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Music of Hawaii

From Traditional to Contemporary

The roots of Hawaiian music go back a thousand years and you can still hear echoes in today’s rhythms, percussion instruments, chants, and vocal styles. Traditional music is generally simple in its structure and both reverent and haunting in the way that it’s presented. But today it’s also possible to hear variations of Hawaiian music that are diverse as the islands’ mix of cultures – everything from rock ‘n roll and rap to jazz and a Hawaiian form of reggae known as Jawaiian.

Music Festivals
Every year, Hawaiian music is celebrated in music festivals that celebrate the uniqueness of Hawaii instruments, musicians, and songs.

The Ukulele Festival (July) at Kapiolani Park Bandstand in Waikiki honors what many visitors believe to be a hand-me-down from ancient Hawaii, but in reality, the ukulele was brought here by Portuguese immigrants at the end of the 19th century. Today, the uke is still a fundamental part of the musical landscape, not simply on stage but also at family picnics or on the beach.

The Big Island’s Kona Slack Key Festival (September) pays tribute to a uniquely local way of playing the guitar – another Hawaiian music staple. Slack key is a “slacked” or loosened tuning or technique that reflects the breezy, flowing quality of both local climate and culture.