Mele Mei: A Celebration of Hawaiʻi’s Music

By Andy Beth Miller

Natalie Ai Kamauu at the 2016 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Photo: Mele Mei.

Music is undeniably a universal language. It possesses a kind of magic that unites hearts across all boundaries. Music also is a witness, acting as a living, evolving testimony to the roots from which its haunting rhythms and blended harmonies were born.

It’s this facet of music that makes Mele Mei, a celebration of Hawaiʻi’s music, so special. Hawaiʻi, perhaps like no other place, prides itself on a rich and remarkable history steeped in storytelling shared through sound and song. Mele Mei features an abundance of musical festivities and workshops. First celebrated as the “Musical Month of May,” Mele Mei has grown in popularity, so much so that it now begins in April and extends through June!

Check the Mele Mei website under the Events tab for the most up to date event information.

Mele Mei Photo Gallery

Mele Mei: A Celebration of Hawaiʻi’s Music

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Brother Noland at Kana Ka Pila Grille with Blayne Asing kicking off mele mei for outrigger reef

Brother Noland at Kani Ka Pila Grille with Blayne Asing kicking off Mele Mei 2016 for Outrigger Reef Hotel. Photo: Mele Mei.

Joining in the Festivities of Mele Mei

The most accessible way to join in the musical celebration is to enjoy a dinner at the outdoor restaurant, Kani Ka Pila Grille. The Kani Ka Pila Grille offers live, authentic Hawaiian music nightly from 6-9 p.m. For the month of May, new faces have been added to theline up. They are featuring a special Mele Mei night every Sunday in May. Check out the Mele Mei website for more details, including information about the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame and Hawaiʻi’s own grammys, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017!

The Origins of Hawaiian Music

Hula dancers performing at the 2016 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Photo: Mele Mei.

Perhaps the first music of the Islands was first observed in the expression of chants and hula — mele oli (chants without music) and mele hula (chants with dance and sometimes music). Instruments forged with natural elements, such as the ipu, the kāʻekeʻeke, the kālaʻau, the ʻohe hano ihu, the pū ʻohe, and the conch shell came with the passage of time, as did perhaps the most famous instrument synonymous with Hawaiʻi, the ʻukulele. Brought by Portuguese immigrants to the Islands, the name itself literally means “jumping flea,” in description of the speed of the fingers of an ʻukulele player.

The Evolution of Hawaiian Music

Kimie Miner. Photo: Kyle Durigan.

Kimie Miner. Photo: Kyle Durigan.

Over the years, Hawaiian music has evolved, embracing all kinds of ‘ukulele to steel guitar tunes, traditional Hawaiian music to slack key, island reggae to rock — and everything in between. With lyrics often surrounding familiar places of Hawaiʻi, love, or simply days spent surfing and fishing, the music of the islands remains set apart and beloved for its simplicity and haunting beauty.

The Icons of Hawaiian Music

Israel Kamakawiwoole (second from left) when he was part of the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau at the 1987 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Photo courtesy of Star-Advertiser archives.

Israel Kamakawiwoole (second from left) when he was part of the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau at the 1987 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Photo courtesy of Star-Advertiser archives.

Signature musicians that had an instrumental part in building what Hawaiʻi music is today include Keola Beamer, often called the world’s best slack key guitarist, and Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole — with his golden-voiced ballads — who became a beloved beacon of the Island’s music scene, with his album Facing Future remaining as Hawaiʻi’s best selling album of all time. The harmonies of Makaha Sons, as well as Don Ho and Paula Fuga’s powerful voices also add to the richness that has made Hawaiʻi an ever-evolving music mecca.

Check the Mele Mei website under the Events tab for the most up to date event information.

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