I’ve been craving this culture for so long, it’s a shock to be submersed in it again. Yup, I’m back in Hawaii and it’s sun, sun, sun! And Hawaiian music, all kines. True, much of Hawaii’s culture is wide out in the open: hula dancing, surfing, ukuleles, the shaka. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find people willing to share a part of paradise that so many miss out on.
I recently walked through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center to take photos of people wearing Aloha Shirts. I came across were two men casually performing music outside of an ukulele shop, one wearing a red Aloha Shirt, the other a plain polo. From a distance I took a few images and listened as they played “Stairway to Heaven.”
The man wearing the Aloha Shirt asked me where I was from (he thought I was a mainlander). His extensive knowledge of Hawaii fashion proved the Aloha Shirt has a long history to explore. Since they were also playing music I told them I’m also interested in contemporary Hawaiian music like Mackey Feary. The baritone player’s face lit up:
Him: “You ever watch his videos on Youtube?”
Me (thinking he meant music videos, not slideshows with music): “I’ve seen ‘Nightbird'”.
Him: “He’s got plenty more than that, brah. Like this one—”
He started strumming the beginning chords of “Lullaby” and the music washed over me like my first swim in the Pacific after 5 long years. We looked at each other as we sung the opening lyrics in unison,
“Oh, those lonely nights // Is it still so warm? // Does the city lights hide a raging storm?”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this live! Nobody could ever replicate Mackey in voice or spirit, but this guy played “Lullaby” with the same unrelenting conviction. When he finished the song, I told him I loved that album start to finish. Mackey’s songwriting was outstanding, we agreed, and the artist left a irreplaceable stamp on Hawaiian music. He was just about to play “Catherine“, one of my all-time favorites, but I didn’t have the time to stick around.
Music is a powerful force. And Hawaiian music carries a unique spirit through its people and songs. I’m grateful there are others out there who love this culture just like I do, it makes a lonely night in Honolulu not so lonely after all.