Music / As a local radio DJ, I am fortunate to have access to a large collection of Hawaiian music.
I’m either checking out a newly released album or admiring an old favorite, whether on vinyl, on cassette or on CD. But nothing beats heading down to a local hangout to hear Hawaiian music live, the way I enjoy it most.
I’m happy to report then, that there are still many venues where you can sit, have a drink with friends and enjoy some Island tunes.
Chai’s Island Bistro
Chef Chai Chaowasaree and his staff have been promoting Hawaii’s top-tier talent for years now. “They’re all top entertainers. For them to come play in our restaurant is an honor,” Chaowasaree says.
Catch premier acts like Jerry Santos, Sistah Robi, The Brothers Cazimero and, on occasion, special guests such as Na Palapalai and Makana.
Wednesday evenings with Robert Cazimero at the piano are always lovely in this cozy and intimate setting. Cazimero (who plays here with his brother Roland most Wednesdays) mans the 88 keys with such finesse, you’ll feel like every song he sings is for you. The authenticity of the music shows in his delivery, as it seems that no two versions of the same song performed by him are ever alike.
Earlier this year, Cazimero released a solo album, Hula, featuring traditional Hawaiian mele that are intended for use by dancers. Also a kumu hula, Cazimero is a superb entertainer, and his vocal stylings invite you to not just appreciate where Hawaiian music has come from, but also where he is taking it. To top it off, it’s not unusual for him to call up a dancer to share a hula or two.
The Ilikai Bar & Grill, the hotel’s main restaurant, has been giving the stage to Hawaiian music and entertainment for decades, without any plans of stopping soon.
Here you can savor ‘ono Hawaiian music any night of the week, and on Friday nights there’s also a Hawaiian trio and a hula show at sunset on the Ilikai’s main lanai.
What I like best is the way they feature new and emerging talent like Kupaoa, Waipuna and Welo, who take the stage to serenade the crowd–a common mix of locals and visitors alike. As any Hawaiian musician will tell you, having hula dancers in the audience makes an evening that much more festive.
But when the music sounds the way it does here on a Sunday night, hula is the last thing on my mind. On those evenings, I take pure euphonic pleasure in the music of Keauhou. There’s nothing like finishing the weekend with their refreshing style of Hawaiian music at its best, delivered in smooth leo kiekie (falsetto).
Keauhou–an ‘ukulele, acoustic guitar and upright bass trio–attracts an audience with a median age generally under 30, most likely because its members are no older than 25 years of age themselves. But despite their youth, a Hawaiian trio never sounded this old-fashioned!
The musicians, graduates of Kamehameha Schools, show a deep fondness for the the “old school” Hawaiian music of yesteryear. With the energy and zeal they put into it, their pursuit of a well-aged sound is invigorating, putting a fresh spin on a longstanding tradition.
The panoramic view of Waikiki with Leahi (Diamond Head) in the distance is the perfect sight to behold while enjoying great Island sounds. Every evening, here in the thick of Waikiki, names like Kamuela Kahoano, David Asing and Jeremy Cheng take the Hula Grill stage.
As in other places, the music is often accompanied by an impromptu hula at the request of the band. What probably stands out most about the performances here, however, is the prime location.
Historically, in Waikiki, Island entertainers were given a platform to showcase themselves to the world. The world was delighted…and still is! It’s always a revelation filled with wonder for me to think back to a time when traditional Hawaiian folk songs were finding themselves in the rotation of playlists across the US at the advent of the radio–sounds of which helped develop the modern day “allure” of Hawaii. To this day, it’s with this intent travelers seek to find authentic Hawaiian music and Hula Grill delivers.
“We look for traditional Hawaiian music,” says Kimberly Mehaffey, bar manager of Hula Grill. “A lot of these musicians have played in Waikiki for a long time and they have developed their own following.”
I tend to overlook the origins of Hawaiian music and how deeply-rooted it is, but there’s nothing like Hula Grill’s high-energy environment to remind me of how fortunate we are to have a traditional music codified as a genre the world has come to love.