Enjoy Hawaiian MusicThe soothing refrain of strumming guitars and heavenly harmonies are as much a part of the Island experience as the slush of surf meeting the shore and the whisper of tradewinds fanning the palms. Like aloha shirts and mai tais, the finger-picking tune of a slack-key guitar and the soaring pitch of a falsetto singer have become signature Hawaii.
Hawaiians love to play music. They’ll get out their ukuleles and guitars at the slightest encouragementâ€”on stage, on the beach or in someone’s backyard. They play as much for the sheer joy of it as for the recognition or pay.
Though Hawaiian music has fused with many other contemporary forms over the years, it is still heavily focused on the myths and beauty of the Islands. It’s not about rage or pain, it’s about joy and beauty, healing and nature, people and places. There’s no better way to grasp the spirit of aloha than to listen, really listen, to the songs of Hawaii.
Hawaiian music claims a huge following in the Islands. In the days of the Hawaiian Monarchy, King David Kalakaua and his successor, Queen Lili’uokalani, saw the music of the Islands as an expression of Hawaiian pride and encouraged Hawaiians to engage in musical pursuits. Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning queen, was a composer in her own right. Perhaps her most famous composition is a song, written in the late 19th century and still popular today, called “Aloha ‘Oe” (Farewell to Thee).
Great performers are revered. None more so than Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the 758-pound singer and ukulele player, known as Iz. When he died at the age of 38, the Hawaii State flag flew at half-mast and more than 10,000 people attended his funeral. His coffin lay in state in the state capitol building in Honolulu, an honor bestowed upon only two other people, neither of them musicians.
Hawaiian songwriters have always played an important role in the culture. For centuries, history was passed from one generation to the next in the words of hula chants and mele (songs). Just as Hawaiians have music in their blood, they are natural storytellers. The combination says a lot about their music.
You’ll hear Hawaiian music piped into malls, broadcast over radio stations and, most days, live at the Lihue Airport. Scheduled, on-stage performances are less predictable. Try a lu’au.
At Kilohana Plantation, an extravagant lu’au and dinner show has come to the stage in a new musical form called a theatrical lu’au. Featuring a talented all-Kauai cast, it tells the story of a Polynesian family’s epic journey across the sea from Tahiti to Hawaii. The cast portrays, in song and dance, the struggle of early Hawaiians to settle the land.
The production, called Lu’au Kalamaku, strives not only to entertain but to educate audiences about Hawaiâ€˜i’s historical and cultural heritage. It was written by Kauai director, producer and performer Haunani Asing Marston.
A more traditional lu’au performance is staged at Smith’s Tropical Paradise on the banks of the Wailua River. The lavish revue is set in a lovely torchlit amphitheater and features music and dance from the islands of Polynesia. Hawaiian musicians also entertain on Wailua River boat tours, run by the Smith family, to the Fern Grotto.
When you want to just kick back and hear sweet Hawaiian sounds, track down Pancho Graham. He grew up listening to Hawaiian music legend Gabby Pahinui and folk rock icon Bob Dylan, has toured with Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues Band and played with a group called Na Pali composed of three other well-known Kauai musicians, Carlos Andrade, Pat Cockett and Fred Lunt.
You can catch him solo Friday nights at the Princeville Restaurant and Bar, located on the lower level of the Prince Clubhouse. He also plays slack key guitar Wednesday evenings at the Lighthouse Bistro in Kilauea.
The Mediterranean Gourmet, in Ha’ena, features a Hawaiian family trio along with oceanfront dining and island cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. Na Leo o Wainiha is composed of Peter K. Piilani, on bass, his daughter, Honey Girl Ho’omawanui on ukulele, and Joe Ponimoi on guitar. The group plays Monday and Tuesday evenings.
KKCR, Kauai’s Community Radio station, is a good source of Hawaiian music. Wake up to Hawaiian tunes, check out Acoustic Lu’au Thursdays at 6 p.m., and catch up with Kauai Live, featuring live performances of visiting and resident artists, on Sunday evening.
If you’ve caught the bug and want to make a little Hawaiian music of your own, check out Strings & Things in Hanalei. Sort through a wide selection of ukuleles, guitars and CDs, and don’t be afraid to ask a clerk for a little help finding your first chords.
Of course, Hawaiian music isn’t the only sound available in Kauai clubs and restaurants. Go hear a DJ spin pop, find jazz or blues, but if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated native soul, go Hawaiian.
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