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Hawai'i is a melting pot of cultures, peoples and customs - and this has greatly affected the music of the islands. Very few other island nations have such a diverse musical history and almost no other island sound have impacted world-wide music as much as Hawaiian music.
Before contact with western civilization, Hawaiians celebrated nature, their gods and their love of life through the expression of Chants and Hula. Chants came in two basic styles... mele oli were chants without music while mele hula were chants with dance and sometimes musical instruments.
Because of Hawai'i's lack metals and minerals other than lava - musical instruments were created from trees, plants and shells. The basic instruments included the ipu - a drum made out of a gourd, the ipu heke - a double gourd drum, the kala'au - sticks that were struck together, the 'ili 'ili - two flat smooth stones that were clicked together, the ohe hano ihu - a nose flute made from wood, the Conch Shell - a large ocean shell that was blown into to produce deep resonant tones, the pu ohe - a trumpet made of bamboo, and the puili - slit sticks made from bamboo. These were the instruments of ancient Hawaiian time, and are still used today in modern Hawaiian music as well as hula.
The most famous - at least to non-Hawaiians - musical instrument of the islands is the ukulele. Interestingly enough, the ukulele did not originate in Hawai'i. The origins of the ukulele come from a ship that arrived in Honolulu on August 23, 1879. The ship was carrying Portuguese immigrants from the Island of Maderia. When they arrived one of the immigrants using a braguinha started playing his native songs. Hawaiians were very impressed with the music and especially how the musicians' fingers danced on the strings. The Hawaiians called the braguinha a ukulele that is a combination of the word uku which means flea, and lele which means to jump. Thus ukulele literally means jumping flea and describes the fingers of a ukulele player.
Modern Hawaiian music is a combination of ancient music and modern influences. Because Hawai'i is so diverse, this diversity has made its way into the music. It is not uncommon to hear a new Hawaiian song with components of country music (we do have cowboys after all), Rasta and other flavors woven into the songs. The lyrics usually have to do with places of Hawai'i, or love, or what it is like to fish - and the music is simply beautiful and haunting.
If you are interested in Hawaiian music, we have placed below a variety of selections that show the various influences and diversity of the music.