Traditional Hawaiian Music – And More!

While traditional Hawaiian music has its own distinct sound, its genre has contributed to a variety of different styles used in contemporary music today.

You probably think of the ukulele when you think of Hawaiian music, but you may be surprised that the steel guitar, popular in country music, had its origins in Hawaii. Another instrument from the islands is the slack-key guitar , distinguished by its loose strings. The steel guitar, also originated in Hawaii, has played a big part in country music.

But traditional Hawaiian music is much more than steel guitars and ukuleles. It incorporates a variety of styles – from folk and jazz, to rock and even hip-hop. The success and recognition of Hawaiian music is undisputed.

Loyal Garner, who performed as part of the Local Divas passed away in 2001 but her music lives on. In 2007 she was posthumously the recipient of the Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award. That same year, her album “Hawaii Today,” was released as a CD based on popular demand.

In the 60s, Myra English heard a country and western song that called her name. She took Cal Smith’s tune “Drinking Champagne,” and gave it a Hawaiian twist. In turn, she became known as “The Champagne Lady.”

Probably one of the most well known Hawaiian musicians was Don Ho. His infamous single, “Tiny Bubbles,” made him instantly recognizable and brought traditional Hawaiian music to the forefront. Ho was originally from Kaka’ako in Honolulu and came to symbolize Hawaiian music.

Which brings us to Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. This massive man (he weighed in at over 700 pounds) was a literal and figurative giant in Hawaiian music today. You have probably heard his music and didn’t even know it…until now.

Iz started out as part of the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. In 1993 he ventured out on his own and recorded “Facing Future” . It is one of the top Hawaiian albums in the world and earned its record label the honor of being the first to go gold in 2002. Iz went on to record four more albums: “Iz in Concert: The Man and His Music” in 1989; “E ala E” in 1995; “Alone in Iz World” in 2001; and “Wonderful World” in 2007 .

The popularity of Iz’s music spread to the mainlands when author Dean Koontz praised him in two of his best-selling books. His music made it to the movies in “Meet Joe Black,” “Snakes on a Plane”, and probably most recognizable, in the last scenes of “50 First Dates” with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore . Because of its gentle and clear sound, used Iz’s voice in a national marketing campaign.

One of today’s popular musicians, Jack Johnson, was born in Hawaii and continues to record all of his music on the islands. His recording, “In Between Dreams,” spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Album charts. A more notable honor was when NASA used Johnson’s recording of Upside Down as a wake-up call for the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

Whether you are already a fan of traditional Hawaiian songs or you have just discovered its relaxed and soothing tones, its influence continues to play a big part of today’s music.