Hawaiian music and dance are an important part of Hawaiian culture and have been celebrated for centuries. The unique sounds and rhythms of Hawaiian music are a reflection of the natural beauty and diversity of the Hawaiian Islands, while Hawaiian dance is a physical expression of the stories and traditions of the Hawaiian people.
In this guide, we will explore the history, styles, instruments, and traditions of Hawaiian music and dance.
History of Hawaiian Music and Dance
Hawaiian music and dance have a rich history that dates back to ancient times. The first Hawaiian chants, known as mele, were likely created by the earliest Polynesian settlers who arrived in the islands around 500 AD. These chants were often performed in honor of the gods and were accompanied by percussion instruments such as drums and gourds.
As Hawaiian culture evolved, so did their music and dance. In the 19th century, Western influences began to shape Hawaiian music, as missionaries introduced new musical instruments like the guitar and the ukulele. This led to the creation of new genres of Hawaiian music, such as hapa haole (meaning “half foreign”) music, which blended Hawaiian lyrics with Western melodies.
During the early 20th century, Hawaiian music gained popularity on the mainland United States, as performers like Sol Hoʻopiʻi and Gabby Pahinui introduced audiences to the unique sounds of Hawaiian music. Today, Hawaiian music and dance are celebrated worldwide and continue to play an important role in Hawaiian culture.
Styles of Hawaiian Music
There are several different styles of Hawaiian music, each with its own unique sound and cultural significance. Some of the most popular styles of Hawaiian music include:
Hula Music: Hula is a traditional Hawaiian dance that tells stories through movement and music. Hula music is typically accompanied by traditional Hawaiian instruments like the ukulele, the ipu (a gourd drum), and the pahu (a bass drum).
Slack Key Guitar: Slack key guitar is a unique style of guitar playing that originated in Hawaii in the 19th century. In this style, the strings are “slacked” to create different tunings and harmonies. Slack key guitar is often used to accompany hula dancing.
Traditional Hawaiian Music: Traditional Hawaiian music is characterized by its use of traditional Hawaiian instruments like the ukulele, the steel guitar, and the pahu drum. This style often features beautiful vocal harmonies and is often sung in the Hawaiian language.
Hapa Haole Music: Hapa haole music is a genre of Hawaiian music that emerged in the early 20th century. This style blends Hawaiian lyrics with Western melodies, creating a unique and memorable sound.
Instruments of Hawaiian Music
The instruments used in Hawaiian music are as unique and diverse as the music itself. Here are a few of the most important instruments used in Hawaiian music:
Ukulele: The ukulele is perhaps the most well-known Hawaiian instrument. It is a small, four-stringed instrument that is often used to accompany hula dancing.
Steel Guitar: The steel guitar is a type of guitar that is played horizontally, using a steel bar to change the pitch of the strings. It is often used in traditional Hawaiian music and hapa haole music.
Ipu: The ipu is a gourd drum that is often used to accompany hula dancing. It is played by tapping the sides of the drum with the hands or fingers.
Pahu: The pahu is a bass drum that is often used in traditional Hawaiian music. It is made from a hollowed-out log and is played using a stick.
Traditions of Hawaiian Dance
Hula is the most well-known form of Hawaiian dance and is an integral part of Hawaiian culture. Hula tells stories through movement and is often accompanied by traditional Hawaiian music. There are two main types of hula: hula kahiko (ancient hula) and hula auana (modern hula).
Hula kahiko is a traditional style of hula that is performed to traditional Hawaiian music and is known for its intricate movements and use of traditional Hawaiian instruments like the ipu and the pahu. This style of hula is often performed to honor the gods and tell stories of Hawaiian history and mythology.
Hula auana, on the other hand, is a more modern style of hula that is performed to contemporary Hawaiian music and is often accompanied by instruments like the ukulele and guitar. This style of hula is often more lighthearted and is used to tell stories of everyday life in Hawaii.
In addition to hula, there are several other traditional forms of Hawaiian dance, including the mele hula (a dance that tells a story through movement and music) and the ‘uli ‘uli (a feathered gourd rattle that is used as a percussion instrument in hula dancing).
Hawaiian music and dance are an integral part of Hawaiian culture and have been celebrated for centuries. The rich history and unique sounds of Hawaiian music are a reflection of the natural beauty and diversity of the Hawaiian Islands, while Hawaiian dance is a physical expression of the stories and traditions of the Hawaiian people.
Whether you’re a visitor to the islands or a lifelong resident, exploring the world of Hawaiian music and dance can be a wonderful way to connect with Hawaiian culture and gain a deeper appreciation for the history and traditions of these beautiful islands. From the traditional chants of ancient Hawaii to the modern sounds of contemporary Hawaiian music, there is something for everyone to enjoy in the world of Hawaiian music and dance.