SONGS: Kalena Kai

Here is another old old old old favorite song, “Kalena Kai,” sometimes known from the first line “‘O Kalena Kai” and by its nickname, “Bath House Hula.” How old is it, you ask? How about 1893? Look what turned up during a random “let’s-see-what’s-there” search through Hawaiian-language newspapers, back in the day when the only way to see the newspapers was on microfilm in the over-air-conditioned basement of Hamilton Library at UH . . . But enough of our warrior tales from the good old days! Nowadays, we can go to the “Ho‘olaupa‘i Hawaiian Nūpepa Collection” on “Ulukau: Hawaiian Electronic Library” to look for it from the comfort of our internet browser.

The newspaper is Ka Lei Momi, and the date is July 8, 1893. The title is given as “He Inoa no Kalani.” Which Kalani? We are not told explicitly. The last line gives us a hint to follow up on: The second (lua) of the heavenly ones, a name.” If one of you readers knows who this is, please do share with us!!

Note that this printing has 12 lines. If we recognize that each two lines forms one verse, that means there are 6 verses here. Musical notation appeared in print in 1916, by two different publishers! Let‘s have a look. (A 1916 print date means that the publication is now out of copyright and in the public domain. So I am posting images here.)

Ernest Kaai’s instruction manual, The Ukulele and How Its Played — it has four verses.

This second score, complete with piano accompaniment, was published by Charles E. King in the very first edition of his Book ofHawaiian Melodies in 1916–the one we call “King’s Blue Book” because of its blue cover. If you are one of the many who own the 1948 printing of the Blue Book, you will not find “Kalena” in there, because Mr. King had a curious habit of changing out contents everytime he printed a new edition. “Kalena” dropped out of the Blue Book after 1923. But it surfaced again in King’s Songs of Hawaii in 1942 and again in 1950–we call that book “King’s Green Book” because of its green cover. I want to call attention to two things in Mr. King’s score. First, his name appears in the upper right corner, where we would expect the name of the composer / songwriter / haku mele / whatever you want to call it–the person who wrote the song. Is he the composer of this song? Well, his name is not included in Mr. Kaai’s songbook, nor is it included in the 1893 printing of the song text. Maybe he did compose the song. Or maybe he simply is claiming that he arranged it for his songbook. I don’t know what the answer is. But I know that there is an unresolved question here just from looking at these primary sources, as opposed to a source like that draws on these primary sources.

In my next post I’ll share with you some notes on recordings of this song. Preview: Tony Conjugacion’s recording with Brother Noland is priceless, and includes six verses. (though not exactly following the text in the 1893 newspaper)

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