Musing over Hawaiian Music in the Grammy Nominations for 2011

Click here to go to the Recording Academyʻs website where a pdf file of the complete list of nominations is posted.

The web has been a-buzz over the Grammy nominations, which were announced last Wednesday Nov. 30. Many folks–fans and industry professionals alike–were curious to see what things were going to look like in the wake of last Aprilʻs radical restructuring of all of the categories. Hawaiian music was one of those categories collapsed into the broader category named “Best Regional Roots Album” within the field named “American Roots,” and this year is competing with other musics like polka, Cajun, Zydeco, Native American, and others that apparently do not fall into any other more specific category like “blues.”

The nominees in the “Best Regional Roots Music Album” are:

  1. C. J. Chenier, Canʻt Sit Down.
  2. George Kahumoku, Jr, Wao Akua – The Forest of the Gods.
  3. Rebirth Brass Band, Rebirth of New Orleans.
  4. Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, Grand Isle.
  5. Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra, Not Just Another Polka.

First observations:

  1. Hawaiian music was not completely shut out of nominations.
  2. Native American music submissions failed to garner any nominations.
  3. Three of the five submissions are musics whose geographic center is New Orleans.

Congratulations to George Kahumoku, Jr. Already a Grammy Award winner as a co-producer of four slack key compilations from the “Slack Key Masters” concert series he produces, this is his first nomination as an artist.

Hawaiian music also made an appearance in another category. In “Best Pop Instrumental Album”–one of the categories in the extremely crowded Pop Music field–is a nomination for Daniel Hoʻs solo piano album, E Kahe Mālie. Because that album contains pianistic interpretations of classic Hawaiian songs, it was originally submitted to the “Best Regional Roots Music” category. At some point in the verification process, it got moved to the “Best Pop Instrumental” category, where it earned its nomination. How about that!! Hawaiian music rises to mainstream recognition in one of the mainstream categories!! Congratulations to Daniel Ho, whose perseverance and commitment to artistry is continuing to take Hawaiian music to new audiences.

As much as there is to celebrate in this news, there is without a doubt many Hawaiian musicians and fans who are pissed off because their favorites have failed once again to garner recognition in this broader national area. So there are comments posted on bulletin boards, blogs, and FaceBook walls again to the effect of insisting that Hawai’iʻs Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards are a true reflection of those who know Hawaiian music. (Many folks do not realize that the requirement of Hawaii residency in many Hōkū categories excludes the work of many artists who work on Hawaiian music outside Hawaiʻi. HARA has instituted one new “international” category that will go into effect this year.)

One has to wonder about The Recording Academyʻs structure that places Hawaiian music in direct competition with polka, Cajun, Zydeco, and funk-jazz brass band musics, AND mainstream pop music.

Personally, I marvel at the fact that Hawaiian music has not disappeared entirely off the Grammy radar, even without a dedicated category. Naysayers will certainly trumpet up assertions that the Grammy nominations and awards are about popularity, marketing, and networking. Such charges are ill-informed and even disrespectful of many voting members in the Recording Academy, whose votes do represent the assessment of artistic and technical merit by professional peers in the music industry.

Disclaimer:  I am a voting member of both the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (“The Recording Academy”), and the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (“HARA”). My eligibility for membership is based on production, co-production, and liner notes credits for eight recordings on three different record labels.)

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1 Response to Musing over Hawaiian Music in the Grammy Nominations for 2011

  1. Thanks for sparking some lively conversations between Shawn & I, Amy, your thoughts so on point.

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