This post was written by music collector and journalist John Book. It's the first guest blog post by John, a Hawaiian with a passion for all music styles. It's also the first-ever guest post on Aloha Got Soul. John gives us his favorite Hawaiian albums in addition to an important lesson in Hawaiian music history, describing an era when artists expanded the sounds of traditional island music into something new—something the people have never heard before. It was the start of a revolution, a movement that pushed the limits what Hawaiian music should sound like to new heights. I hope you enjoy John's post as much as I have. —Roger Bong
"Why did you become a record collector?"It's a question that leads to different answers and variations of those answers, and I'm not one who will settle on one, not with everything I have listened to in my life. I have been a longtime fan of rock 'n' roll, hard rock, heavy metal, jazz, soul, funk, progressive rock, disco, hip-hop, electronic music, electronica, dance, noise, Indian classical music, punk, hardcore, stoner, sludge, doom, and many other styles of music, and that comes from years of listening, researching, digging, buying, and absorbing. The same goes for my love of Hawaiian music. Not only do I enjoy listening and learning from it, but it represents a time in Hawaiian recorded music history that is getting older and will never return again. It means something to me, because much of the Hawaiian music I love comes from what I was raised on, some of which were around before I was born. These were the sounds of my parents and grandparents. By the time I came to be, there was a revolution in Hawaiian music that was a powerful force, one that has never been able to be captured again, or at least not on the level that it was. Not only that, but I am Hawaiian, and thus the music represents a culture, a community, a history, and a big part of who I am as a person.
Taking chances: collecting vinylCollecting records is all about enjoying music as a means of entertainment, and with that, a curiosity for what else exists. If one sees a face on a record cover, one will want to see more albums with that face or name. If one sees a record company logo, one will associate that with being a "trademark of quality'. If one hears a certain style of singing or playing, that will become a staple of what sounds good, and perhaps what else could sound good. Then it's about taking a chance and finding something new, familiar, strange, weird, bizarre, foreign, twisted, etc. Collecting records is a way to explore the documentation of the world through sound, sometimes in ways that cannot always be achieved through writing, photographs, or movies. Or if anything, it's a fun way to hear as much music as possible, especially when music is something you enjoy.
Hawaiian music at the coreHawaiian music was not my first love, even though both of my parents are part Hawaiian. I had a healthy dose of sounds, and they never closed my ears to any of it. Listening to Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin in my grandmother's house was not the Filipino thing to do, and she was sure her grandson was going to hell because of it. But by observing some of the listening and record buying habits of my family, it was obvious that Hawaiian music was the core of who they were. I would learn songs and know the lyrics by heart, even though I may not have known what they were singing about. As I would learn about Hawaiiana and get deep into the language, culture, and history, those songs would mean so much more because I now knew about the flowers, I could imagine the tales, and in time I figured out some of the double endentre that a song might be disguised as, and why that played a major role in the music. It wasn't just the records that were around me, but it was on the radio on a regular basis, I could turn to KCCN 1420AM and I'd look forward to hearing Honolulu Skylark tell the time in Hawaiian, or say "this land of aloha". Just typing that just gave me chicken skin.
Adjusting to the mainlandAfter my dad died, my mom moved us to the Pacific Northwest and as I dealt with a bit of mainland culture shock, I became protective, defensive, and even more proud of who I was and where I was from, even though that wasn't an easy road for me to navigate on. I had always felt it was difficult to be proud of a culture and source of influence when everyone associated me with a stereotype. I had a serious "fuck you" attitude to anyone and everyone around me for the longest time, and by the time I balanced that cultural thin line of confidence and arrogance, I decided to wear that as a badge of pride. Say it loud, I'm Hawaiian and I'm proud. We go kanikapila.
A timeline of "What was"I collect a wide range of records, but one thing I always make sure to look for are Hawaiian records, be it the traditional stuff released by Hawaiian record labels, or perhaps something released on a mainland or international label. I like listening to the variety of Hawaiian music that was written, recorded, and released, trying to find out more about these records because even though they are means of entertainment, they are also a timeline of a Hawai'i that once was. Why "once was"? I grew up in a time when it seemed every record made and released in Hawai'i was incredible, whether it was some hard rock by Schnazz, a bit of jazzy soul from Lemuria, or maybe something you would catch on Brown Bags To Stardom or hear on a Home Grown album. The artistry and music sounded hungry, and when you heard a countdown on KCCN, every single song immediately floored you. I also have a thing for the cheesy and schmaltzy, along with the completely embarrassing. When Hawai'i turned from a territory to a state in 1959, there was an explosion of souvenir records which made it possible people to make Hawai'i their tropical paradise. In many ways, there was also a bit of exploitation too, so along with good records made from the Hawai'i Calls radio show, you also had complete crap like Leni Okehu, whose Hawaiian lyrics were nothing but gibberish that meant absolutely nothing in any language. If you look at various major label Hawaiian records, they are songs written by composers no one had heard of before (or since), performed by musicians who had never set foot on Hawai'i with names that sounded more like someone looking at a street map and going "okay, I am Steven Kapahulu" or "you are Willie Waialae". Even those are interesting to explore, and I try to find some good in everything I find.
Journey into Hawaiian Music: Top 5 albumsFor me, there will always be a core of records that will be what I define as the best Hawaiian music ever recorded. It is hard for anyone to create a Top 3, Top 5, Top 10, or Top 20, especially if you're meant to define them in order of importance. I've done that many times over the years with various genres, and sometimes it ends up being a diverse list of things that are all good. In this case, my list is very much that: a collection of albums I think that are great, if not incredible, although there is and will always be one record that will forever me on top of that list. For this article, I will simply list four albums from 5 to 2, in no particular order, and explain what these albums mean to me and why. These are albums I would highly recommend to anyone who asks "what is your favorite Hawaiian music? or "if I wanted to start exploring Hawaiian records, where should I begin?" For me, your journey can begin here.
5. Olomana - Like A Seabird In The Wind (Seabird Sound)When I first heard this, I liked it because part of "The Lion" was based on The Tokens song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", which was a favorite of mine as well. It was weird hearing that song move into a completely unrelated song, yet it sounded great. The songs seemed powerful long before I knew what they meant, and when I heard songs like "Grandfather's Music", and "Home", I could relate to it to a degree because its messages were clear. I loved "Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u" for how "pretty" it sounded, and being raised with records by Loggins & Messina, along with having a dad, uncles, and aunties who played music at various get-togethers and parties, this was just a sound that was a part of my listening norm. I realized that the song was about missing something, but it really didn't hit me until much later, when I was already living in the mainland. I realized the song told the story of someone longing for good and innocent times, ones "hanabata days" when one could roam the land and never have to worry or be concerned about being concerned. A chorus repeats three times in the song, with the third line changing each time, and it almost comes off as if vocalist/songwriter Jerry Santos is trying to confess his sorrow or shame for departing a place he knew inside and out. He realizes that life is about the adventure and meeting people, even though at times it is nothing more than a voyage that we all go on alone, because it is our own. Each verse expresses nostalgia and beauty, but the choruses is a mixture of pain and heartbreak, along with a hint of despair.
"Last night I dreamt I was returning and my heart called out to you, But I fear you won't be like I left you me kealoha ku'u home o Kahalu'u."
4. Gabby Pahinui - Rabbit Island Music Festival (Panini)Let me be honest: it was very difficult to pick what album from Pops Gabby Pahinui I would choose. I did know that I would select a Pahinui record, but which one would be selected was close to impossible. In fact, if this list was based on a list of mandatory artists to listen to, Pahinui would most likely be on top. Pahinui was a favorite of my grandfather's and father's, so by the time I was listening to him, he was already an old man. Yet within his rough voice was history, strength, and power, a true elder, someone you felt like honoring, like your own grandfather. While I had always seen Pahinui's Gabby album (nicknamed "The Brown Album" because of its brown tones of the cover photo and graphics, but the look and feel of the gatefold cover was closer to the vibe of Led Zeppelin II, nicknamed by fans as "The Brown Bomber") pretty much everywhere, I didn't listen to it until later. Keep in mind too that Gabby's music was always on the radio, whether it was his work with the Sons Of Hawai'i, his early recordings from the 1960's, or the Royal Hawaiian Band albums from the mid to late 70's. As a kid, there wasn't a need to hear the album if I could just turn on the radio and wait patiently. Yet there were two albums that were a part of my collection. One was the great Waimea Music Festival double LP on Panini, which featured a full side dedicated to Pahinui, and the other is my choice here. As someone who grew to like music festivals and gatherings, I always wondered why no one tried to top Woodstock with a massive event dedicated to nothing but Hawaiian music. I do remember one festival as a kid out in Makaha, where the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau played. I was there with my dad, and it was great to see all of these people listening to the same music we did at home. I was very excited about that. Also, when we would go on our monthly drive around Oahu, we would always head out to pass and see Rabbit Island, occasionally stopping to glance at it. I always wanted to head out there and wondered why I couldn't, whether it was to swim (good luck on that), or on a boat. I was told it was owned by the government and no one could go on it without permission. Yet I wanted to go on the island because I had the album at home where Pahinui, his sons and friends, were able to have a music festival on it. I saw the album cover photo, I could relate to seeing my dad get a guitar or 'ukulele, bust out a picnic chair and just jam. Why not my dad? Why not me? Well, there are governmental rules, but still. On top of that, I could open up the gatefold cover and see Gabby, shirtless and smiling, acting like one of the birds. The album begins with a brief on-location recording of Gabby and friends playing on Rabbit Island while all of the birds are making a commotion. Then the actual music begins, and when you have Randy Lorenzo and Sonny Chillingworth playing alongside Gabby, it sounds remarkable. I liked these songs because some of the places discussed, especially "Palolo", were those I had visited many times before. Then the album ends in a very regal way, perhaps a reflection to Gabby's youth, and the album ends with the birds returning as if to applaud the music just heard, saying "hana hou". Who wouldn't want to play in front of an audience of favorable birds? On my bucket list: to recreate the photo of Gabby spreading his wings, like a seabird in the wind.
3. Rap Reiplinger - Poi Dog (Mountain Apple)I grew up with a small but steady diet of Sanford & Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy. As a student of records, I also learned very quickly that the same kind of laughter I could experience in TV shows and cartoons, I could also find on my stereo. My grandfather was a huge fan of Kent Bowman, and he would allow me to play No Talk Stink even though it was a record that, at the time, was not meant for children. Bowman's style of humor was very kolohe (rascal) and far from dirty. I knew this because when I'd go to my Omama's house, she would allow me to listen to Redd Foxx, who I knew as Fred G. Sanford but was much dirtier on his records. At a very young age I knew that some people watched with Fugg, and that someone people spelled B-A-T-H-R-O-O-M very slowly, but for what, I had no idea. My Omama also let me listen to Richard Pyror, which allowed me to listen and hear every bad word that my parents told me were raunchy. Forget the fact I had no idea what some of the stories meant, but to hear someone speak that freely on a record? This was the same Pryor that was in Car Wash? Wow! Before I heard of Rap Reiplinger, Hawaiian radio disc jockeys would often talk about Booga Booga the same way some comic fans praise Monty Python: with the utmost respect and analyzation. One problem: none of the radio stations were allowed to play Booga Booga because of its "racy" dialogue. Their live shows were always promoted as club events, which meant "18 and older" or "no children allowed". I would see various Booga Booga concert posters and flyers and wonder "these guys look fun, why can't I listen?" When the news that Rap Reiplinger was leaving Booga Booga to start his own career, this was big news. I didn't pay attention to it too much, other than knowing that Reiplinger was the man people should pay attention and listen to. I still remember the day my dad bought me Poi Dog. It was at Records Hawai'i, and I laughed at seeing this bolo head guy that was half man, half woman, with his hand in a poi bowl, making a shaka. He was asking like a kid, because who didn't want to stick their hand in a bowl of poi? You could never do it, or risk a scolding or (oh oh) a spanking. I would stare at the cover, wondering what kind of guy would dress up like this. I looked at the back cover and wonder about the curious love note. I wondered about the keys. I wondered about the people who played on the album with names like Sticks Cabang and Sterling Silva. Who are these people, do they exist? I couldn't wait to get home. I put it on our record player, and I think for about a year, I played that record endlessly. I wanted to memorize the routines and skits, I wanted to be able recite them all with the proper accents, I loved the fact that the majority of the voices and music heard on the record was all Rap. I wondered if I could do something similar. A few years later, I found myself collecting comedy records on a serious basis, and while I loved Bowman, Foxx,and Bowman, Reiplinger was one of my first comedy heroes. I think what I also liked about it too is that it was very "local". Reiplinger sounded a lot like my cousins, my dad's friends, and some of the people I went to school with. He could speak eloquently as one character, but then broke da mout' li'dat under another character. While his routines were very much to entertain, he also put a bit of Hawaiian history into things like "The Young Kanakas", making a joke about Wendell's 12 inch laulau, and how things silently changed from being a place with young kanakas to young missionaries, and without asking why, Reiplinger went right into "Room Service", where as if by magic, we're hearing the missionaries in the form of Mr. Fogerty, a visitor to the islands who wants to eat their cheeseburger deluxe with side order cheese in the comfort of his hotel room. With "Haikus", we got a chance to hear about the communities of people in Hawai'i, spoken through Japanese poetry. We now understood about being stuck in Kahuku with ten Samoans, or being in a bathroom with no urinals. As a kid, we didn't quite understand what any of that meant, other than it sounded funny. There are so many highlights on Poi Dog, but the one track that always does it for me is "Lolo Telethon". I was always the nerdy kid, but my parents never hesitated to say that I was sometimes lolo, or that other family members were not so akamai, we've all heard it. One could watch telethons with Easter Seals or the MDA, but a telethon dedicated for lolos? Who wouldn't want to take part? I know I did, and it was great to hear a gathering where one could watch an unusual dog act from Ewa Beach, Auntie Agnes Kealoha and her goards, and the almighty Pohaku 4. Or 5. On top of that, one was able to listen to a man from the HHHH Institute: the Hawaiian Hospital for the Helplessly Lolo. Sure, you might notice the error and go "wait, shouldn't that be the HHHL Institute" but see, telethon Jansen Mefi Mataho was a bit lolo. Who didn't want to give up some bucks for lolos? On top of that, Reiplinger, as Mataho, was able to share his store about his cousin on Kauai. Even now as I'm writing this, I don't have to proceed to the next part of the track because I know what's going to happen, I'm laughing right now.
2. Hui Ohana - Young Hawai'i Plays Old Hawai'i (Lehua)Hui Ohana were perhaps the bridge between the old ways and new ways of Hawaiian music, honoring their culture along with family and friends, and the title of their debut album said it all. Released in 1972, Young Hawai'i Plays Old Hawai'i may have seemed to be nothing more than a group of young men ready to honor the musical traditions of the past, but it was so much more. There was a bit of attitude and solemn swagger in their smug faces on the cover, sporting their stage uniforms and carrying their instruments, as if to say:
"Yes, we are Hui Ohana, we may look like those Hawaiian groups of the past, which is good. But we're about to give you so much more."To see the young faces of brothers Ledward & Nedward Ka'apana, and their cousin Dennis Pavao, on the cover was like seeing family at a gathering, or something you might take during high school graduation. The group represented the town of Kalapana on the Big Island, and even if you didn't know that, you knew that their sound was a bit different from most of the records out in the marketplace at the time. The opening track, "Nani Waimea", sounded like something you might catch in a nightclub, a park, or at the beach, just some incredibly sounding Hawaiian music with a two-guitar/one-electric bass trio, with what would become some of the group's trademark vocal harmonies. It was definitely a mix of the old cha-lang-a-lang with something more hip and modern. But one thing that is rarely discussed is the influence of jazz on all of them. Ledward would later talk about a love of jazz in various interviews, and he would be known for doing solos with a bit of flash but always with finesse. Take a listen to Ned's incredibly intense bass work in "Nani Waimea". Hawaiian music was always heard cool, calm, and collected, and in performances, one could see the bass player maybe get "wicked" by doing something one wouldn't expect. But Ned's bass riffs here could have been something pulled from a Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath record if you didn't know it. Grandma might have no idea who Geezer Butler or John Paul Jones was, but you, the young Hawaiian music listener did.