Music is fundamental to Hawaiʻi and our culture. In this special section we’re showcasing a triptych of music in the past, present and (possible) future of Hawaiian society, all anchored in the foundational role that mele plays in our community.
The first piece poses thoughtful questions about the future role of Hawaiian music within the context of the global economy. Hawaiians are well-known for our musical culture: our aliʻi were also composers; a major Hawaiian school has televised singing contests; and our youth regularly roam school campuses as if they are troubadours, with ʻukuleles and guitars in their arms and a song in their hearts. Should we try to turn this talent and culture into a global export? Eric Stinton poses this provocative question as food for thoughtful digestion.
The second essay shows that, as were our diplomats like Haʻalilio, we have long been a global people. Luthier Kilin Reece traces the origins of much of modern stringed-music culture to Hawaiian innovators like musician Kealakai Mekia, who worked with the Martin Guitar Company to create what we now think of as the iconic guitar.
The third piece by, Chad Takatsugi, is a snapshot of mele at the current time, a moment when the Hawaiian community is vibrant and alive with pride and action. The Maunakea protectors have awakened a new reason and season for songwriting, which we document here.
K-pop is Korea’s most visible and wildly successful export. The contemporary conception of K-pop – melodic dance jams with glitzy production and hip-hop sensibilities – was born in 1992 when the group Seo Taiji and Boys performed their song “Nan Arayo” on national television. A blend of dance-ready rhymes in the verses and smooth vocals on the hook, “Nan Arayo” is widely considered the first modern K-pop song. Within 15 years of its birth, K-pop would become a global multi-billion dollar industry.
I have been fortunate to work as a Luthier and musician in windward Oʻahu for close to two decades, making a living playing, building and restoring vintage acoustic stringed instruments. The word “Luthier” specifically describes one who works on instruments in the family of “Lutes,” considered to be the ancient ancestors to modern stringed instruments like the guitar and ʻukulele.
Inspired by the dramatic events taking place at the base of Maunakea since mid-July, many kānaka maoli have experienced an undeniable awakening. There is a palpable buzz in the atmosphere that is inspiring action to degrees not witnessed since the aftermath of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Images of peaceful demonstrations flood our social media feeds, armies of red-clad kānaka maoli bringing their immutable voices to the streets and through it all, our mele serve as rallying cries sustaining the movement.