Mele: Sounds of Hawai‘i

By Team

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson.

Music has held a prominent place in Hawai‘i since the beginning of recorded time. Early Hawaiian chanted oli (often accompanied with the percussive aid of hollowed-out gourds) as offerings and acknowledgement of the gods. These chants would also accompany hula, the dance that depicts the stories behind the legends.


Hula dancers using the percussion instrument ipu heke, a carefully selected, dried and hollowed out gourd. Photo: Dennis Oda.

When Westerners arrived in Hawai‘i, two significant items were melded into plantation and ranch life that became decidedly “Hawaiian” from then onward: the ‘ukulele and slack key guitar, or ki ho ‘alu. The ‘ukulele was an adaption of a Portuguese instrument—its small stature made it easy to carry and four strings aided in ease of playing. Slack key involved the loosening (or slacking) of strings to create open tuning, which made for a unique sound that was adopted by paniola, or Hawaiian cowboys.


Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Daeja Faris.

Today, you can hear a multitude of variables on Hawaiian music across O‘ahu. Nearly every hotel in Waikiki features a sunset or early evening performance by a halau (group that studies traditional hula dance and chanting), ‘ukulele or slack key players, bands, duos and so forth.

Often, these accomplished players will meld into their sets contemporary songs (Jack Johnson, anyone?) into their respective style of “Hawaiian music.” Players like Jake Shimabukuro, Cyril Pahunui, Taimane Gardner, Makana and Kaukahi are great names to look out for.

Below is a list of venues on Oahu to seek out for Hawaiian-style live music. Enjoy the mele!

Kani Ka Pila (at Outrigger Reef)
House Without a Key (Halekulani)
Duke’s Waikiki (Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach)
Tiki’s Bar & Grill (Aston Waikiki)
Moana Terrace (Marriott Waikiki)
Mai Tai Bar (Royal Hawaiian Hotel)
Rumfire (Sheraton Waikiki)
Banyan Courtyard Beach Bar (Moana Surfrider)

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