ON YOUR IPOD / A friend of mine told me a while back that after living on the US West Coast for several years, he walked into a new, island-style restaurant, sat at a table and the sudden sound of Hawaiian music caused him to break into what he called a “Norwegian-style ugly cry.” What makes the story even better was that he happened to be on a first date. She was a Yankee. He was born and raised in Hawaii and that was the end of their affair.
I had a similar experience recently when, on a Saturday morning, I listened to Hiikuas Aia I Hiialo while eating breakfast. In between spooning an avocado into a bowl and listening to “He Aloha No ‘O Halawa” and “Maunaloa Slack Key,” I felt a similar ugly cry making its way up through my esophagus and out of my facial extremities. In the midst of all this emotion I grappled with the fact that this island isn’t even technically my home. And my connection to Hawaiian music is only 156 weeks old.
But that’s the thing about genres we preface with the word “traditional”–traditional bluegrass, traditional folk music, traditional Spanish-Mexican music, traditional Hawaiian music–who influenced whom? What was once functional in nature became background music for the frying pan, for the hotel lobby, for the West Coast neighborhood eatery.
Perhaps we connect to genres outside of our musical memory because of residue left behind. In other words, maybe seven continents and hundreds of traditional styles of music are as familiar as nursery rhymes are to rap. Ya’ll gon’ make me lose my mind. Up in here. Up in here. (Clap, clap, clap!)
Hiikua is a trio that honors traditional Hawaiian stories in a contemporary blend of slack key and seamless musicality. Their harmonies are unbroken. Their musicianship is near perfect. What they are able to accomplish by the record’s end is a moment where the music transcends the space in which it’s being played, and becomes something else entirely. Expression. Familiarity. Tradition. Home.