Festival fetes hapa-haole music's legacy
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"Hapa-haole music has been a very important part of our culture, in the music and in the hula," Keali'iwahamana said. She is one of a handful of participating entertainers when kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine launches the first Hapa Haole Hula and Music Festival Wednesday at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Monarch Room. A related Hapa Haole Film Festival also is scheduled.
Keali'iwahamana, a respected soprano, was one of the judges in a recent preliminary contest to seek out vocalists and solo hula dancers for the festival.
"I think Vicky's moving in the right direction," she said of the kumu hula of Pua Ali'i 'Ilima. "For traditional hula, there's the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Prince Lot Hula Festival. I'm thrilled that someone won't let hapa haole die."
Harry B. Soria Jr., a master of pre-statehood Hawaiian music, also is charmed that someone is magnifying the impact and appeal of hapa-haole song and dance. As a collector of vintage music and a radio-show host specializing in "territorial" music, Soria is well-schooled on the nature of hapa-haole music.
"It was the outgrowth of the professional arm of tourism," Soria said of its origins. "It was danced to, in the Western style, seen as a means to promote visitors to Hawai'i; at the same time, it first appeared in the early 1900s as an outgrowth of the suppression of the Hawaiian language, when a generation of Hawaiian youth was being discouraged to speak Hawaiian to their children. In fact, there was a statute that made it illegal to school your children at home in Hawaiian to perpetuate the language."
In plain talk, hapa-haole songs emerged when composers smitten with the tropical paradise that was Hawai'i wrote about it in English because they didn't excel in the Hawaiian language. Local composers such as R. Alex (Andy) Anderson and Don McDiarmid Sr. and an ensuing Hollywood lot, such as Harry Owens, found a niche and turned on the world to the aloha spirit through hapa-haole songs.
John Koko, one-third of the Makaha Sons, said the group's hapa-haole CD, "Golden Hawaiian Melodies," was a response to Mainland visitors who adored the music.
"We basically use hapa-haole songs to lighten up the show it's 'good fun kine' music, easy to follow along, dance to and understand.
"I'm glad Vicky is doing something like this ... I always enjoy watching her halau and I'm surprised she didn't ask us to do this show ... hint, hint!"
Exposure is one reason for Takamine to do the festival. "Young people don't know the music or know very little about it," Takamine said. "I think because of the Hawaiian renaissance, the movement to uphold kahiko, hapa haole has been neglected. My kumu hula, the late Auntie Maiki Aiu Lake, always said to support and know everything."
"Hapa-haole songs were a very big part of 'Hawai'i Calls,' a show that visitors related to," Keali'iwahamana said. "They heard songs they could relate to 'Aloha 'Oe,' 'Hawaiian War Chant,' 'Ke Kali Nei Au' and dance to."
She said some hapa-haole songs have an interjection of Hawaiian lyrics but principally uphold the Islands as a place of tropical beauty with lovely hula ladies. Thus, tunes as "Lovely Hula Hands" emerged.
"Alfred Apaka exemplified the spirit," Keali'iwahamana said. "He could do the Hawaiian classics; he could do the songs of the monarchy; he always caressed the lyrics, whether he sang in English or in Hawaiian. When he sang 'Here in This Enchanted Place,' he went right to the heart."
Takamine said she deliberately chose the Monarch Room, the ultimate hapa-haole showcase, to present her hapa-haole journey.
"The caliber of performers (that played the room) equaled the prestige of the venue," Takamine said. "The Monarch Room was home to Ed Kenney, Beverly Noa, many of the finest performers."
Soria said hapa-haole tunes were often genuine about the love for the Islands but occasionally downright silly and cutesy. He said "Haole Hula," by R. Alex Anderson, topped his list of hapa-haole favorites (see list on Page 20) "because he wrote in the way a Hawaiian composer would, reacting to the elements of the wind, the sea, the land, the sky; he was local-born and raised, and he understood well all that was expressed in his songs."
Though he thinks "Sweet Leilani," the Harry Owens signature and the only Hawai'i-linked tune to win a Best Song Academy Award, is likely the No. 1 best-known tune among visitors, he doesn't consider it
hapa haole enough; "it's a sweet song, but mostly a lullaby; it is about his daughter but it doesn't speak of Hawai'i or Hawaiian feelings."
On the cutesy roster, Soria said "Yacka Hula Hickey Dula," originally composed by Al Jolson and recorded by Apaka, epitomized the Hollywood impression of Hawai'i after Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths picked up the Island beat.
Keali'iwahamana said that perhaps what goes around comes around.
"The Monarch Room used to have a captive audience, when the Matson liners plopped people inside the room, where they had three meals there," she said. "You had an audience then; that was the time when a lot of composers were writing
hapa-haole songs. There aren't many hapa-haole classics today, because they stopped writing them for the tourists. Everyone wanted to be Hawaiian, to sing Hawaiian, but there's been a new breed, a new generation, of great artists, like Dennis Kamakahi and Keali'i Reichel and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, who are doing some wonderful new things. But let's hope no one forgets hapa haole."
Coincidentally, her "Nina" album, just re-released by Mountain Apple Records in the CD format, brings back some of her Hawaiian hapa-haole signatures with Jack de Mello's orchestra.
"Hapa-haole songs always tell a beautiful story," Keali'iwahamana said. Well, hers certainly do.
Harry's hit list
We asked Harry B. Soria Jr., an expert in pre-statehood-era Hawaiian music, for his top 10 hapa-haole hits. Here it is:
- "Haole Hula" by R. Alex Anderson.
- "Pretty Red Hibiscus" by Rube Wolfe.
- "My Wahine and Me" by Don McDiarmid Sr.
- "My Yellow Ginger Lei" by John Keawehawai'i.
- "White Ginger Blossoms" by R. Alex Anderson.
- "Ku'uipo" by Andy Aiona.
- "Hula Blues" by Sonny Cunha and Johnny Noble.
- "Aloha Week Hula" by Jack Pitman.
- "Sophisticated Hula" by Sol K. Bright.
- "Sweet Leilani" by Harry Owens.
Hear Harry B. Soria Jr. spin the oldies in his weekly "Territorial Airwaves" show, 5 to 6 p.m. Sundays on Hawaiian 105 KINE.