Back in 2010, I posted the listening assignments for my class “Music of Hawaiʻi.” It was a list of song titles, artists and album titles, leaving it up to the listener to look up the recordings. Now in this age of YouTube, Vevo and other great resources, here is an updated listening list of stellar examples of hula kuʻi songs.
The term “hula kuʻi” was introduced in the late 19th century to distinguish the innovative “modern” hula that combined old and new elements. Along with this new hula was a particular poetic format:
- standardized line lengths (usually 4 accented syllabled);
- lines arranged in verses of usually two lines, but verses of 4 lines were also used;
- a formulaic poetic signal at the conclusion, in its most common form–“Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana;” but also phrases like “Hea aku mākou e ō mai ʻoe” or “E ō e ka nani mae ʻole.”
- Mele in this poetic format were set to a tune that fit one verse, and all verses would be sung to the same tune.
- In performance, verses are often separated by a brief instrumental interlude. Some dancers call it “the vamp” or “kaholo” (after the kaholo step); some musicians call this a “turnaround.”
- Hula kuʻi songs are accompanied by ʻukulele and guitar; they are also called “modern” hula songs, or “modern Hawaiian music,” in contrasted to ancient chanted hula kahiko. (Note that while all hula kuʻi songs are “modern” in contrast to ancient hula, not all “modern” songs are hula kuʻi songs. The vast majority of English-language hapa haole songs are not identical in format to hula kuʻi songs.)
These videos are drawn from Hawaiian Airlinesʻ Pau Hana Fridays series, which are recorded live and generously shared on YouTube.
First up, the group “Maunalua” sings Aunty Edith Kanakaʻoleʻs beloved song “Ka Uluwehi o Ke Kai,” and noted designer (and Aunty Edithʻs son-in-law) Sig Zane is called forward to hula.
Next up is falsetto singer Mark Yamanaka, singing “ʻAlekoki.”
And showing the performative possibilities of the repetitive hula kuʻi song format, here is an entertaining version of having fun, and taking up instrumental opportunities in the repeats of the tune. This is Manaʻo Company, featuring Hawaiian Airlines employee Kaulana Pakele. Enjoy!