Unpacking the Rich Heritage of Hawaiian Music in America

Unpacking the Rich Heritage of Hawaiian Music in America

Hawaii, the island of volcanos, tropical beaches, the steel guitar, and the ukulele, is a state with a relatively well-known music culture. Music from Hawaii has had a significant influence on Puerto Rican music. 


Steel guitars and slack key guitar styles (from Mexican influence) 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 well-known instrument worldwide. 


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 world, from reggae to slack-key and steel guitar, falsetto, and "Jawaiian."


Hawaiian Music

 Hawaiian music is vast, with influences within its borders and from English, Jamaican, and Mexican influences, which is quite a fascinating part of Hawaiian music. 


Their music primarily 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. Hawaiians categorize these chants into two types: mele hula and mele oli.

 They usually perform with sharkskin drums, gourd drums, split bamboo sticks, and other instruments. Specifically, 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 type is called "kahiko."

Musicians traditionally accompany Hawaiian music lyrics with a ukulele or a steel guitar.



History of Hawaiian Music in the United States

Since British explorer Captain James Cook founded 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 of 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. That led to hapa haole, which uses elements of English and Hawaiian music styles.


 Simultaneously, after a hurricane crippled the Puerto Rican sugar industry, Puerto Rican musical influences arrived in Hawaii. After that, the world had to seek Hawaii for the sugar market. That was what began Hawaii's tourist boom. Puerto Rican and 70's Jamaican influences on Hawaiian music also attracted tourists.


Hawaii is a fascinating melting pot of different artistic cultures worldwide, giving Hawaii economic and cultural clout in the tourism industry. That is evident with "Jawaiian" music, a form of Hawaiian reggae. 


Eventually, through the 1930s to 1960s, Hawaiian music peaked in popularity while making way for modern genres such as indie rock and Hawaiian hip hop to gain ground in Hawaii.

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