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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews


March 2007


Thoughts on the Grammy Award

GRAMMY WINNERS, BEST HAWAIIAN MUSIC ALBUM --- 2007: “Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar – Live From Maui ” (Daniel Ho Creations); 2006: “Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, volume 1” (Daniel Ho Creations); 2005: “Slack Key Guitar, volume 2” (Palm Records)

For the third year in a row, since the award was first introduced, a compilation of slack key guitar recordings has taken home the Grammy for “Best Hawaiian Music Album.” And the controversy rages on.

While some in the community of Hawaiian music fans are pleased that slack key continues to be nationally celebrated as a representative sound of the Islands, there are many who are crying “enough already,” wishing that the Recording Academy voters would recognize that there is more to Hawaiian music than just kī hō`alu. In fact, a recent commentary in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin went so far as to suggest an embargo on slack key albums being considered for nominations, while another group is suggesting that the award be eliminated altogether, unless it meets their standards.

Here’s a little Q ‘n’ A that might help clarify some points as to how the Grammys (as well as the Nā Hōkū Hanohano and Hawai`i Music Awards) are determined ---

How do the Grammy Awards for records get selected?

NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, or just “the Recording Academy ”) members and record companies submit albums, released during a specific eligibility period of one year (generally October 1 to September 30), for consideration to become nominees. More than 150 experts in different fields determine whether albums are appropriate for their categories, without making any judgments as to artistic merit or technical quality. Once the eligible albums have been selected, they are listed on the first ballot that goes out to Academy voters near the end of the calendar year. Voters can choose up to five albums from these lists, and the top five vote-getters go on to the second ballot; these are the ones announced to the public as “the nominees.” On this second ballot, voters choose one out of the five, and the top vote-getter is the winner. (A handful of nominees are selected by committees of specialists in certain areas, such as packaging, engineering and other technical fields.)

Are the eligible voters knowledgeable about Hawaiian music?

Sure – some of them are, but there’s no way of knowing how many are and how much they know. All voters can vote in the “big four” categories (Record/Song/Album of the Year & Best New Artist), but then they have to pick a certain number of fields on each ballot (they can vote in nine additional fields on the first ballot, eight on the second ballot.) The fields are general categories like Jazz, World Music, Pop, Rock, Classical, Folk and others. The idea is that voters will choose only the fields in which they feel they are most qualified to make a choice.

Each field can contain one or many categories; “Best Hawaiian Music Album” is one of four categories in the Folk field, along with “Best Traditional Folk Album,” “Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album,” and “Best Native American Music Album” – all of them including both vocal and instrumental performances. (At present, there are awards for 108 categories in 31 fields.) So any voter who chooses to vote in the Folk field, even if they just know the Traditional or Americana or Native American material best, can vote for Hawaiian Album – and vice versa.

So, how about the folks who know Hawaiian music best?

Well, then they would likely choose Folk as one of their voting fields, in order to vote on their Hawaiian album choices. At present, the Recording Academy claims a membership of more than 17,000, and some figures show that only a little more than 100 of them are from Hawai`i (and are usually members of the Pacific Northwest Chapter, based in Seattle.) Plus, there are undoubtedly some Mainland-based voters also educated in Hawaiian music. But, balancing that out, there could be thousands of voters who feel comfortable in voting the other Folk awards who, if they know only a little about Hawaiian music, are probably more familiar with slack key guitar than anything else, which could be a reason for the strong tilt in that direction for this award.


What kinds of changes have been suggested?

It took about twenty years of lobbying efforts to convince the Recording Academy that Hawaiian music was strong enough to earn its own award (the supporters of Native American music went through a similar process not long ago.) Even when the category was announced, many respected names in the community were not pleased, because they felt there should have been other restrictions on eligibility, such as a stronger requirement for use of `olelo Hawai`i, or separate awards for vocal and instrumental releases. Such aspects are not likely to be added any time soon, if ever. In the most recent awards round, only 29 albums were considered “eligible” for the Hawaiian Album trophy, and if the number were to slip below 25, NARAS would consider eliminating the award altogether – so splitting it into two categories is not a viable option at this point.

One point that seems to be getting lost in the complaints about the slack key albums that have won the award is that there ARE vocals on the last two albums, both Hawaiian and English-language. In addition, there is no denying that many of the performers on these albums are among the living legends of slack key, including Ledward Ka`apana, George Kahumoku , Jr., Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi , Ozzie Kotani, Sonny Lim, John Keawe, and – appearing on all three winning albums – Keoki Kahumoku. The two most recent winning discs also include performances by `ukulele players, falsetto singers, and steel guitarists, and they were recorded live at the weekly performances on Maui that George Kahumoku, Jr., has been organizing and presenting for so many years; many consider the two most recent wins as honors for the work Uncle George has been putting in all this time.

How do the other awards work?

The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards (which this year will be presented on June 20) are considered “Hawai`i 's Grammys.” Presented by HARA (Hawai`i Academy of Recording Arts), the structure is similar to the Grammys in that there are two ballot steps, but members can vote in all the categories (except for a few that are chosen by special committees.) It is difficult to get exact membership figures for HARA, though it’s likely that many of them would be eligible for NARAS membership, certainly more than the 100 or so presently in both organizations. (Full disclosure: this author is a voting member of both NARAS and HARA.) Unlike the Grammys, the Hōkūs celebrate the diversity of music being recorded and released by the Hawaiian music industry – but have restrictions in place that prevent most Mainland-based performers of Hawaiian music from being nominees in a majority of the categories. (See our website for a March 2006 article about this topic.) The Hōkūs are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.

Also celebrating a milestone anniversary this year (their 10th) is the Hawai`i Music Awards. Derided by some as nothing more than a popularity contest, this is one award where the general public, worldwide, gets to have some say in the process. These days, voting is conducted in early February, via the internet, and you don’t have to have any special credentials or membership in an industry organization to participate. This has led to a number of complaints regarding “ballot box stuffing” or inaccuracies in category definitions, but founder Johnny Kai continues to make improvements in these and other areas. (His organization has also resurrected the old “Brown Bags to Stardom” competition.) The most recent HMA winners (some listed below) will be feted in a number of events in Honolulu during March 20-25.


HAWAI`I MUSIC AWARDS – some of the 2007 winners:

Adult Contemporary: Mānoa DNA - Follow Me
Anthology: Kapena - Collection Vol. 3
Compilation: Aloha From Paradise
Contemporary Hawaiian: Pali - Tribute
Best DVD: Mākaha Sons - Live At the Hawai`i Theatre
Folk: Peter Apo & the Rainbow Nation Band - My Back Pages, The Folk Years
International Hawaiian: Luka Kauhola & Kainoa - Kaoru Kainoa Blues Band
Island Contemporary: Kawao - The Secret’s Out!
Polynesian: Island Breeze - Gathering of the Kings
Pop: Keahiwai - Changing
Seasonal: Keali`i Reichel - Maluhia
Slack Key: Ledward Ka`apana - Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar
Steel Guitar: Legends of Hawaiian Steel Guitar – Past, Present and Future
Traditional Hawaiian: Manny K. Fernandez - Hawaiian Memories
`Ukulele: Brittni Paiva - Brittni
People's Choice for most popular new artist: Steven Espaniola


Keali`i Reichel was recently revealed to be the third Island artist to be awarded a Gold Record for album sales of over 500,000 units, for his debut release, “Kawaipunahele.” Actually certified in November of 2006, the achievement was kept secret from Reichel until he could be presented with his plaque at a recent performance on Maui. Previous recipients are Don Ho (for his “Greatest Hits”) and Israel Kamakawiwo`ole (who has received two posthumous awards, for “Alone in IZ World” and “Facing Future,” the latter also having the distinction of being Hawai`i's first Platinum Record, with sales over one million copies.)


Upcoming concerts of Hawaiian music in the Seattle area:

Saturday, March 31 – 7:30 pm , Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, downtown Seattle – 206/850-2010 --- KALAPANA

Saturday, April 14 – (two shows) 5 pm & 8 pm , Shoreline Community College Campus Theatre, Shoreline – 206/546-4606 --- HAPA

Saturday, April 21 – 8 pm (dinner seating at 6:30 pm ), Admiral Theatre, Bremerton – 360/373-6743, www.admiraltheatre.org --- KEOLA BEAMER & JOHN KEAWE

Tuesday, April 24 – 7:30 pm, The Triple Door, downtown Seattle - 206/838-4333, www.thetripledoor.net --- LEDWARD KA`APANA & MIKE KA`AWA

Friday, May 4 – 7:30 pm, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Olympia – 360/753-8586, www.washingtoncenter.org ~~~ AND ~~~ Saturday, May 5 – (two shows) 2 pm & 8 pm, Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland – 425/893-9900, www.kpcenter.org --- KEOLA BEAMER & Native American flute master R. CARLOS NAKAI

Sunday, May 13 – 3 pm , Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds – 425/275-9595, www.edmondscenterforthearts.org --- “The Ladies of Slack Key”: OWANA SALAZAR, CINDY COMBS & BRITTNI PAIVA

Friday, May 18 – 7:30 pm , Green River Community College , Auburn – 253/833-9111 ext. 2400 --- HO`OKENA & MELVEEN LEED

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