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The Hawaiian Renaissance by George S. Kanahele
May 1979

The Renaissance can best be understood in terms of before and after, comparing the level of activity on or prior to 1970 and now. Take Hawaiian music as an example. In January, 1971, I wrote in the Honolulu Advertiser that "Hawaiian music was in its death throes." there was only a handful of steel guitar players, all of whom were aging; young people were turned on to rock 'n roll and could care less for Hawaiian music; only one radio station in Honolulu bothered to play it regularly; slack key guitar music was almost unheard of; there was only one hotel featuring a Hawaiian show; and outside Hawaii Hawaiian music, once so popular throughout the world, was all but dead.

Today, the resurgence of Hawaiian music is one of the strongest evidences for the Renaissance. Young people are now turned on to Hawaiian music as they had once been turned on to rock earlier. The Cazimero Brothers, Gabby Pahinui, Olomana, and the Sons of Hawaii are as familiar to them as The Village People and Peter Frampton. There appears to be more young--and old--people learning to play Hawaiian music, more teaching and more performing it, than at any time in the past 20-30 years. The Halau Mele Hawaii, sponsored by The Hawaiian Music Foundation in cooperation with St. Louis HIgh School, has "graduated" more than 1,000 students in the past 4 years. THere are more students taking slack key guitar than you can shake a stick at. and there are more youngsters leaning to play the steel guitar--an instrument invented by a Hawaiian student from Kamehameha, Joseph Kekuku-- than ever before.

Radio stations are devoting more time, though not by much to Hawaiian records. And Hawaiian records are selling more. Who ever thought that a Hawaiian album (the Cazimero's) would sell over 50,000? Indeed, a few years ago you could count on your fingers the number of Hawaiian albums that were produced in a year. Now there are dozens. There are also dozens of composers writing hundreds of songs today. Not long ago I asked Eddie Kamae what he thought of the competition. He said, "Young Hawaiian musicians are coming out of the woodwork in droves." Today, at least some musicians can make a decent living at playing Hawaiian music. This is an important contribution of the Renaissance, for ultimately in order for an art to survive it must have a viable local market, that is, people must be willing to support it, to put their money where their mouth is.

For the first time in modern Hawaiian history, we have an organization set up to perpetuate Hawaiian music, the Hawaiian Music Foundation. Set up in Feb. 1971, it is the first of what I call the Renaissance organizations. In 1972, it held the first slack key guitar concert, and in 1973, the first falsetto and steel guitar concerts. It publishes Ha'ilono Mele, a monthly dealing with Hawaiian music which is the only regular publication devoted to a single aspect of Hawaiian culture. And in October of this year, the University Press of Hawaii will bring out the Foundation's encyclopedic work entitled Hawaiian Music and Musicians, An Illustrated History.

Significantly, the impetus for the resurgence in Hawaiian music has come almost entirely, if not entirely, from the local community. It has not come from the outside nor from the tourism industry. You can tell by the songs: the lyrics are in Hawaiian, the themes are Hawaiian, the composers, for the most part, are Hawaiian. The most popular Hawaiian groups almost disdain the tastes of the visitors. And what can be more Hawaiian than the chant which has been a vital part of the current revival in Hawaiian music?

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