The History of Hawaiian Music: Mele Hula to Hawaiian Funk to Jawaiian
Hawaiian music rapidly changed over the last 100 years. Because of the constant change in demographic, Hawaiian culture evolved, consequentially altering the way Hawaii's music sounded.
In Hawaii today, radio stations play songs from all of Hawaii's music eras including traditional Hawaiian music, Hawaiian funk, and today's popular "Jah-waiian" genre.
This article will explore the many eras in Hawaiian music and the influential artists of that time with videos of the music so you can hear while you learn more about the rare evolution of Hawaii's musical culture.
If you have any favorite Hawaiian songs, I encourage you to leave a comment below with the title of the song, artist, year and, if possible, a link to the audio.
Olio: Original Hawaiian Music
Before any outside contact, the Polynesian colonies that made their home in Hawaii played a very traditional type of music that they called Olio. Mele Olio was a loud chant, usually sung in an almost monotone range by the strong men and women of the community.
These chants were used to call upon the gods and give thanks to them for the nourishment and shelter they provided for the Hawaiian people.
"E Pele E Pele" Translation
O Pele o Pele, moving along
O Pele o Pele, bursting forth
O Pele o Pele, moving upward
O Pele o Pele, moving downward
O Pele o Pele, creeping, hiding your big knees
In the name of Pele
Tra la la the name of Pele
Mele Olio: "E Pele E Pele"
E Pele e Pele ka`uka`ulï ana
Pele e Pele hua`ina hua`ina
Pele e Pele `oni luna `oni luna
Pele e Pele `oni lalo `oni lalo
Pele e Pele a`o kuli pe`e nui
Ha`ina ka inoa no Pele la ea
E ala e ala ea, a i e a
He inoa no Pele
Mele Hula: Original Hawaiian Music
Mele Hula is a type of music that the Ancient Hawaiians would make. This type of music used more notes, pitches and ranges than the mele olio music. What makes this type of music unique is that it is accompanied by the popular Hawaiian dance, hula.
The Hawaiians would clean out the insides of gourds and let them dry to make what they call an Ipu. They would use it like a drum and pound the side to make a beat. The chanters would sing while the dancers would translate the lyrics into movements.
Traditional Hawaiian Music
In Hawaii, we call this genre "lu'au music," because it was popularized after the Portuguese immigrants (including my ancestors) brought their small, four stringed guitars to Hawaii. Hawaiians soon adopted this instrument, calling it the "ukulele".
Hawaiian music became more vibrant, and less chant-like. Soon, royals were composing songs like the famous "Aloha O'e" written by Queen Liliokalani while on house arrest.
Artists like Braddah Iz and Robi Kahakalau took traditional Hawaiian music and gave it a little more spunk. Iz' "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" cover is one of Hawaii's most recognized songs.
Soon after the colonization of Hawaii by the Americans, popular musicians were visiting to Hawaii and creating their own songs inspired by the islands. Take the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis, for example.
"Blue Hawaii" by Elvis Presley
What is your favorite type of Hawaiian music?
My favorite genre of Hawaiian music would have to be Hawaiian Funk. In the seventies, Hawaii was enticed by the funky sounds that were coming over the Pacific from the mainland America. Many musicians combined the funky baselines of American music with classic Hawaiian scoops and trails.
Below are three of my favorite songs from this genre. These include the kings and queens of Hawaiian Funk: Macky Feary, and Babadu. Other mentionable bands and artists include Homegrown, Kalapana, Judy Ong, Teruko Hino, and Rob Mehl.
Kalapana "Black Sand"
Babadu "All I've Got to Give"
Jawaiian: Modern Hawaiian Music
A newly popular type of music is Jawaiian or Jah-waiian. The genre gets its name from a mixture of Hawaiian melodies and reggae-influenced chord progressions and strumming patterns. This type of music embraces covers. Think of a very popular American song with an acoustic guitar and chances are there's a Hawaiian cover of that song.
This music is influenced by the popularization of Bob Marley and the Wailers in Hawaii. Hawaiians noted the similarities between their music and Jamaican music or reggae and created this tropical blend.