This conversation was submitted by Jade Louie, a student in my MUS 478B class at UH Manoa. Given the fact that she is a steel guitarist, her choice of focus for this assignment was unexpected. So she explains:
I interviewed Dennis David Kamakahi because I admire his songwriting and performing abilities. Wahine Ilikea is one of my favorite songs. I asked him the questions that I asked because I really wanted his opinion on these things and I hoped that my classmates would too. Since he has been performing so long, I thought that he would have a good perspective on what is going on in the industry and have strong opinions. I asked the question about vocal exercises because he’s been singing for many years, so I thought he must have a routine to preserve his vocal cords. I never expected him to say that he vocalizes for three hours every morning ! He inspires me to be more disciplined with my own practice.
1. Many of the hotels in Waikiki employ music acts from genres other then Hawaiian. Do you feel that Hawaiian music has lost it’s appeal to the American tourist, or are the hotels misled?
Quite frankly it’s the hotels that are misled. When I started my professional career in entertainment in Waikiki in 1970 while still in high school, the majority of the hotel showrooms had Hawaiian Music. The main supporters of Hawaiian Music in Waikiki during the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970’s were the Hawaii Visitor’s Bureau and Don Ho. Don was the main force in getting young musician’s like myself into the showrooms in Waikiki to play Hawaiian Music. There is still a very strong appeal for Hawaiian Music, especially Japan, by tourist who visit here and when I perform in the performing art theaters across the U.S. to standing room crowds.
2. Hawaiian music has had many influences, such as the European influence from the classically trained missionaries and the jazz influence from the military personnel. Do you ever spice up your music with influences from other cultures?
Yes. The influences of other music to Hawaii has always been infused in Hawaiian Music. Queen Lili’uokalani was classically trained and so was Queen Emma and Princess Bernice Pauahi. They influenced music during the 1840’s – 1890’s. With the coming to Hawaii of Heinrich Berger from Germany and under his leadership of the Royal Hawaiian Band, Hawaii was richly influenced by the European music of the time. So it’s only natural that outside influence would find its way into Hawaiian Music today.
3.What do you think is the best reason for performing music?
I was born into a musical family and have not known a time in my life where there wasn’t music, but it is not a life one can pursue fulltime today. I was lucky, my grandfather was a slack key guitarist and my father was a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band and was a prolific trombonist who held the first seat in the section at the age of 20. My father encouraged me to study music and I did when I began music theory and composition in intermediate school at the age of 13.
4. Do you do any voice exercises to maintain the quality of your singing voice?
Yes I vocalize 3 hrs every morning to warm up my voice for the day. It’s a habit started back from my concert glee club days at Kamehameha High School and which I practice to this very day.
5. Do you think the Jawaiian craze is here forever or is it just a phase?
Jawaiian is a phase. I’ve met college-aged Hawaii students who were heavy into Jawaiian growing up but once they went away to school, it was the traditional Hawaiian Music that made them miss home. Whenever I perform for them at the Universities, they usually sit in the front row. When I start the first song, I can see the tears in their eyes and the longing for Hawaii. This is the music that was there when they were born, when they were youths growing up, and will be there until their last days on Earth. It is instilled in everyone who was born in–or lived–in Hawaii.
Hope these answers help.
Aloha Ke Akua,
Rev. Dennis Kamakahi