Ray Kane photo
National Heritage Award winner, Ray Kane
Photo by Lynn Martin, 1992

Hawaiian music

Music has always played a central role in Hawaiian culture. In early Hawai'i, mele, or chant, was the most important means of remembering myths of gods and deeds of powerful people. Today, Hawaiians continue to use music to define themselves and celebrate aloha 'aina, or love of land.

Western string instruments and Christian hymns, or himeni, introduced to Hawai'i in the nineteenth century, transformed earlier forms of Hawaiian music and provided ingredients for new musical forms. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a newly created tourist industry began to employ musicians and hundreds of Hapa-haole, or half Hawaiian-half English, tunes were composed. These songs reflected some aspects of the older traditions but were primarily a popular commercial genre. Hawaiian music was transformed by the success of these songs on the American mainland.

Today, a local recording industry and commercial entertainers flourish, but rural and urban folk music survive, highlighted by the slack key, or ki ho'alu, style guitar and falsetto singing often heard at lu'au feasts.

Recordings of Hawaiian music


VFest music from Borderlands


Lu'au home page | CFCH Home
29 April 1996