A compilation CD brings together multiple tracks, often by multiple recording artists, and often drawn from a variety of sources (definition courtesy Wikipedia). Often these CDs are created by record labels who are promoting the artists on the label, and the CDs in its catalogue.
This overview looks at compilations that are label-neutral–compilers are aiming for selections of songs that are not limited to the artists on one label.
The Rough Guide to the Music of Hawaii (World Music Network, 2000). To my mind, this compilation comes closest to a record label-neutral selection of songs and artists. The Rough Guides launched a series of travel guides before branching out into world music, so their products all carry a distinct birds-eye perspective. The artists range from 1920s guitarists Sol Ho‘opi‘i and Sam Ku West to 1990s artists Elodia Kane (gifted vocalist aswell as wife of guitarist Ray Kane) and Cyril Pahinui in a duet with Bob Brozman. The ground in between is represented by important kī hō‘alu guitarists Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Leonard Kwan; vocalists Lena Machadeo, Alfred Apaka, and Genoa Keawe; and Hawaiian Renaissance musicians Sunday Manoa and George Helm. What’s missing: steel guitar, choral singing, ancient chant, among other styles. Liner notes provide brief artist profiles, and identify the original recordings from which the selections were drawn.
Hawaii—The Greatest Songs Ever (Petrol / EMI, 2007). At first glance, the packaging resembles those awful lounge-music budget CDs aimed at tourists, and in fact the liner booklet includes recipes for malasadas and mango mousse. (!) However, the tracks represent a judicious selection of well-known artists and signature songs: Iz’s “Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World,” Makaha Sons “Little Brown Gal,” the Ho‘opi‘i Brother’s dazzling “Hawaiian Cowboy,” Cyril Pahinuiʻs “Makee Ailana,” Dennis Pavao on “Alekoki,” and so on. Also along for the ride are Justin Young, Darin Leong, and Jim “Kimo” West. Hawai‘i favorite Teresa Bright is present here with the curious choice of “Sadie.”
The Fifty Greatest Hawai‘i Albums of All Time (Mountain Apple, 2004).
The Fifty Greatest Hawai‘i Albums of All Time, Vol. 2 (Mountain Apple, 2006)
The 50 Greatest Songs of Hawai‘i (Mountain Apple, 2008).
All three albums are related to two separate polls conducted by Honolulu magazine. “Fifty Greatest Hawai‘i Albums” appeared in June 2004, and “Fifty Greatest Hawai‘i Song” appeared in June 2007. For both polls, magazine executives convened panels of experts that included Hawaiian music personalities from the record industry and entertainment sector. (Disclosure: I was not an invited expert.) The resulting lists, thus, do not contain the perspectives and preferences of any one individual, but rather the outcome of discussion and dialogue among knowledgeable folks. The first poll focused on entire albums, and so far has spawned two CDs and a hardcover book. The second poll focused on songs, with one CD to date.
As fascinating as the polls were to read about, those insights transferred somewhat questionably to CDs. For a poll on albums, how do 50 albums get reduced to 17 tracks on the first CD and 11 tracks on the second CD? And even once the albums are chosen, the track selected is often not the most memorable, or remarkable, of the tracks on the CD. For example, Keola & Kapono Beamerʻs acclaimed album Honolulu City Lights is represented not by the renowned title track, but by “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha.”
Then, for a poll on songs, how does one select one recording of songs that have all been recorded many times over by diverse artists in diverse styles? The resulting selection contains some misfires, of artists being represented by songs that they are not otherwise known for, and of songs being presented by artists who are otherwise known for other songs instead.
All said, are these compilations recommendable to newbies? Well, if the choice is between these CDs and others discussed here, I would look at others first.
A Place Called Hawaii (HanaOla, 2002)
A Place Called Hawaii 2 (HanaOla, 2003)
A Place Called Hawaii 3 (HanaOla, 2004)
The producer of all three compilations is Internet radio personality “Aloha Joe.” The basis for song and artist selection is precisely stated in the liner notes to vol. 2: “the playlist is a combination of our Aloha Radio Network (www.alohajoe.com) listener requests and several “newly recorded” songs.” These three compilations are issued by Cord International’s HanaOla label. There is a distinct presence of artists whose work has already been licensed and reissued by Michael Cord, such as Country Comfort, Nohelani Cypriano, Kalapana, George Helm, and Ken Emerson.
That said, are these compilations recommendable to newbies? Insofar as they do contain a representative sampling of what is popular at the time of issue, yes. Or at least, the sampling is representative of what is popular among Aloha Joe’s listeners.
Pure Hawaiian (Quiet Storm, 2001)
Pure Hawaiian ‘Elua (Quiet Storm, 2005)
Quiet Storm Records is a label known for releases and compilations of “island music”—English-language songs about life in Hawai‘i, but performed to the grooves of mainstream popular music, especially reggae. These two compilations are pretty remarkable, because they reach out beyond Quiet Storm’s artist roster, and draw in the work of independent artists such as kumu hula O’Brien Eselu, Steve Mai‘i & Teresa Bright, John Keawe, and John Cruz. There is a liberal sprinkling of major artists for good measure: Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau, among others. Liner notes provide Hawaiian-language lyrics and translations for all songs. Many of the songs are signature songs for the artists, such as “E Wai’anae” by The Pandanus Club, “Keiki o ka ‘Āina” by Robi Kahakalau, and Sunday Manoa’s “Kawika.” Both CDs offer representative snapshots of what was popular in radio and CD sales in the early years of the 21st century. Highly recommended.