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Music of Hawaiʻi
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. Some of these qualities stem from the influence of early missionaries' hymns, which significantly influenced the direction of traditional Hawaiian music in the 19th century. But, today it’s also possible to hear variations of Hawaiian music that are as 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.
Every year, Hawaiian music is celebrated in music festivals that celebrate the uniqueness of Hawaiʻi instruments, musicians, and songs. The ‘Ukulele Festival (July) at Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand in Waikīkī honors what many visitors believe to be a hand-me-down from ancient Hawaiʻi, but in reality, the ʻukulele was brought here by Portuguese immigrants at the end of the 19th century. Today, the ʻukulele is still a fundamental part of the musical landscape, not simply on stage but also at family picnics or on the beach.
The island of Hawaiʻi'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.