The first event in the series “. . . aia i ka wai . . . Dialogues on [the Present & Future of] Hawaiian Music” had the most uninspired title–“Assessing the Documentary Record.” What the title lacked in inspiration, however, was more than made up for by the lively and spirited conversation.
Here is a first pass at some reflections.
The outcome in a nutshell: unexpected. I had envisioned an inventorying of existing documentation projects and brainstorming on what needs yet to be documented. The conversation very quickly established that there were weightier issues that panelists wanted to talk about regarding what is documented, and how that documentation is used.
What is documented: while the song itself, the mele itself, is clearly important, it is the stories of the mele and the personalities of the storytellers that enrich the documentation. The oral history interviews being conducted by the Hula Preservation Society under Maile Loo-Chingʻs leadership, for example, capture much much more than “just the mele,” as the elders interviewed were comfortably “talking story.” DeSoto Brown and Mike Keany drew a line that connected oral history kinds of documentation with the “low-fi” videos generated from consumer mobile devices like camera phones and posted on YouTube or other internet sites. Clearly the means to record has shifted from trained researchers to everyday citizens, turning anyone into a potential documenter.
These kinds of informal postings come with challenges of ownership rights, both legal and cultural, particularly when posted material falls within the domain of copyright. But there is a lot of activity that can, with some guidance, yield information worth preserving.
While much dialogue focused on sound recordings and film & video, we did not ignore written and print documents. Thanks to DeSoto Brown and Puakea Nogelmeier, the manuscript collections in Bishop Museum Archives and the tremendous record of everyday life in the Hawaiian-language newspapers were cast as two complementary archives.
Mike Keany took the opportunity to ask panelists about how Honolulu magazine’s high-profile features on Hawaiian music–“The 50 Greatest Hawai‘i Albums” (2004), “The 50 Greatest Hawaiian Songs” (2007), and “100 Years of Hawaiian Music (2010)–have been received. In addition to being hailed as a means to draw in new listeners to Hawaiian music, I pointed out that those pieces have also been used for student exercises, in effect turning the magazine features into primary sources.
Ric Trimillos brought attention to yet another source of information–musical instruments. To demonstrate his point, he pulled out two ‘ulī‘ulī. One had “Kodak Hula Show” red and yellow feathers; the other had natural brown feathers. More importantly, one was filled with seed, the other was filled with gravel, and the difference in sound quality was dramatic. It was an effective device to challenge us to think about the kinds of information conveyed by technologies of instrument manufacture.
And the million dollar question that everyone wanted to respond to: if money were no object, what documentation project would you champion? A most diverse set of responses were placed on the table, and the tables were turned when panelists insisted that I respond to my own question as well. Those responses all deserve their own post! If you werenʻt there, youʻll have to wait for either the video or a future post here or the summary and synthesis program on April 1.
The Dialogue was preceded by a musical performance by Noelani Mahoe and the Leo Nahenahe Singers–Ethelynne Teves and Mona Teves. They began with the smallest of audiences, but what we lacked in number, we made up for in enthusiasm and gratitude for what these ladies presented and represented. Each of the songs were introduced by stories, and among the songs were quite a few not commonly heard. It was an honor to be graced by their presence and talents.
The second Dialogue, “Producing Culture,” will take place on Friday February 4, at Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH Mānoa. Panelists are Manu Boyd, Keala Chock, Ku‘uipo Kumukahi, Michael Pili Pang, Cody Pueo Pata, and Jordan Sramek; and musical performance will be by the group Kaiholu.