Various Artists

Rough Guide to Hawaii

by Barbara Flaska


Hawaiian music was first recorded in 1890, about the same time as record cylinders were invented by the Victrola company and during the same decade the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States. The Rough Guide to Hawaii is an enjoyable selection of music that may encourage anyone to grab the travel guide by the same name and start planning a dream vacation to the islands. Credited as responsible for the compilation, Paul Fisher did a good job providing an introduction to the history of recorded Hawaiian music peppered with some contemporary offerings. The compilation is a mixed plate of dazzling slide guitar and slack-key guitar, as well as a showcase for some of the more notable vocal stylists.

A number of the rare older works from the 1920s were saved from oblivion once before, appearing on several arcane compilations but those collections themselves had decades ago fallen into vinyl record obscurity. These selections are genuinely so important as to be worthy of inclusion again. Some of the early pioneers of Hawaiian steel guitar have found their way back onto this record. This is Hawaiian steel played in a style modernistic for the 1920s by the likes of master Sol Hoopii, Sol K. Bright and his Hollywaiians, and Benny Nawahi. The music style they helped create is called “hapa haole” (meaning half foreign). Another rare gem is Sam Ku West, who completely crossed over into a sterling rendition of “St. Louis Blues” played with masterful precision on his resonatin’ National steel as recorded in California in 1927.

cover art

Various Artists

Rough Guide to Hawaii

(World Music Network)

A notable treasure here is Mme. Riviere’s Hawaiians (made up in part by the legendary Moe Family). The story is told that the musical Moe family in debarking from their island home stowed away on a steamship, not having the money for passage. The legend has it they were discovered after the ship was several days into the voyage, but they took out their instruments to play for the passengers and so pay for their passage. They continued on as a traveling performance troupe, under the guidance of Mme. Riviere who toured the group through Asia in 1929, where “Mai Kai No Kauai” was recorded in Japan. Stranded in Shanghai when the tour ended in 1934, the Moes played and sang their way across the Asian continent, into India, then around the world, eventually returning home to Hawaii in 1970. On this song, Rose Moe’s bright falsetto tells a story about going “hano-hano” meaning going off on a casual little trip, but in this case just out to search out some mokihana blossoms.

A good emphasis is accorded to the women singers of Hawaii, including the vibrant falsetto of Genoa Keawe (recorded live at a festival on the Big Island) and the great Lena Machado, remembered and revered as “Hawaii’s Songbird” even now thirty years after her passing. Hearing and seeing Lena perform in Honolulu inspired Eliode Kane to eventually take up singing publicly and Eliode here performs a song Lena made famous in the 1960s, “E Ku’u Baby Hot Cha Cha”.

With 20 tracks including songs by the Pahunui Brothers, Alfred Apaka’s sweet Hawaiian steel and high singing, and the slack key played by Sonny Chillingworth, Dennis Kamakahi, and legends Raymond Kane and Leonard Kwan, this is a splendid introduction to Hawaiian music. Additionally, the CD includes Bob Brozman, who as a long time devotee and master himself of Hawaiian guitar styles has worked unceasingly and tirelessly for decades promoting Hawaiian music. Bob Brozman it was who eventually traced down the Moe Family back to Hawaii and recorded them performing their original material for posterity back in 1988.

This CD is a great sampling of everything, but barely scratches the surface of what Hawaii has to offer musically. Now if only Paul Fisher could arrange for his second compilation to offer singers Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole and Aunty Malabey Weisbarth, plus some of Leonard Kwan’s slack key as he played on vibrato electric guitar, that would be a worthy continuation of a task only just begun with this record. In the meantime, this will do quite nicely.

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