Aloha Dear Readers! Iʻm launching a new feature here, inspired by the “Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler” feature on NPR Musicʻs jazz blog, A Blog Supreme. “Get to know jazz, five songs at a time.” My spin here is–get to know Hawaiian music through five different recordings of one song.
The song known in the present as “Kaulana Nā Pua” first appeared in Hawaiian-language newspapers in February 1893, where it was titled “Mele Ai Pohaku” and “Mele Aloha Aina.”
The story of its composition is well known: members of the Royal Hawaiian Band, angry at the January 17 coup of the monarchy by American businessmen, visited composer Ellen Wright Prendergast at her home in Honolulu. She captured their royalist declarations of loyalty to Queen Lili’uokalani in this song that went viral then. Period resurfacing of the song in new recordings has kept the song–and its sentiments–in living memory.
Sheet music of the tune was published in 1895–in San Francisco, when loyalist members who had resigned from the Royal Hawaiian Band were touring as the “Hawaiian National Band” to raise awareness of arguments against annexation of Hawaiʻi to the U.S. The sheet music, which lay buried in the Library of Congress, contains the tune as we know it, arranged for four-part harmonization and a piano accompaniment. (The sheet music was uncovered in 1997.)
The sheet music was unknown when a group of musicians approached composer Maddy Lam around the mid-1950s with the lyrics of the song. Thinking that the tune had been lost, Maddy Lam was asked to create a new tune. Interestingly, Maddy Lam must have channeled a memory, because the tune that she published (with Criterion Music Corp.) and subsequently recorded on her Island Recording Studio label is, in fact, the tune that was published in 1895.
The second recording selected is by Peter Ahia on the album Peter Sings (Genoa Keawe GK-105). This rendition includes steel guitar flourishes by Herbert Hanawahine.
The third recording selected is by The Peter Moon Band on the album Tropical Storm (Panini PS-1009). When this track first hit the radio airwaves, the aggressive uptempo arrangement shocked and even angered listeners who had become accustomed to the sadly reverential moderate tempo of other recordings.
The fourth recording is by the female trio Nā Wai Ho’olu’u o Ke Anuenue, from their album Together (Way Out West WOW-9901). The track includes a drum track, an equally percussive Tahitian-style ʻukulele, and, most notably, rapping interpolated by Sudden Rush.
Finally, the remarkable multi-artist / multi-site production by Project Kuleana inspired by the “Playing for Change” viral video.