Top Ten Hawaiian Music Albums for Newbies–Pt. II

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 (Panini PS-1002)

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

The Sunday Manoa

The Sunday Manoa

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.

Kealiʻi Reichel

Kealiʻi Reichel

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

Genoa Keawe

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?

This entry was posted in recommendations, recordings. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Top Ten Hawaiian Music Albums for Newbies–Pt. II

  1. Angie says:

    You should have listed ‘Ikena and He Nani as well….. a little self promotion 😉

  2. Norman says:

    Genoa Keawe’s “Among My Hawaiian Souviners” and because of Eddie Kamae’s great contribution over the years, how about “The Folk Music of Hawai’i by The Sons Of Hawai’i. I’d also go for Raiatea Helm’s Sweet and Lovely” and Hoku Zuttermiester’s “Aina Kupuna”.

  3. amykstillman says:

    Sons of Hawaiʻi was a difficult call, especially since Gabby sang with them on the “Folk Music” album. My preference for Genoaʻs “Party Hulas” is because the repertoire on the entire album is standard for hula folks. I agree Raiatea Helm is a strong contender as an intro to newbies. As much as I love Hoku Zʻs CD, the question is, if you could recommend 10 and only 10 CDs to a newbie, what would be on that list of 10? This post was even more of a challenge, because I only have 5 so far.

  4. Pili says:

    Aloha Amy,

    These are wonderful choices! They not only cover an important range of styles, but are all historically significant. I won’t offer anything in their place (except for maybe substituting “Collection One: Kamahiwa” as the Keali‘i Reichel choice – more ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, less mainland pop style), but my suggestions for five more would be:

    6. Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu “Po‘okela Chants” – Mark may not be the most traditional, but he can sure show a newbie how entertaining mele kahiko can be.

    7. Even though Iz is already represented, I think it would be nice to have a live album on the list, so how about “The Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau “LIVE” (aka “Live at Hank’s Place”).

    8. Could use some more falsetto, especially group falsetto. Your standards would seem to call for Hui ‘Ohana because of their place in the Renaissance, and my favorite of theirs is actually their green reunion album, just called “Hui ‘Ohana”. Or you could go back even farther for “Hawaiian Style” by the Kahauanu Lake Trio, which could be considered Hui ‘Ohana’s direct predecessor. But if you chose Nā Palapalai’s “Makani ‘Olu‘olu” I wouldn’t mind at all. More wahine energy for the list, and what a mind-blowing group! Too new to have influenced generations of musicians, but they have really taken traditional elements and super-charged them.

    9. Kawai Cockett “A Traditional Hawaiian” – I think of Uncle Kawai as kind of a male counterpart to Aunty Genoa, because of his dedication to performing traditional songs in the straight-ahead hula style that he learned growing up on Moloka‘i. If somebody wants to know how a certain song sounds – not the arrangement, not any elaboration – just the song straight up, then Aunty Genoa and Uncle Kawai can show the way.

    10. I’ll end with The Lim Family’s “Nā Mele O Nā Hanauna”. I love them because they’re down-home but polished… not easy to do… have been awesome for decades, and would add more wonderful women artists to the list.

    ‘O wau nō me ka ha‘aha‘a,

    • amykstillman says:

      Aloha Pili: These are excellent thoughts–I especially appreciate how you make your reasons clear.
      1. Kealiʻi Reichel Collection #1 Kamahiwa–I agree with you that more ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i would be a good thing. It also gives the listener more mele hula kahiko. I was thinking that historically “Kawaipunahele” started things off for Kealiʻi. But your reason is solid, especially on a list for newbies.
      2. Excellent point about having a live album. Will chew on that one awhile.
      3. Kawai Cockett: I agree with you for the same reasons–straight-ahead hula and classic ʻukulele trio.

      Adding a live album (to be decided) and a Kawai Cockett album brings my list up to 7 CDs. Falsetto–absolutely yes! You would think I would go with Hui ʻOhana, but my heart is with Nā Palapalai–excellent spine-tingling performances, fabulous ʻukulele playing, and first-rate production quality all add up to a top-shelf product.

      But adding these three adds 3 more men to the list, leaving Aunty Genoa so far as the lone woman. Auē! These lists are not easy, ‘ea?
      amy k.

  5. Norman says:

    Amy would you consider having something to represent the Hapa-Haole genre, maybe Johnny K and Pua Almeida’s “My Son Pua”. And to further expand awareness as to the variety of music to be found under the umbrella of Hawaiian music, how about Peter Moon’s “Canefire”. My problem is that I love all the different sub genres of Hawaiian Music. Pili’s post reminded me about Kahauanu Lake’s impact. What a trend setter HE is. Maybe you need to expand your list to at least 25.

    • amykstillman says:

      excellent point, Norman! I will be devoting an entire post down the line to hapa haole recordings, but I do need to think about how it would factor into a “Top Ten for Newbies” list. Truth be told, this process is already refining my thinking. If the purpose of a “Top Ten for Newbies” list is to try to draw newbies into Hawaiian music, then perhaps the list I began with needs retooling. As you wrote in your earlier comment, Raiatea Helmʻs albums certain merit consideration, perhaps even in place of Genoaʻs Party Hulas as far as a “Top Ten” for Newbies go. Thereʻs no question that Genoa would rank right up there in terms of “Top Ten Historically Significant ANYTHING in Hawaiian Music.” But is that the most effective vehicle to draw newbies in? Regarding Raiatea Helm, where you & I differ, perhaps, is that I really love Hawaiian Blossom–Raiatea has grown tremendously as a musician in the business.

  6. Norman says:

    Oh no Amy!! Please don’t take Auntie Genoa off of the list. The reason I chose “Among My Hawaiian Souvenirs” was just because I thought it is more melodious and tuneful compared to “Party Hulas” which as you point out is perfect from a Hula perspective. I just think “Souvenirs” shows off her voice more. Listen to “E Mama E” on “Souvenirs”.

    As to comparing “Sweet and Lovely” to “Hawaiian Blossom”, you are absolutely right. She really did mature greatly between those two albums, but I think her version of ‘Alika is astounding and would really get a Newbie’s attention.

    This is too much fun! Thank you for starting this blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s