February 13, 2005


Hawaiian Music Lilts Into the Spotlight: The island industry is thrilled to have its genre recognized at last. It's been a long, vexing trip beyond elevator music and 'Tiny Bubbles.' (Geoff Boucher, February 13, 2005, LA Times)

[W]hoever does accept the first Hawaiian-music Grammy will be finishing a long and frustrating journey that began with some half-steps two decades ago. That's when the push to present a Grammy in the genre began. And just as the category's arrival is a personal victory for many, the years of setback were taken equally to heart. [...]

One thing Hawaii had all along was music; music that could be as rich and hypnotic as a Maui sunset but also was treated like the flowered leis given to tourists — something admired during a trip but rarely brought back home to the mainland.

The hope in Hawaiian music circles is that the Grammy category will focus consumer interest as well as industry attention and resources. But to what extent is unclear. The Native American category was added in 2001, but the artists who have won have gained more cachet than commercial success. Last year's winner in that category, "Flying Free" by Black Eagle, has sold fewer than 100 copies at the nation's major retailers, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Bernstein points out that Hawaiian music already has a greater reach, and much potential in the 7 million tourists who visit the state annually, hearing the local music "from the moment the plane touches down to the moment they take off." A CD with a "Grammy winner" or "Grammy nominee" sticker could help artists reach consumers who want a slack-key reminder of their trip to Waikiki but don't know where to start.

The hope in the artist ranks, too, is that the Grammy imprimatur will move the Hawaiian CDs a bit further from the novelty music bins at record stores.

Some worry that the mainstreaming of Hawaiian music will water down its traditions and spiritual imperatives.

But others see this as a call for Hawaii's music scene to swing back toward its roots and away from the reggae and Caribbean sounds that have laced its rhythms in recent decades.

"We are all waiting and wondering when that will go away," said Charles Michael Brotman, a nominee as producer of the album "Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 2." "I don't how to explain how it took over here, but it has dominated local radio, and it's very frustrating for a lot of musicians."

Brotman's CD is a collection of unadorned performances by 10 guitarists who hail from different islands and have different musical styles and degrees of modernity in their approach to one of Hawaiian music's most familiar sounds. Brotman, who moved to Hawaii in 1976, is the only nonnative nominee on the list. The other nominees are the Brothers Cazimero; the duo of Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom for "Amy & Willie Live"; Keali'i Reichel for "Ke'alaokamaile"; and Ho'okena for "Cool Elevation."

The list provides some interesting history lessons. Robert and Roland Cazimero became key players in the renaissance of Hawaiian music in the 1970s by melding that era's pop stylings and signatures into songs that had high craft and Hawaiian-language lyrics. Reichel carried that tradition forward in recent years.

"If someone somewhere in the world realizes that Hawaiian music has progressed beyond elevator music, 'Sweet Leilani' and 'Tiny Bubbles' — which all had their value — then the Grammys will have done a wonderful, wonderful service," Robert Cazimero said last week. "If people hear that the music is as rich and deep and moving as any other kind, then we have all won."

Too late, Iz is dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 13, 2005 9:02 AM

I can see all now: the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, featuring a Don Ho and J-Lo duet.

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 13, 2005 10:59 AM