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New Grammy Category Boosts Hawaiian Music

  • Heidi Chang

The 47th annual Grammy Awards have finally discovered the aloha spirit. When the winners are announced Sunday in Los Angeles, they will include -- for the first time -- a Grammy for Best Hawaiian Music Album.

It’s taken nearly 20 years of lobbying by Hawaii’s music industry to get this new category. Now many islanders expect Grammy recognition to boost global interest in Hawaiian music and culture.

“I think it’s going to be a great thing for us,” says Robert Cazimero, one half of the veteran duo, The Brothers Cazimero. “It’s going to open up all kinds of new avenues. People will be using their computers and getting into the language and getting into the traditional sounds and implements.”

The brothers have been entertaining music fans in Hawaii and around the world for more than 30 years. Now they are finalists for a Grammy for their album Some Call It Aloha...Don't Tell. Roland Cazimero calls the nomination “a chance for our music to get out there and be international.” He also looks forward to getting more recognition, making more money, “and maybe a chance to play with some of the big guys.”

Establishing this new category wasn’t easy. “This genre is an indigenous sound and style exclusive to the people of the 50th state,” says Keith Olsen, a trustee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Grammy Awards. “So they were before put into the folk category, and…it just didn’t fit there.”

Mr. Olsen says it took a lot of passionate pleading and support from the music industry, academy trustees and political officials to convince Grammy organizers that Hawaiian music deserved its own category. To be nominated, a CD must include traditional elements with lyrics sung predominately in Hawaiian.

Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom sings primarily in Hawaiian. Her concert album with guitarist Willie K, Amy and Willie Live, is also among the nominees for the first Hawaiian music Grammy.

“Hawaiian music is very healing,” she says, “Anytime anyone hears Hawaiian music outside of Hawaii, it brings them to the ocean, you know, it brings them back to Hawaii in their mind and in their soul, even though they’re in California or Vegas or Germany.”

Amy and Willie have toured together in Germany, Japan and Tahiti. They also became the first Hawaiian group in decades to perform in Shanghai, China. “In Shanghai, we entertained this past year,” she recalls, “It was a very beautiful experience because I didn’t know that back in the 1920s they played Hawaiian music up there. A lot of Hawaiian entertainers went up there by boat. They accepted the Hawaiian music and they loved it so much.”

The other nominees for Best Hawaiian Music Album include Cool Elevation by the quartet Ho’okena…the compilation CD, Slack Key Guitar Volume 2…and Ke’alaokamaile by singer Keali’i Reichel.

Jim Linkner, who co-produced Reichel’s CD, says interest in Hawaiian music is increasing worldwide, especially in Europe and Asia. “The international fans are much more eclectic in their music choices and are more language tolerant because of their exposure to many more cultures,” he says. “Whereas the U.S. is commercially told what they should buy and they’re more hit oriented, and not necessarily patient in listening to new types of music or new artists.”

No matter whose name is pulled out of the Grammy envelope, the big winner will be Hawaii – according to Jon de Mello, whose company represents The Brothers Cazimero. “It’s going to bring people here,” he says. “It’s going to make people dig into our culture deeper. They’re going to discover more hula. They’re going to discover more poetry. They’re going to discover the depth of what we have.”

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