Celebrate Hawaii

An Introduction to Hawaiian Music

The music in the Hawaiian islands is as unique as its people and features a rich and fascinating history all its own. Here are some fun facts about the music you’ll hear during your stay and the history of Hawaiian music in general.

Hawaiian music is a fusion of all kinds of styles

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Braddah Iz) was most famous for his cover and adaptation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” both classic American songs. Jawaiian music is Hawai’i’s own genre of reggae-inspired music. Throughout Hawai’i’s history, new styles of music have been integrated to make a sound unique to the 50th state.

The Royal Family of Hawaii was known for musical compositions

The statue of Queen Lili’uokalani, music lover and composer is found outside of the Hawaii State Capitol Building in Honolulu, Hawaii

The last queen of Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, is the most famous of the royals who composed music here in the islands. Her most famous piece by far is “Aloha ‘Oe,” played at special occasions throughout the islands and at the close of many concerts. The Merrie Monarch Festival, a celebration of Hawaiian culture and music, was started by King David Kalakaua.

Slack key guitar is uniquely Hawaiian

Slack key guitar is a style of play, and all it takes is a six or twelve string guitar to get started. In slack key guitar, musicians retune ordinary guitars into what are known as “open tunings,” which sound good even if you don’t hold down any chords or notes at all. The music is melodic and can be soothing or cheery. If you’re visiting Maui, you can hear some of the world’s best slack key guitar players at George Kahumoku’s Slack Key show on Wednesday nights.

Hula was not originally set to melodic music

The most traditional style of hula features rhythm and chanting, but no melody, and many Lu’au perform at least some of these hulas. Hula has continued to evolve with Hawai’i’s culture, and many of Hawaii’s most famous hula were written during the Jazz age and feature many of the same chords as Jazz standards. A lot of these hula songs are called “hapa haole” meaning “half-white,” as some or all of the lyrics might be in English, rather than Hawaiian. The Hawaiian royalty was also known for setting well-known ancient chants to melody-based music, helping the hula survive through the generations.

The word “ukulele” means “jumping flea”

Ukulele guitar

Portuguese sailors brought their four-string machete instruments to Hawaii during the Plantation Era. The playing style, with its fast finger movements on the fretboard and finger picking) reminded Hawaiian viewers of jumping fleas. Ukuleles, which were developed from the machete, are tuned relative to guitar, and produce a sweeter, mellower tone than their Portuguese ancestor. Ukuleles were originally one size (what we now know as soprano size) but nowadays ukuleles are available in three sizes, so everyone can comfortably learn and play!

What’s your favorite type of Hawaiian music? Let us know in the comments!

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