The Island of the Ukulele, The Music of Hawaii

The Island of the Ukulele, The Music of Hawaii

Hawaii, the island of volcanos, tropical beaches, the steel guitar, and the ukulele. Hawaii is also a state with a quite well known music culture. Cachi cachi music from Hawaii has made a big influence on Puerto Rican music, steel guitars and slack key guitar styles (from Mexican influences) have played roles in country music, Hollywood, and music in Hawaii itself. Hawaii is home to charming indigenous religious dances, festivals, and even the ukulele (meaning jumping flea), a very well known instrument across the whole world. Music events in Hawaii like the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival, the Moloka'i Music Festival, the Manoa Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Hawaii International Music Festival, and more. The island’s rich music is a unique blend of numerous influences, with soothing rhythms and beautiful lyrics that glorify island life. Hawaii's musical culture is unlike any other in the world, from reggae to slack-key and steel guitar, falsetto and "Jawaiian."


Hawaiian Music


Hawaiian music is vast with influences within its own borders and from English, Jamaican, and Mexican influences, which is quite a fascinating part of Hawaiian music. Their music mostly consists of mele (chanting) and hula (dancing) for spiritual reasons such as praising deities, and performing religious rituals, meant to preserve the island’s cultural history. These chants are separated into two types, mele hula, and mele oil. They’re usually performed along with sharkskin drums, gourd drums, split bamboo sticks, and other instruments. Specifically though, the religious chants are called “ʻoli” which can also be mele hula pahu if used with the pahu, (a drum) and hula. There are also multiple versions of Hawaiian dance, the modern kind is called “ʻauana”, and the more ritualistic kind is called “kahiko”.


  • Traditional Hawaiian music lyrics are done with the musical addition of a ukulele or a steel guitar.
  • The Kâ`eke`eke, the Ohe Hano




Since British explorer Captain James Cook found Hawaii in 1778, the island began getting a taste of European influences, culturally, and artistically. Mexican immigrants introduced innovative slack key guitar styles to native Hawaiians, while also introducing falsetto singing techniques. Portugal introduced the idea to the ukulele to the Hawaiians, first bringing cavaquinhos. In the early 20th century, American influences started pouring into the island as the United States took over Hawaii in 1898. This led to the creation of hapa haole which use elements of English and Hawaiian music styles.

At that same time, Puerto Rican influences of  such as cachi cachi music started after the Puerto Rican sugar industry was crippled from a hurricane. After that, the world had to seek to Hawaii for the sugar market. This was what began Hawaii’s tourist boom. This was also what began Puerto Rican, and eventually 70’s Jamaican influences in the island. This was seen with “Jawaiian” music, a form of Hawaiian reggae. Eventually through the 1930’s to 1960’s Hawaiian music reached its peak in popularity while making way for modern music genres such as indie rock, and Hawaiian hip hop to gain its ground in Hawaii. Hawaii is a fascinating melting pot of different artistic cultures from the world, giving Hawaii economic and cultural clout in the tourism industry.

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