Live Hawaiian Music Makes a Comeback

“Curators of Hawaiian Music” debuted in July at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

By: By Marty Wentzel

The Details

Oahu Visitors Bureau

Makana, Hawaii’s youngest slack-key guitar master, performs in The Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Curators of Hawaiian Music series in July 2009. // (C) 2010 Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii

Makana, Hawaii’s youngest slack-key guitar
master, performs in The Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s
Curators of Hawaiian Music series in July 2009.
// (c) 2010 Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii

In the 1970s and ’80s, Waikiki was the place to see top Hawaiian entertainers. Luminaries such as Marlene Sai, Emma Veary, the Beamer Brothers and the Brothers Cazimero were regulars on the nightclub circuit. As times and tastes changed, however, showrooms gave way to restaurants and discos, and the big names gravitated to other stages. Now, thanks to concerted efforts of various tourism entities, Hawaii’s headliners have started coming back to south Oahu, and clients are reaping the benefits.

“The public and private sectors have been working hard over the last few years to make Waikiki a more attractive place for travelers and residents,” said Oahu Visitors Bureau senior sales and marketing director Noelani Schilling-Wheeler. “In addition to $4 billion worth of physical improvements, they have brought Hawaiian culture into Waikiki, and music is a big part of this renaissance.”

A Medley of New Venues
At The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort, a weekly presentation called “Curators of Hawaiian Music” debuted in July in the hotel’s historic Monarch Room. It has featured such crowd pleasers as Makana, Hawaii’s youngest slack-key guitar master, and the celebrated duo of Cecilo and Kapono. For 2010, the program has been tweaked to a quarterly schedule that includes artists’ workshops as well as performances.

“The world fell in love with Waikiki and the islands primarily through images conjured up by the exotic sounds of the ukulele, steel guitar and the melodic voices of Hawaiian entertainers who performed during the early days of tourism,” said Starwood Hawaii senior vice president Keith Vieira. “Starwood Hawaii wants to do its part to keep this legacy of Hawaiian music alive.”

Also new is Sheraton Waikiki’s Edge of Waikiki pool bar, where well-known songsters cast their spell for two hours each evening. Last month’s appearances included the Kelly DeLima Ohana, venerable singers Nohelani Cypriano and Danny Couch and acclaimed musician Sean Naauao.

Outrigger Enterprises is chipping in to keep Hawaiian music thriving in Waikiki. Its Na Mele No Na Pua music heritage program, now in its third year, brings live outdoor shows to the Waikiki Beach Walk complex of shops and restaurants. Among its past participants are ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae; slack-key guitar great Ledward Kaapana; singer/composer Palani Vaughan; Grammy-nominated vocalist Raiatea Helm; and the late Aunty Genoa Keawe, an island icon.

“We’ve been looking for ways to refresh Na Mele No Na Pua and make it available to even more people,” said Outrigger spokesperson Nancy Daniels. “In 2010, Outrigger will accomplish this by joining forces with local radio station AM940 to create a revamped program called Waikiki Beach Walk Live.”

Each Sunday from 5-6 p.m., audio performances are broadcast live on AM940 and streamed live around the world on Hosted by veteran guitarist and radio/television personality Brickwood Galuteria, the show features a range of artists, from songwriters Kawika Kahiapo and Peter Apo to ukulele prodigy Britti Paiva.

Meanwhile, at the renovated Outrigger Reef on the Beach, the new Kani Ka Pila Grille is presenting paragons of Hawaiian music such as slack-key guitar legend Cyril Pahinui and vocalist Martin Pahinui, son of the late Gabby Pahinui, a virtuoso in his own right.

Royal Renaissance
The Royal Hawaiian Center — fresh from a $150 million makeover — is showcasing its own line-up of live entertainment in the Helumoa coconut grove, where island royalty once lived. There, visitors and locals are coming together to witness a high level of music by such perennial favorites as guitar wizard Willie K and the Makaha Sons trio.

“We hold our Hawaiian cultural programming as a major priority,” said Royal Hawaiian Center cultural director Manu Boyd. “Helumoa has been an important gathering place for generations, not only as a royal residence but as a site for recreation.”

As Hawaii’s best and brightest stars continue to make their way back to Waikiki’s stages, the destination will only keep getting better for its visitors, said Schilling-Wheeler.

“Experiencing top-notch Hawaiian entertainers is a great way for travelers from around the world to interact and share Hawaii’s culture with residents,” she said. “It’s making Waikiki more vibrant than ever.”