So nephew Nate comes home from his “day job” and joins me for morning coffee at the dining table where I sit with laptop. And he asks me “where are there any positions for Hawaiian musicians to be fulltime musicians?” My mind switches on, and Iʻm thinking this has the makings of a great midterm exam question. Not so much “where?” but “why are the opportunities so few for Hawaiian musicians to make a living playing Hawaiian music?”
We chatted a bit. Hotels no longer hire musicians. Hotels hire independent contractors who book the musicians, and who stand between the musicians and hotel management. The lū‘au extravaganzas? Performers multitask in hospitality and activities throughout the duration of visitors’ presence onsite; being a musician is not enough for the gig.
Now, with casual labor arrangements, there are no benefits and no health insurance. So musicians need day jobs, or partners/spouses with partner benefits–or they cannot afford to get sick or injured.
But beyond this, where are the opportunities for musicians to ply their craft? Where are there opportunities to motivate musicians to continue to grow and expand artistically? And where are there opportunities for musicians to be valued by being compensated for the skills and presentation (including attire) they bring to a gig? Not to mention the cost of getting to the gig: Last time I looked, gas was not free; itʻs running around $3.69/gal for regular.
How is it that we can claim to value our Hawaiian musicians, then expect that they can hold gigs in Waikiki without local audience support (so hotel managers tell the booking agents “it’s mainstream pop and reggae that will generate food & beverage revenue from tourists”)? How is it that we expect t0 download and/or exchange their recordings for free or just watch videos on YouTube? How can we continue to ask musicians to play for fundraisers and expect them to “kokua”? How can musicians generate revenue streams that will support their craft?
[Disclaimer: I began this mana’o a couple of months ago, when Nate was still resident at Aina Haina. He works for TSA on the morning shift. He is part of the crew processing the streams of Hawaiian musicians leaving on morning flights to Japan. But how brilliant is a TSA job? He gets health insurance, and he has day and evening hours to gig. Maybe “lucky” is more like it. So what is my motivation to finally get this polished and posted? Dialogue #2 “Producing Culture” And howʻs this for ironic: after playing with Kaiholu at Dialogue #2, Nate got a call–the very next day–asking him to “kokua” at a fundraiser!]