The Whole (Musical) Luau
Culture / From “Adios Ke Aloha” to “Yacka Hula Hickey Dula,” the first 1979 edition of Hawaiian Music and Musicians was just one part of the life-long effort of a remarkable man, George Kanahele, to define and refine Hawaiian-ness on political, cultural, spiritual and artistic levels. Its 543 well-researched and tightly written pages by 33 principal contributors (and at least another 30) laid down the tracks to a enthnomusicological masterpiece, over 200 entries deep. Like Mary Kawena Pukui’s 1957 Hawaiian-English Dictionary, Kanahele’s work was part restoration and part inspiration for future generations. Both were intended to catch the past before the kupuna who lived and remembered it passed on. Now there is a new edition of HM&M with an ampersand in place of “and,” plus 249 substantially revised and updated entries, including 49 songs and chants, the totality of which was overseen by local music critic John Berger. It’s a book you can put on the coffee table like pupu and, like pupu, watch people pick it up and find themselves unable to put it down. Yes, the entries are that ono.
The chutzpah it takes to appoint oneself as The Decider, as Bush 44 found out, hardly guarantees approval. Kanahele found this out in ’79 when his decision to include foreign and haole musicians raised a ruckus among purists who were appalled by the inclusion of, say, Onni Gideon, the greatest Finnish steel guitarist, who formed the Oahu Trio in 1941. Gideon no longer gets his own entry, but Berger upholds the Kanahele vision by including large sections on the music produced and avidly consumed world-wide. It’s a compliment to the universal appeal of post-contact Hawaiian music that it would become so integral a part in nations from Japan to Germany to Australia to France. Besides, the juxtaposition of turning from “Canada” to the immediately following “Chant” certainly keeps things lively.
But the soul of HM&M does indeed lie in Hawaii nei. The Introduction’s question, “What is Hawaiian Music?”, underscores every entry. There are the authoritative entries like “Chant,” “Himeni, History of,” “Hula” and “Poetry, Hawaiian.” There are the music biz entries such as “Grammy Awards” (which does indeed cover the controversies that led to the elimination of the Hawaiian Music category), “Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts” (ditto for controversies) and the ubiquitous masters of A&R, the de Mellos, Jack and Jon.
But the main attraction is hearing the judgment of Kanahele/Berger & Co. on the music and legacies of songs, genres and individual music makers. Though scrupulously informed, the writing is the opposite of stodgy or “encyclopedic,” whether the entry concerns the musical genealogy of the Farber clan, the legacy of Royal Hawaiian Band founder and leader Henri Berger, or the reason why the Brothers Cazimero had the most impact on the development of contemporary Hawaiian music. Comprehensive discographies and awards listings will settle many an argument in the years to come. Skirting the traps of historical lacunae, rival camps, personal preference, and populist/nativist prohibition, Hawaiian Music & Musicians delivers a true international overview that wears its authority lightly but never fails to make the tough call.
(edit. George H. Kanahele and revised and updated by John Berger)
Mutual Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 926 pages, $35