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Music of Hawaii

For most people, Hawaiian music is primarily based around three kinds of guitar-based music -- steel guitar, slack-key guitar[?] and the ukulele, as well as hula[?].

The earliest known music of Hawaii was the hula[?], which featured a chant (mele) accompanied by ipu[?] (a gourd) and 'ili'ili[?] (stones used as clappers). Listeners danced in a highly ritualized form. The older, formal kind of hula is called kahiko, while the modern version is auana.

Guitars were first brought to Hawaii by Mexican cowboys (vaqueros) brought by King Kamehameha III[?] in 1832 in order to teach the natives how to control an overpopulation of cattle. The Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) used guitars in their traditional folk music.

Steel guitars were brought by the Portuguese in the 1860s and slack-key had spread across the chain by the late 1880s. Legend has it that a ship called the Ravenscrag arrived in Honolulu on August 23, 1879, bringing Portuguese field workers from Madeira. One of the men, Joao Fernandes[?], later a popular musician, tried to impress the Hawaiians by playing folk music with a friend's braguinha[?]; the Hawaiians called the instrument ukulele (jumping flea) in reference to the man's swift fingers. Others have claimed the word means gift that came here or a corruption of ukeke lele (dancing ukeke[?], a three string bow).

The slack-key guitar (hi ho'alu in Hawaiian) is acoustic and fingerpicked. The strings are "slacked", or loosened, which creates unusual tuning. Each string typically has a major chord, or more rarely, a chord with a major 7th or 6th note.

Playing techniques frequently mimic the falsettos common in Hawaiian singing; these include "hammering-on", "chiming" and "pulling-off".

In the 1880s and 90s, King David Kalakaua[?] was promoting Hawaiian culture and also encouraging the addition of new instruments, such as the ukulele and steel guitar. Kalakaua's success, his sister Lili'uokalani[?], was a composer herself, and wrote several songs, like "Aloha 'Oe", which are still popular.

Vocals were the most important part of Hawaiian music until the 20th century, when instrumentation took a lead role. Much of modern slack-key guitar is entirely instrumental.

After the turn of the century, Hawaiians began touring the US, often in small bands. A Broadway show called Bird of Paradise[?] introduced Hawaiian music to many Americans in 1912 (see 1912 in music) and the Panama Pacific Exhibition[?] in San Francisco followed in 1915 (see 1915 in music). The increasing popularization of Hawaiian music influenced blues and country musicians; this connection can still be heard in modern country.

In the 1920s and 30s, a group of men came to be known as the Waikiki Beachboys[?] and their parties became famous across Hawaii and abroad; most of them played the ukulele all day long, sitting on the beach and eventually began working for hotels to entertain tourists.

The most influential slack-key guitarist was Gabby Pahinui[?], who began recording in 1947 (see 1947 in music). Leland Isaacs Sr.[?], Sonny Chillingsworth[?], Ray Kane[?], Ledward Kaapana[?], Keola Beamer[?], Peter Moon[?] and Leonard Kwan[?] came a few years later and helped popularize the sound, especially after the Hawaiian Renaissance[?] in the 1970s. George Kanahele[?]'s Hawaiian Music Foundation[?] did much to spread slack-key and other forms of Hawaiian music, especially after a landmark 1972 concert (see 1972 in music).

Modern slack-key festivals include the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival[?] and the Gabby Pahinui/Atta Isaacs Slack Key Festival[?].



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