Music in the 50th State


Hawaii is a profound symbol of America. One day, a long time ago, an American sailed past this giant volcano sticking out of the sea and decided he liked it. He built a few resorts and a Starbucks, and here we are. Besides the infamous shirts, Hawaii is most known for its ukulele-filled music. But Hawaii was more complicated than that when I visited. I visited the Aloha State this August for my parent’s 30th anniversary. The island chain is the most remote in the world. It’s literally thousands of miles to the nearest land. Honolulu is the capital, and a tourist hotspot. It’s situated on the relatively small island of Oahu, along with Pearl Harbor. This island is fascinating from the mainland perspective. The glistening beachfronts of Honolulu lead to the post-golden age suburbs and then to the country.

Hawaiian music is similar to reggae in some aspects, folk in others. The key to a great Hawaiian song is, as is the key to Hawaiian life, chill-ness. It’s hard to describe, but you know what I mean.

Hawaiians are just like Texans in that they are Hawaiians before they identify as Americans. Hawaiian identity is conveyed in their music. Ukulele music plays everywhere, not just at the tourist locales. In a random coffee shop in the business district of Honolulu, you’re just as likely to hear Iz as on Waikiki.

Israel "Iz" Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole is the human embodiment of the Hawaiian music lifestyle. His rise to fame in the 1990’s soon went mainland, and then global. His music echoed a belief that native Hawaiians have been pushed to a secondhand citizen status by the tourist industry. When in Hawaii, this can be seen constantly.

In the Hawaiian countryside, a different view of the islands comes to the forefront. Between the signs saying “Keep the countryside country” and “Hawaii for Hawaiians” and locals riding in the back of pickup trucks, the sense of pride is evident. Hawaiians have a way of life that is in peril from commercial interests. The “Hawaiian” way of life has already been commercialized, as in the huge tourist industry. But with all that in mind, Hawaiian music still echoes the island breezes, laid-back lifestyle, and the islands behind Honolulu and Waikiki.