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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 12, 2006

What's become of Hawaiian music?

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

When you hear a name like Jacqueline Rossetti, you don't automatically think of Hawaiian music. Add Leilani and Skylark, and it falls into place. The disc jockey who pioneered Hawaiian music on Honolulu radio, Skylark now spins records in Hilo.

Even with a name like Rossetti, Skylark has Hawaiian credentials. Her mother was a dancer for Hilo Hattie, and her grandmother's absolute favorite song was the new smash hit at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Monarch Room, "Sweet Leilani." That's where the Leilani comes from.

While waiting for a flight to Honolulu, I dropped in on Skylark, who moonlights as a grant project manager in the Economic Development Office, to find out where Hawaiian music is going.

"I wish I knew," said Skylark. "The first question is, 'What is Hawaiian music?' To some it was the song that brought them here, like my Italian grandmother. I call Hawaiian music the sound-track of the Islands. But I don't know where it's going. Radio stations don't want to play new songs."

Skylark gave a number of provocative answers for why more new Hawaiian songs aren't being composed.

"It was the custom, when Helen Desha Beamer went to visit Francis I'i Brown, to compose a new song on the way and offer it as a gift," she said. "Now people stop at the supermarket and pick up a platter of pupus instead of composing a song. Who is composing gift songs today?

Skylark also lamented the lack of occasions for which new songs might be created. "We don't celebrate Lei Day the way we used to," she said. "For Lei Day, school children used to have to learn the songs from Moloka'i and Lana'i and all the other islands. That doesn't happen anymore."

She said there are song writers who produce new songs, but the new songs are seldom played on the radio. What we hear are the old standards because disc jockies are afraid to take a chance on something new. When a new record comes out, the familiar songs get played, not the new tunes.

Another reason there are fewer places for new Hawaiian songs to be heard is the scarcity of showrooms in Hawai'i. Where can musicians play the songs? "Mary Pukui wrote lyrics and Maddy Lam the music for songs that the Kahauanu Lake Trio sang at the Halekulani House Without a Key," said Skylark. That sort of audience has almost disappeared.

One place where new music still lives is hula halaus because the kumu hula want to keep their students interested, Skylark explained. Some of the original song writers that came immediately to Skylark's mind include Keali'i Reichel, O'Brien Eselu, Keli'i Tau'a and Uluwehi Guerrero.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.