Saturday, January 06, 2007

Rule # 43:

Don’t ever dismiss the Hawaiians, Samoans, Polynesians.
You should just know better.

I was grooving to the string-bass-themed boxed set How Low Can You Go?, from Dust-to-Digital, recently. It’s a pretty impressive three-disc set covering the years 1925-1941, with lots of big band stomps, blues, gospel, early western swing, some classic jazz and loads of hokum. One of the nice discoveries for me was this recording of “Ta-hu-wa-hu-wa-i” (A Hawaiian War Song) by Andy Iona and His Islanders from 1934. It’s pretty much got it all – fleet-fingered guitar, jazzy reeds, country-tropic steel guitar, martial grunts and stunt-flyer vocal harmonies.

“Ta-hu-wa-hu-wa-i” (A Hawaiian War Song) -- Andy Iona and His Islanders

Hold on the Root
And then there’s Alfred Apaka – sort of the Dean Martin of Hawaiian singers, and maybe the Sinatra, too (Apaka has been called The Voice of Hawaii – he was the direct descendant of King Kaumala). This has a special place in my heart because I bought this record in a cheap-o bin on the same day I re-acquired Bob Welch’s French Kiss. And I fondly remember listening to both of them in a sleep-deprived coffee-fueled early-morning alpha-wave fugue state. Once you enter a world in that manner, glimmers of the contours and spectral brilliance always remain visible on repeat visits. I’m sure that if I were Hawaiian I’d probably find this stuff offensive - it must be the equivalent of minstrel music. And this tune in particular has a weird not-too-thinly-veiled sexual subtext. Still I’m not exactly sure what it’s all about. There’s some kind of Polynesian utopian uninhibited pre-Captain Cook sexual morality at work. Also, dig the hipster bebop scat. Hawaiian music, like most music is at its own vortex of cross-currents and historical and cultural peculiarities. The uke was actually brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors (as it was to Brazil, where its cousin the cavaquino still keeps thing all fluttery in Rio samba). And strangely, or not, I’ve read that Hawaiian music was popular in Nigeria (as well as western swing, American funk and Cuban son all were at their own times), and you can hear the influence of steel guitar (Hawaiian or Texas - you pick) in some juju music.
"The Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Papaya" - Alfred Apaka

Which brings us to Dr. Orlando Owoh. I found this record at a thrift store inside the sleeve of an Ebenezer Obey record. The track starts abruptly out of an extended drum groove (you can hear the tail end of a beat of two). It’s plenty weird and lumpy, with misshapen slide guitar, aggressive Yoruba-sounding talking drum accents, and oddball chugging synth-bass stabs lurks underneath everything.
"Ire" - Dr. Orlando Owoh

Then on to this from the re-issue of the Nonesuch Explorer disc of music from South Pacific. I don’t have the liner notes on this one, sounds like some missionary-influenced choral music.
And then there’s, "Lailani," from Game Theory’s late-80s record 2 Steps from the Middle Ages. Nothing Hawaiian about this one, just the name, which refers back to a tune that Sam Koki, the bass player in Andy Iona’s Islanders, wrote and arranged for the Bing Crosby movie Waikiki Wedding.
"Lailani" - Game Theory

And finally, "Holiday in Waikiki" by the Kinks, not the best song from their 1966 classic Face to Face.
Probably could have put some of that Hawaiian shit from Brian Wilson’s Smile, or some other Beach Boys thing, but who has the time?

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