People who know me are confounded, dumbstruck even, that I don’t listen to music. “But you’re a professional musician,” they’ll say. “Don’t you need inspiration?”
Sure I do. But frankly, nothing new or old does anything for me that hasn’t already made an indelible mark on the way I look at the world. Many of the songs that have so shaped my worldview are Hawaii songs, not necessarily “Hawaiian” in the literal sense but specific to the experience of being here long enough to have a deeply personal connection with this island paradise. Here are five songs I think will help any visitor understand what it’s like to live in Hawaii, before they even get here. And, having heard them, I believe visitors can more fully appreciate what those of us who do live here know intuitively.
Consummately produced with crystalline instrumentation and compelling swells of melody and harmony, Ku’u Home is patently nostalgic and sentimental. I’m not sure that anyone, anywhere, ever, has done that better.
Even most fresh malahini (transplant) women and girls can break off a convincing hula for Hi’ilawe. It’s another song that is simply part of the fabric of life in these islands.
Hawaii ‘78 is not a postcard. It’s a lament, a dirge even, brooding and foreboding. It poses the question of what King Kamehameha the Great and his wife Ka’ahumanu would make of the ever-increasing commercial development of the Hawaiian Islands. It also answers the question. Simply put, Braddah Iz believed they would be bummed. Hawaii ’78 is a song that doesn’t celebrate what Hawaii represents to the world. It explores what Hawaii has lost to it. The song has gravity, enough to pull in Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who performed it at the historic Hawaii Theatre a few years ago.
On a much lighter note, C&K was a hit-making machine back in the seventies. Frankly, any one of their songs from that period could
Lifetime Party is an invitation. It asks the listener to join the singers at a backyard kanikapila, where family and friends gather to play music, eat, dance, and otherwise embrace Hawaii’s true paradise beyond the postcard.
Fate Yanagi is musically sound, expertly composed, arranged, and recorded. The words come from a man who died while body surfing Point Panic, “90-feet and glassy.” It professes love for Fate Yanagi, Head Cheerleader of Furtado Memorial High School, and a genuine concern for returning a borrowed can of surfboard resin “when I’m dead.” Its pidgin-English delivery is truly comic, and not lost on anyone who speaks regular English.
There are countless other Hawaii songs that could be included here. These are just the first few that come to mind when it comes to music I can listen to, Hawaii/Hawaiian or not.