As a historian and scholar, I have definite notions of repertoire and artists whose historical significance is secure. For a list of recommendations to newbies, however, my selections represent music that will hopefully draw in listeners and invite them to explore further.
My preference is for Hawaiian-language songs, and artists who aspire to competence with the language. I do not generally follow artists and bands whose recordings contain primarily English-language songs.
As a Native Hawaiian born and raised in Hawai‘i and having experienced the exuberance of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, innovation is as important for me as tradition. Yes, we must hold fast to what has survived, and what has been reclaimed. But we must also face the future and add to the tradition.
So my list reflects artists who are revered for their excellence in maintaining tradition, while at the same time they are also actively pushing—and relocating—the boundaries of tradition. My list also reflects artists whose work has influenced those following in their footsteps.
Gabby Pahinui, Gabby (The Brown Album). Gabby Pahinui was lionized by young musicians in the 1970s, and the brown album showcases his rich slack key styles and his unique voice. Gabby’s legacy of recorded music spans 1947 to his death in 1979. His legacy has been carried forward by three of his sons—Cyril, Martin and Bla—who have recorded multiple acclaimed and award-winning CDs. Other vocalists/slack key artists who follow in Gabby’s footsteps include Pekelo Cosma and Bruddah Smitty
Sunday Mānoa, Guava Jam—the LP that blazed the path for Hawaiian music in the Hawaiian Renaissance. This combo— guitarist Peter Moon, singer/bassist Robert Cazimero, and singer/guitarist Roland Cazimero—recorded 3 LPs before disbanding. Peter Moon continued on with The Peter Moon Band, and Robert & Roland continued on as The Brothers Cazimero. Both entities have remained at the forefront of innovation and excellence in Hawaiian music for over three decades since.
Keali‘i Reichel, Kawaipunahele – a signal of the successful resurgence of the Hawaiian language, this debut album contains new songs for hula that became instant classics in the hula world, and secured Keali‘i Reichel’s career as a performer and recording artist. Keali‘i is an excellent example of a master of tradition who is actively expanding the repertoire by offering new Hawaiian-language songs (importantly, by collaborator Puakea Nogelmeier as well as by himself).
Genoa Keawe, Party Hulas –this album, recorded in 1962, remains the benchmark for women’s ha‘i singing with ‘ukulele trio accompaniment of a core collection of hula ku‘i songs. Genoa Keawe was recognized in 1996 by the National Endowment for the Arts as a National Heritage Fellow—the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists. This album is an excellent introduction to Genoa Keawe at the top of her game, as well as to her extensive output of recordings since, and prior to, Party Hulas. It is also an excellent introduction to women’s ha‘i singing, and an invitation to explore the artistry of other ha’i singers like Linda Dela Cruz, Leina’ala Haili, Myrtle K. Hilo, Myra English, Kealoha Kalama, Elaine Ako Spencer, Moana Chang, Ida Chun, Mae Kamai, Karen Keawehawai‘i, Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom, and Raiatea Helm.
Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, Facing Future. So many people have come to Hawaiian music after hearing Iz’s charmingly minimalist rendition of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” in feature films, television, and advertisements internationally. On Facing Future, Iz also demonstrates his versatility in conventional hula ku‘i songs and in English-language songs such as “Hawaiian Suʻppa Man” that introduce newbie listeners to issues in contemporary Hawai‘i.
This is as far as I am prepared to go right now, in terms of naming specific album titles.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that the above list of five albums includes only one woman so far. There is unquestionably a tilt toward men among commercial recordings. In contrast to many men’s vocal groups—The Brothers Cazimero, Ho‘okena, Maunalua, ‘Ale‘a, Nā Kama, and Pa‘ahana come to mind, only one women’s group with comparable longevity in the music business comes to mind immediately—Nā Leo Pilimehana.
The rest of my Top Ten for Newbies list will contain “placeholder” spots. Weʻll cover various styles and subtraditions that I think should be either present or referred to on a “Top Ten” list, but I have not yet come to a conclusive decision about which specific recording is going to fit the bill.
I invite you all to think aloud with me. What would your top five albums include?