Hawai’ian. Hapa Haole. Tahitian. Be it native or blended, this music captivates my soul and carries me off to a Polynesian island when I hear it. That’s why I love it so much.
America’s love for Hawai’ian music predates the Mid-Century Tiki craze, and actually began in the early 20th Century. On the heels of the Polynesian-inspired art of Paul Gauguin, the writings of Jack London, and the early motion pictures of 1920s Hollywood, Hawai’ian music became very popular with the coming of age of the radio and record industries. People were mad for music made with ukuleles and steel guitars, and an entire business sprung up to teach folks how to play these exotic instruments. What started as a purely Polynesian sound slowly morphed into a Western phenomenon.
Hapa Haole music is music of Hawai’ian origin that has been Americanized with English lyrics and rhythms. Like Tiki, Hapa Haole is a blending of Polynesian and American cultures. Most of the “Hawai’ian” music I’ve come to love over the years is actually Hapa Haole, with a few exceptions. Here are the albums I’ve had in my rotation over the past 10 years of my Tiki obsession.
Jerry Byrd: Byrd of Paradise (1961). One of the pioneers of steel guitar in Hawai’ian music, Jerry Byrd was also a teacher of this distinctive style of guitar to Country and Rock & Roll musicians. I borrowed this CD from the library to acquaint myself with early Hapa Haole music. Classic stuff.
Chants et Danses de Tahiti (1987). Now this is authentic Polynesian music, with no Western influence to speak of. I was fortunate to pick up a copy of this out-of-print CD on eBay from somebody in England. Many of these tracks were featured on the old music loop played at The Polynesian Resort in WDW, which is why I was looking for this album. Merci Tahiti!
Roland Cazimero: Waikiki’s Greatest Hits, Now! (1990). Here is modern Hawai’ian music at its finest. Roland Cazimero melds the 12-string guitar with his native island music in a style that is distinctly Hawai’ian and Western. This was another find from The Polynesian Resort music playlist.
The Pahinui Brothers (1992). Yet another band from The Polynesian Resort’s music, The Pahinui Brothers play a nice mix of native Hawai’ian music and Western pop tunes. Their vocal harmonies add a layer of complexity to this style of music.
Don Ho: Hawaiian Favorites (1994). Don Ho is the undisputed king of Hawai’ian music. His crooning style transcended the music of his native land and landed him in the rarified air of Las Vegas stars like Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, and Elvis. Don Ho’s Tiny Bubbles is the perfect blend of Hawai’ian and Lounge music.
Ohta-San: Ka Mea Ho’okani ‘Ukelele (1996). Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta is a Hawai’ian ukulele virtuoso who began performing at the age of 9. His style of music is diverse, and has been categorized as Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, as well as Hawai’ian. His nickname “Ohta-San” was bestowed upon him in Japan, where he played many times and his music is revered. Did I mention I also picked up his music while searching for artists from a The Polynesian Resort’s music loop?
King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis: Luau in December (2008). Speaking of ukulele music, few artists have as much fun with this instrument as Denny Moynahan, a/k/a King Kukulele. His blend of humor, storytelling, singing and playing make him the perfect host for any Tiki event. I was fortunate to see King Kukulele live at this year’s Hukilau, an event he’s emceed for years. Thanks for the wonderful entertainment, KK!
So I’ve always liked Hawai’ian music, but it took a couple of stays at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort to make me love it enough to search out more of it. In trying to recreate the playlist from my happy place, I discovered a much deeper world of music from Polynesia. Now I can send myself to the South Pacific whenever I crank up my tunes. Aloha from Paradise!