I began drafting this post while sitting at Starbucks on Lewers early this morning. Hip Hop was coming out of the outdoor speaker right above me. Trolleys were waiting at the trolley stop directly across Lewers with Hawaiian music wafting into the mix. Those gigantic tour buses go around the waiting trolley, and their engines drown out everything else temporarily. In the distance, church bells–from Ft. DeRussey, perhaps?
Soundscapes. A useful concept for thinking. How do we experience the world sonically? What soundscapes do we move through? What sounds designed and programmed by others envelope us? What sounds do we choose to put into our ears in order to block out other sounds? Or at least to listen to sounds that we choose for ourselves.
The hunt for Hawaiian music in Honolulu takes work. No longer does it emanate 24/7 out of commercial broadcast radio. On Sundays, HPRʻs Derrick Malama hosts a show of Hawaiian music that starts at noon. On the street, in a car, aboard The Bus, whatever I choose to listen to requires me to gather the music onto whatever device will play it for me.
Wandering through Waikiki, Hawaiian music is something encountered largely by accident as I walk along the sidewalk. No live street performers, at least not during daylight hours. Larger complexes like Royal Hawaiian Center pipe Hawaiian music in public spaces, through the public address system. Hawaiian music is reduced to retail muzak, sonic wallpaper that is different in every store. Browsers may well not ever hear an entire song, if the browsing experience does not hold their attention.
I head over to The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, to attend the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame and Museumʻs annual “Lei of Stars” induction gala. The eventʻs music director, Ku‘uipo Kumukahi, has arranged for attendees to be greeted at the hotelʻs porte cochere by the sounds of the Jeff Teves Trio, playing acoustically, unplugged. We enter the hotel and amble down the corridor toward the fabled Monarch Room, where the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame Serenaders welcome us to that space-playing acoustically, unplugged. We find our way to our tables, begin with the pū kani, an oli aloha, and we all sing “Ho‘onani i Ka Makua Mau” to bless the food. As we eat our lunch, we are serenaded by Kimo Alama Keaulana and Lei Hulu; they are joined by Jeff Au Hoy at the piano.
The program is a rich buffet of inductions and tribute performances. This yearʻs honorees are: Ernest Ka‘ai, Andy Cummings, the Richard Kauhi Quartette, Keali‘i Reichel, and Patience Namaka Bacon. For each honoree, we are first treated to a multimedia presentation filled with fascinating historical and biographical detail. Then family members in attendance are called up onstage to accept proclamations. Finally, there is a musical tribute that showcase master musicians in action. Ku‘uipo Kumukahi sings Ernest Ka‘aiʻs songs “Across the Sea” and “Pu‘uwa‘awa‘a,” while granddaughter and kumu hula Ulalia Ka‘ai Berman dances. To honor Andy Cummings, chanteuse Marlene Sai performs “Waikiki” with lush piano accompaniment by Kenneth Makuakane, then as an encore they offer “Pikake.” The Richard Kauhi Quartette is feted by Senator Brickwood Galuteria and Kamuela Kimokeo doing “Le‘ahi,” with the youthful Alika Young channeling Kauhi on piano; then Kamuela’s father joining in on “My Yellow Ginger Lei.” Keali‘i Reichel is feted by — the man himself, fresh off the overall trophy from Merrie Monarch. His youth among an inductee class of performers whose lives span the 20th century is remarkable, but befitting his commitment to combine new Hawaiian-language mele composition, solid musical values, and hula. Finally, the program is rounded out with a tribute to Aunty Pat Namaka Bacon, who graces the stage. First, kumu hula Doreen Doo and a group of 5 dancers present “Poli‘ahu” and “Pua i lehua ka makani” in Aunty Patʻs gentle style. Then kumu hula O‘Brien Eselu premiered a newly-composed mele by Keola Donaghy and Kenneth Makuakane. Finally, O‘Brien Eselu rounded out the tribute with a heartfelt rendition, complete with audience participation, of “You Are So Beautiful.”
All of the music at the “Lei of Stars” event, from the welcome and lunch entertainment, to the tributes to the inductees, hearken back to days gone by when audiences were treated to live performance and the thrill of hearing master musicians in action. Yes there was occasional fishing for chords; yes there was occasional the singer going one way while the band went somewhere else. But that is a part of the thrill–of appreciating skill as well as artistry, of hearing artists “in the zone.” For listeners accustomed to hearing recordings, where each playing is an exact replication of the prior playing of a track, a live performance is a treat.
And so my May Day soundscape ran the gamut from the street busyness to the sublime beauty of the “Lei of Stars” induction festivities, from the disconnected moving through soundscapes over which I had no control, to the “Lei of Stars” program where Hawaiian music at its best was being honored and enacted. I am grateful for the privilege of taking in such a rich program. And my wish for the generations to come is that they, too, will have opportunities to experience such Hawaiian music in their soundscapes as well.
© 2011 Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman. All rights reserved.