The American state of Hawaii is a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean. Its people, culture and music are different from the rest of America. I’m Doug Johnson.
And I’m Sarah Long. The music of Hawaii is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
((CUT ONE: KUMA HULA))
The kind of singing you just heard is very old. It is the voice of a Kuma Hula, a teacher of the Hawaiian dance called the hula. The song she is singing is as old as the people and culture of Hawaii. This kind of song is called a chant. It is extremely important in Hawaii. It helps to connect the ancient Hawaiian culture of the past with the present and the future.
The Kuma Hula is teaching a class of children, some as young as five years old. Already they perform the slow ancient dance steps with a sure knowledge they will carry into the future. Without this strong connection to the past, the music of Hawaii would slowly die and disappear.
The words the Kuma Hula sings are in the language of Hawaii. The language has become important in recent years. If you use a computer to look on the World Wide Web, you can find lessons in the old language. It is now popular in Hawaii to learn the language. The Hawaiian language is important to the music. It is also important as a connection with the past.
Something is unusual about both the lessons for young hula dancers and those who are learning the language. Not all the students are Hawaiian by birth.
The people who live in Hawaii today are a mix of many different cultural groups. There are people whose ancestors are Hawaiian. Others came from Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines. Some people who live in Hawaii are from American Samoa or the mainland of the United States. Still others came from Mexico and Portugal.
Almost all these people are citizens of the United States. But they also consider themselves to be Hawaiian. And many have learned to enjoy the rich musical tradition of the Hawaiian culture.
A good example of this tradition is the beautiful guitar music played in Hawaii. You cannot hear it anywhere else in the world. It is called slack key. The guitar came to the islands of Hawaii in the early Eighteen-hundreds with Mexican cowboys who worked on cattle ranches.
The people of Hawaii took the guitar and changed the sound by making the strings much looser. There are several different methods used to tune a slack key guitar. How it is tuned depends on what the guitar player is trying to do.
Listen for a few minutes to a slack key guitar that produces a very deep, rich sound. This sound also provides feelings that very closely represent the Hawaiian culture, both past and present. John Keawe (KEY-Why) plays the guitar. The name of the song is “Whale Talk.”
((CUT TWO: WHALE TALK))
Slack key guitarist Ozzie Kotani really represents modern Hawaii. The music he plays is a rich mix of ancient and modern Hawaiian sounds played on the slack key guitar. Mister Kotani is also a good example of the mix of cultural groups that are the people of Hawaii.
Mister Kotani’s ancestors came to Hawaii from Japan. But he is truly a Hawaiian. He is also one of the best Hawaiian slack key artists in the Islands. Listen as Ozzie Kotani plays a song he wrote, “My Old Guitar.”
((CUT THREE: MY OLD GUITAR))
Another stringed instrument used in Hawaiian music is extremely important. People who came from Portugal brought it to the Islands. It looks like a very small guitar or a child’s toy. It only has four strings. It is called an ukulele (oo-koo-LAY-lay).
It may look like a child’s toy but in the hands of an expert it can produce very serious music. Listen for a minute to part of a song played on a ukulele. It is called “Morning Dew.” It is played by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (KA-MA-KA-WEE-WHOA-OLAY).
((CUT FOUR: MORNING DEW))
We have played some Hawaiian slack key guitar, and you have just heard the Hawaiian ukulele. To better understand Hawaiian music, you must hear a song sung in the ancient language.
This song is performed by singing extremely high notes. This kind of singing is called falsetto. The use of a falsetto voice lets the performer sing low notes and extremely high notes. It also lets the performer bring a very different sound to the music.
It is extremely difficult to do well. Here is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole singing a song called “Kuhio(KU-HI-O) Bay.”
((CUT FIVE: KUHIO BAY))
Now, we will put the slack key guitar together with the ukulele and add a song in the Hawaiian language with normal and falsetto voice. The singer again is Israel Kaamakawiwo’ole. This song is called “Ka Huila Wai” (ka-he-la-WAI). It is a combination of very ancient and modern music. It is the sound of Hawaii today.
((CUT SIX: KA HUILA WAI))
Many different kinds of music are played in Hawaii today. Many very good songs are sung in English. Many modern electric musical instruments are used. Much of this kind of music is very popular with the people of Hawaii and those who come to spend their holidays in these famous islands.
However, for the music of Hawaii to carry on in the future, the musicians will continue to look to the traditions of the past.
((CUT SEVEN: HAWAII ’78))
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Mick Shaw. I’m Doug Johnson.
And I’m Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.
((SLACK KEY GUITAR INSTEAD OF THEME))