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The History of Hawaiian Music: Mele Hula to Hawaiian Funk to Jawaiian

Updated on June 23, 2012

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

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.

An ukulele
An ukulele | Source

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.

Aloha O'e

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?

See results

Hawaiian Funk

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.

"Brown Eyed Girl" Cover by the Ka'au Crater Boys

"Tracks of my Tears" Cover by Jon Yamasato and Mailani


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    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 5 years ago from Missouri

      Thanks for a great hub. You touched on my favorite song, "Over the Rainbow". I love the original by Judy Garland, but IZ's version is perhaps the most beautiful ever. I listen to it time and again, and the youtube video is just uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. Great artist gone far too soon. Loved you videos and the songs you posted. Again, great job.

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Oh, yes. Braddah Iz is such a loved and remembered Hawaiian artist. I am thinking about writing a hub bio about him soon. He was so influential and really put Hawaiian music on the map. Thanks again for reading!

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 5 years ago from Australia

      I did think that Braddah Iz was another performer who I did not know lol.

      btw for some reason when I heard of his passing I felt that I had suffered a great loss and I had a heavy heart for quite some time. I'm sure he will be missed in his home country for a long time to come?

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Well, thank you for the comment! I will have to edit my hub to make it understandable for everyone. Sometimes I forget that the words I say are not always used by people outside of the islands. Haha. Much love and thanks!

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for that info brittany! My apologies, I have only ever heard him referred to as "IZ"

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, agvulpes. I did mention him in this hub (he is known by locals as Braddah Iz). Thanks for reading!

    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for this run down on the history of Hawaiian music it was a fascinating read. I have been a long time fan of the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and love his style, it's a pity you could not find a spot to mention him in this Hub?

    • mimi7251 profile image

      mimi7251 5 years ago from Beautiful downtown Apache Junction, Arizona!

      What a beautiful tribute to Hawiian music! I enjoyed reading about the history and learned so much. I never realized, for example, that the Portuguese people brought the islands the ukelele. Thanks for that. I just finished an article called "Enter the King" on my website It validates everything we've said about Elvis in the Hawiian Islands. Thanks again.

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      I L0ve Hawaiian music, Izzy, Sista Roby, Kealii Richel.

      Thank you!

    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Aw, thank you so much, ytsenoh! I really enjoyed making this one. You are so right that although Hawaiian music has evolved, it still carries a similar sound (much like U2 haha). Thanks again for commenting. "Pearly Shells" is a classic.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Brittany, I love your hubs. You remind of the old Hawaiian song my mother used to sing, "Pearly Shells." I still have her ukelele. When she was very young into her early 20s, she sang in a quartet and her uncle had recorded them. I wish I had that 33rpm record now. The movie, "Blue Hawaii," included filming at the Cocoa Palms where my aunt worked. It is interesting how the music has changed over time in Hawaii but you can still hear some of the traditional sounds with table-side ukelele playing on Kauai. I'm not necessarily being bias when I say this is an exellent hub. Thanks.