On Defining Hawaiian Music 2

In last weekʻs post I wrote the following:

At the “Debating Culture” event on April 21, Jeff Au Hoy stepped to the microphone and asked each of the panelists to give our definitions of “Hawaiian music.” . . .

My response? Well, I really should share a transcript of my response that evening. And when I get to that section in my transcribing, I will post a direct quote. After all, what better than straight from the horseʻs mouth, ʻeā?

Here, now, is a direct quotation from the April 21, 2011 program “Debating Culture,” which I finished transcribing yesterday.

In my years of archival research and my years of talking to people–friends, family, musicians, kumu hula–I am coming to believe that the question “what is Hawaiian music” is not the question at all that we should be asking.

That is the question that has led to so much divisiveness. It is a question that has licensed people to come to blows with each other and say uncalled for things about each other in very uncivil ways.

To me, the question “what is Hawaiian music” is never going to be answered in a way that is going to satisfy everyone, because it is so complex, because it involves a combination, a complex, overlapping and interweaving, of different kinds of songs, different languages, differents kinds of musicians, different kinds of musical styles.  This is like a four-dimensional Rubricʻs quadri-cube thatʻs going on. And thereʻs never ever going to be one answer that satisfies everyone.

I think the more important question that we have to start thinking about is NOT what is Hawaiian music, how do we define Hawaiian music, but what about any given song or what about any given presentation of a song is Hawaiian?

[This particular statement owes much to a valuable little volume, Music in America by Adelaida Reyes, who is a colleague of mine. Iʻve been using this book in my course “American Musical Soundscapes” at both UH and UMich.]

Ironically, too, local tv news station K5 posted the following story on April 22, 2010:  “What is Hawaiian music? Thereʻs no one answer.” I say “ironic,” because the story filed by reporter Ben Gutierrez contains quotes from several attendees. The story itself, however, makes no mention of the title of the event–“Debating Culture,” which was an added program to the series “… aia i ka wai … Dialogues on [the Present & Future of] Hawaiian Music” at UH Mānoa, and the story fails to mention that title of the story is practically a quote from my remarks [cited above] to which interviewees in the story were, in fact, responding.

coming soon: a response from the same April 21 program to a thoughtful query from journalist Denby Fawcett.

© 2011 Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman. All Rights Reserved

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3 Responses to On Defining Hawaiian Music 2

  1. ioane says:

    Welina e ke hoa! Mahalo for the mana’o. I see your point as it is an informed one. Similar to a ‘hula’ dancer who grasps & breathes the mana’o of a mele. This dancer can improvise her/his expressions on the spot due to this insight. Again, I am glad that you shared your mana’o, but the discourse on the definition of Mele Hawai’i is as broad as the races/ethnicities our po’e chose to marry. Like saying the marriage vows, in order to move on to the next level WE must let the exchange of mana’o flow. It is in the process a resolution will reveal itself. For example, I shared recently w/ my cousin Puna- aunty Maddy Lam’s “No ke Aha. . .” and the similarity of its hidden humor to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies put a Ring on it.” One is Mele Hawai’i while the other could evolve into one. And this is where & why our Mele Hawai’i needs to be defined. . .or we’ll be seeing a Hawaiian wedding party dressed Gangsta style sooner than later. Not that’ll be wrong, but how will the Bride’s holoku fit in. . .OR can you imagine a rap version of “ke kali nei au” being done? A definition of MeleHawai’i may not stop this, but it will foster a sense of respect that could redirect another ‘better-matched’ outcome.

  2. amykstillman says:

    aloha e ke hoa! mahalo no kēia mana‘o kūpono. He mea pono hoʻi na kākou e alaka’i iā kākou.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. These points all deserve open discussion, and hopefully as time passes, more folks will be willing to come forward and speak without the cloak of anonymity or the shield of pseudonymns. Of course I have much more to say on the subject of definitions. Iʻve been working for years on a book manuscript that will challenge many many tightly held myths and beliefs. I canʻt put it all in one paragraph–which is precisely what I had to do on the April 21 event, and again here in opening the subject. There is so much more to put out on the table. On one point I am absolutely in agreement with you–WE must let the exchange of manaʻo flow. And may it flow with increased awareness of the richness of sources that have survived, but many of which are still out of sight.

  3. Pingback: On Defining Hawaiian Music 2 | Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure | Hawaiian History

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