Ancient Hawaiian Music was rooted in religious chants and hymns. The instruments were rocks, gourds, sticks and drums made from gourds and sharkskin. The hands would hit the gourds and the gourds thumped the ground. These were the sounds that accompanied Hula Kahiko. The history of Hawaiian music as we know it today, began in the mid 1800’s when the steamships began to bring visitors from all over the world to Honolulu Harbor. These international visitors brought instruments with them for entertainment on the long boat journeys. They brought violins, guitars, ukuleles, pianos, accordions and flutes. The Hawaiians mixed their chants with the instruments heard from these visitors and a new sound was created. These Hawaiians were influenced by visitors, immigrants and missionaries of various descents such as: Mexican, Italian, German and Burmese. When the Paniolo ( Mexican Cowboys) came to Hawaii in the mid 1800’s, they brought guitars with them and taught the Hawaiians to play them in the Spanish style. Soon the Hawaiians learned to loosen the guitar strings (slack them) and adapt the sounds and melodies to suit their own songs and chants. This was the beginning of slack key guitar. The slack key guitar became so popular that different families would slack the strings in different ways to develop their own sound. They were very secretive of how they slacked the keys because they wanted a sound of their own for their own family. The slack key guitar stayed mostly on Oahu for a long time and wasn’t taught on the other islands until much later. Now these beautiful rhythms that capture the Aloha spirit have become internationally well known. Slack key festivals have been recently seen in many countries including: Mainland and Japan.

Another instrument that has become a part of their music is the steel guitar which was invented in Hawaii by accident. In adapting the guitar to suit their music, the Hawaiians would quite often use a steel object to slide along the guitar strings producing a unique tone that was integrated into the Hawaiian music. Steel guitars were featured in several Hawaiian bands in the early 1900’s and later in some of the earliest recordings of Hawaii's music.

In the late 1800’s, Queen Liliuokalani’s songs where published throughout the United States. The Royal Hawaiian Band played the first Hawaiian hit song “Aloha O’e” written by Queen Liliuokalani in San Francisco in 1883. In the early 1900’s, everybody was crazy for anything Hawaiian, including Hawaii's music.

There were a lot of Hawaiian musical troupes touring the United States and Europe in the early 1900’s. One of the most popular was Tau Moe. Tau Moe, his wife and two children traveled the world in the 1920’s and 1930’s playing Hawaii's music and teaching the culture. They were known as “The Aloha Four”. The group was one of the first to tour Europe during the Hawaiian cultural expansion and for many years the Moe family played in Europe, India and Asia. The Aloha Four played for numerous world leaders in Germany, Paris, Brussels and Japan. They mesmerized foreign audiences. They worked with a circus troupe, toured with the Josephine Baker show in Venice and played the steel guitar music to an eager audience in Egypt. Other Hawaiian troubadours started touring the United States and Europe soon after. The Lexington Hotel lounge in New York City, played Hawaiian slack key music directed by The Royal Hawaiian Band Director Ray Kenney.

On July 3rd 1935, a radio program named “Hawaii Calls” broadcast from the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach began it’s all Hawaiian music show. The show’s purpose was to showcase real Hawaiian music performed by Hawaiians in Hawaii. Most of the songs were Hawaiian slack key and steel guitar music, but with American lyrics. This was soon known as Hapa haole music. Hawaii calls reached it’s peak in 1952 and was broadcast to 750 stations in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. This show made a lot of songs famous including: Little Brown Gal, The Hawaiian Wedding Song and Sweet Leilani.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Hawaiian music began to fade due the popularity of Rock and Roll in the United States and Europe. In the early 1970’s Hawaiian artists like Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae and The Sons Of Hawai’i started newer styles and spawned a new interest in Hawaii's music. Hawaiian music is part of the lives of many people and is here to stay.

Some of the best Hawaiian Artists are:

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Keali’i Reichel
The Cazimero Brothers
Gabby Pahinui
Genoa Keawe
Joe Keawe
Richard Hoopii

The music heard on the Radio show Hawai’i Calls can still be found in music stores throughout Oahu. Check out the music store at The Ala Moana Shopping Center. Listen to different Hawaiian styles and pick your own favorite artist or songs. If you are looking for Hawaiin cds for a really great price, click on the Wal-Mart banner below and type hawaiian music in their search engine and you will find about 45 Hawaiin cds available. Another place to get awesome Hawaiian tunes online is Amazon. com which has hundreds of Hawaiian titles. Their site can be reached by clicking on one of the titles in the right column. Another great site I recently found is E-music. They offer 25 free downloads of any song you want without joining. This is a free trial and you are under no obligation to join. They offer over 2.5 million songs and they have a large selection of Hawaiian music.

Hula Instruments

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