The Hawaiian music genre reached a significant milestone last week when 18-year-old William “Iam” Tongi became the first Hawaiian and Pacific Islander to win American Idol.
As Asian American Heritage Month comes to a close and summer rolls around, we can celebrate by listening to this handpicked playlist of Pacific Islander artists.
“Shoot Down” by Maoli
Maoli is a group from Maui whose sound continues to evolve and break barriers in the Hawaiian music genre. The group is revered as one of Polynesia’s #1 commercial recording artists.
This genre-swapping song showcases the new popular fusion of country and reggae. If you’re into either genre, then Maoli is a great artist to explore because his new album features some of the most country-sounding music they’ve created yet.
“Days of Huna Butta” by Imua
Imua Garza is a Grammy-nominated producer, songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and a pioneer of Hawaiian music. Garza was also part of the beloved Hawaiian ukulele group “Opihi Pickers” and “Kolohe Kai” and has worked with many island artists including Kimie, Rebel Souljahz and Katchafire.
On her song “Huna Butta Days,” Garza uses nostalgic lyrics and simple melodies to remind you of the bittersweet trials of growing up. The term ‘hana butta’ is a combination of Japanese and Hawaiian pidgin that essentially translates to ‘nose butter’ or snot, which is a phrase commonly associated with memories of youth.
“Ganja Farmer” by J Boog
Marijuana goes by many names, but in Hawaii it’s known as ‘pakalolo’ and its history with weed dates back to before the islands were colonized by the US, it’s sure to lift your mood.
Jerry Afemata, also known as J Boog, is a Samoan reggae singer who was born in Long Beach and grew up in Compton, California. The son of a Samoan chief, he attributes his creativity to his family and island roots. If you are also a fan of Snoop Dogg, you can also listen to the song “No Pressure”.
“Hale’iwa Hula” by Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom
The narration of this song tells of the history of Hale’iwa and its visitors. Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom’s powerful voice is a stark contrast to the soft tone of the vowel-filled native language.
Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom is a six-time Grammy nominee and best-selling Hawaiian vocalist who has previously performed for the Dalai Lama and President Barack Obama. Her music praises ancestral responsibility and is celebrated by the Hawaiian music community.
“Ku’u Lei Awapuhi” by Hapa
This song is listed on the best-selling album of all time by a Hawaiian artist. She uses a style of guitar playing, known as Hawaiian slack key, which is a mix of Spanish and Hawaiian guitar technique. She is indigenous to Hawaii, but his roots lie in Mexico when the cowboys gave them the guitar in the 19th century.
Hawaiian Keli’i Ho’omalu Kaneali’i and New Jersey native Barry Flanigan are the vocalists and guitarists that make up Hapa. ‘Hapa’ means to be a mixed Hawaiian, and since Flannigan is not a native Hawaiian, it made sense to call themselves Hapa.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” covered by Jake Shimabukuro
Jake Shimabukuro is from Honolulu, Hawaii and has been described as the “Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele.” He is best known for pushing the limits of the four-stringed instrument and his fevered imagination.
In this version of George Harrison’s song, his talents are on full display as the song is completely instrumental, and at some point you expect the ukulele to go up in flames. The song is full of fast, complicated riffs and jazzy chord progressions.
“Desecration” by Ekolu
When you listen to this song you can feel both the pain and the pride of being a Kanaka Maoli, or native person. The song teaches you about Hawaii’s deep-seated fight to reclaim its land and protect Mauna Kea from political corruption.
Ekolu is a three-man band from Maui consisting of its original members Lukela Keala, Akoni Dellomes, and Makapu Hoopii, who all attended high school together. Keala’s uncle, who taught at her high school, was also her ukulele and slack key guitar teacher.