līhau wrote: “Three years ago, when Kellen and I decided to do a fun project at home, we ended up with Hāliu: Volume One. Since we usually focus on creating our own original music, I think we were both surprised when people liked our take on old favorites! . . . Our love for composition certainly hasnʻt waned but with such demand, it was only a matter of time before Hāliu: Volume Two became a reality.” And on Hāliu: Volume Three Līhau wrote: “In early 2015 Kūpaoa had a break in our travel schedule, . . . And though we made sure to enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation with family and friends, we also took this time to record.”

So a project that began in the interstices of a career trajectory committed to new music became a series in its own right. And here the business model gets interesting. These recordings are self-releaed, and hard copies are available exclusively through their website, www.kūpaoa.com. They have put out the music through digital download services such as CDBaby, Amazon.com and iTunes. HOWEVER, the only way to obtain the liner notes is to order hard copies through their website (or directly from them at gigs).

The songs range from the era of “Nā Lani ʻEhā” (Kalākaua, Liliʻuokalani, Likelike, and Leleiōhōkū, the four royal siblings–and their contemporaries)–songs like “ʻAinahau” (v1), “Sānoe” (v2), “Ahi Wela,” (v3) “E Nihi Ka Hele” (v2),  and even the perpetually maligned “Kāua i ka Huahuaʻi” (more infamously known as “Hawaiian War Chant,” here restored to its dignity as the love song Leleiōhōkū wrote), to those old old old hula kuʻi that appeared in print in the 1890s and early 1900s, such as “Sassy” (v1), “Iā ʻoe e ka lā” and “Nā Hala o Naue (v2), and “Maui Girl” (v3).

Musically, Kūpaoa puts its signature sonic spin on these songs. At the same time, they eschew fancy arrangements, which is what allow listeners to sing along. We get songs from the corners of our memories, but brought up to the present sonically, with contemporary recording quality, clean instrumentals, and clear vocals.

Līhau wrote in Haliu: Volume Two: . . . as we assembled our songs for Haliu: Volume Twowe  made an even greater effort to research our selections. We gathered songs that we loved and took a look into the vast repositories of knowledge that are available to all and we found lesser-known versions, rarely heard verses, and lyrical variations that amazed and inspired us.” 

There are many many MANY more such treasures in these repositories of knowledge, simply begging to be brought out again. For everyone of the well-known standards like “Makalapua,” “Old Plantation / Kuʻu Home,” and “Aloha ʻOe,” there are dozens more songs overlooked by generations of musicians who have limited themselves only to what was remembered. Kūpaoa reminds us that there are vaults and vaults of forgotten treasures, and even treasures we used to know that somehow went virtually silent during our own lifetime. They are reaching back and bringing treasures out of the vault again, and making these recordings available through self-release.

Hea aku lāua ʻo Kūpaoa, e ō mai kākou ā pau!

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on my mind . . . Where am I?

So last evening I got to spend time in Waikiki with people dear to me–The Husband Unit, and a colleague and his wife, all in Honolulu for a conference. [Them, not me. Iʻm here for other reasons.] The colleague is a mentor who shepherded me through many doors throughout my career. After an afternoon of sightseeing in which I, the knowledgable driver, drove us through one traffic jam after another (letʻs go to Nicoʻs–via Ala Moana Blvd! letʻs go up to the Pali–through Chinatown instead of Liliha St.! letʻs go back to town via . . . Waimanalo!), they–on east coast time–looked like they were starting to wilt. So my next brilliant move was to bag the King Kamehameha Hula Competition (at 4pm, how many more groups would be left to go on? no way to know), return to the big chain hotel across Kuhio Beach to rest, then go to a prominent free hula show right on the beach. I googled and found out a really really superb halau was scheduled for that evening, so I called The Colleague and effusively recommended the free show as a must see.

Although we headed across the street some 20 minutes early, the site was already crowded, and we ended up in the “standing room only” section. But I was stoked to be treated to a hālau I had followed for many many years.

What we saw shocked me, and gave us much fodder for discussion over Teddyʻs Burgers. (we left after 30 minutes).  Because, you see, the featured group was the famous halau, BUT . . . featuring their classes from Japan. Class after class of prettily dressed and immaculately made up Japanese women, many of them fulfilling a lifeʻs dream to perform hula with their kumu in Honolulu. On Waikiki Beach. For some of them, this was even their very first public stage appearance as hula students.

What am I supposed to make of this? I should celebrate the fact that the hula is so popular in Japan that Japanese dancers will go to extraordinary lengths to study and perform it. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese enthusiasm for hula is a welcome economic  lifeline that enables so many kumu hula to sustain themselves financially in hula as a full-time vocation. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese students are dedicated to learning hula from the source. I should celebrate the fact that Japanese students are so eager to return hula in the form of their gift of dancing in hulaʻs homeland.

And I do celebrate all of that. My Facebook feed is filled with posts of kumu hula and musicians performing all over Japan to massive audiences.

How, then, might it be uncharitable of me to even think that anything might be “wrong” with this picture?

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on my mind: record labels

Iʻm kind of in limbo right now . . . between Honolulu last week, sitting in Ann Arbor right now, and getting ready to return to Honolulu again this coming Thursday . . . crazy-kind. Last weekʻs trip involved intense crate-digging at Jellyʻs–Kakaʻako and Aiea–and Book-Off– Ala Moana and Windward.

In the 10 days at home, I decided to revisit my CD collection of Polynesian musics outside Hawaiʻi, mostly Tahitian, with a fair dose of Maori, smatterings from Samoa, Tonga, Rapa Nui, and a handful of outliers. Some interesting dynamics going on in the world of CDs. Each of these places has local record labels that showcase local entertainers. In Tahiti: Manuiti, Oceane, Studio Alphonse, among others. In New Zealand, Viking, Kiwi and Tangata feature Maori and other Pacific musics, while Flying Nun is internationally recognized for showcasing New Zealand rock groups.

But each place is also a “destination” for the kind of record companies that compile series of sonic travelogues. “Air Mail” is a ubiquitous label whose signature visual image consists of the alternating red and blue stripes taken from airmail envelopes–surely an anachronism in this age of text-messaging and priority mail. The music is usually stereotyped and hackneyed. The Allegro Corporation has made a practice of packaging the same playlists on different “labels” with different artwork. Artists are usually not identified; it is the place name that is the discsʻ selling point. Or an alluring island beauty in full dance regalia.

SCAN3290  SCAN3284

Then there are the scholarly ethnographic issues, again packaged and labeled by place rather than artist. Two major companies are Arc and Pan.

SCAN2863  SCAN3090

Cool stuff, and I am grateful to have a few moments to reconnect.

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