News / USA

Couple Helps Preserve Hawaiian Culture Through Music

Retirement turns into mission to promote island's native singers

Laurie and Jake Rohrer's love of Hawaiian music has led them to spend their retirement preserving and promoting the work of native singers.
Laurie and Jake Rohrer's love of Hawaiian music has led them to spend their retirement preserving and promoting the work of native singers.

Multimedia

Audio
Jan Sluizer

Laurie Rohrer first discovered native Hawaiian music at the age of eight, when her military family was stationed at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

"I fell passionately in love with Hawaii and its expression through music," she says.

Now Laurie and her husband, Jake Rohrer, are devoting their retirement to preserving and promoting some of the island’s little-known native Hawaiian singers in their garage recording studio near the little town of Ha’iku, in Maui.

Getting started

Music is something Jake Rohrer  knows. He grew up in El Cerrito, California, where he befriended John Fogerty and some of the other musicians who later formed the rock and roll band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Rohrer went on the road with them, as a manager. Forty years later he looks back on those days as a great opportunity.

"Fun. Exciting, and a first-hand look at the music business at all levels, and how it operated," he says.

Laurie's family eventually settled in El Cerrito, where Laurie and Jake met and were married, both for a second time. In 1996, with their children out of college and on their own, the Rohrers decided to retire to Maui. Laurie immediately reignited her passion for Hawaiian music.

The Rohrers' recording studio is in the garage of their home near the little town of Ha’iku in Maui.
The Rohrers' recording studio is in the garage of their home near the little town of Ha’iku in Maui.

"Traditional Hawaiian music is my teacher," she says. "It tells me the legends of the places in Hawaii. It tells me what these places mean to Hawaiian people, and so it connects me to these places and this culture."

Inspired by Laurie’s enthusiasm, Jake also fell in love with native Hawaiian singers, whose sensuous rhythms are distinctly different from any other kind of music he’s known.

"This rich vein of cultural heritage seems to run through them, especially in families," he says. "If one guy’s got the gift, almost the whole family does."

Garage recording studio

It seemed natural for the Rohrers to get involved in the local music scene. Jake built a recording studio in their garage, and they recorded a CD with a traditional native singer named Ata.

Jake Rohrer in his garage recording studio
Jake Rohrer in his garage recording studio

With plans to make more recordings, the Rohrers needed their own record label. They chose the name that one of their artists had given to their home - Ululoa. Laurie explains that many Hawaiian homes have names and theirs is especially appropriate.

"Ululoa has many meanings, many layers of meanings. But it means abundant growth, and not just plants," she says. "But spiritual growth, creative growth and it has come to represent exactly what happens here in people growing their music in our studio."

The Rohrers decided to invite only native singers that they liked to record with them. They work with each one individually, granting them free artistic expression and cultural respect.

Once sales have paid back the cost of producing a CD, Ululoa and the artist split the profits, 50-50. Honesty is a key word in the company’s business dealings. There are no contracts. Everything is sealed with a handshake based on the Hawaiian cultural principle of ‘pono.’

"You do the right thing with your artists, with anybody you do business with," Jakes says. "It’s a matter of being pono and when everybody is pono with one another, lawyers aren’t needed."

The Hula Honeys, Robin Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson, record on the Ululoa label and combine contemporary jazz with traditional Hawaiian sounds.
The Hula Honeys, Robin Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson, record on the Ululoa label and combine contemporary jazz with traditional Hawaiian sounds.

Successes

One of the groups the Rohrers invited to record on their Ululoa label is the Hula Honeys. Its CD, "Girl Talk," won an award from the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts for Best Hawaiian Jazz Album of 2010. Singer and songwriters Robin Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson say the Rohrers put them on the music world’s map.

"They took a chance with us. We weren’t professionals in the beginning. They just took us in and we’ve gotten to watch, not only what we have done with them, but what they’ve done with a lot of other fabulous performers and musicians here on Maui," says Kneubuhl. "They’re great supporters."

Johnson agrees. "We’re tremendously lucky to have Ululoa because they’re coming from the heart. The bottom line is heart with them and they’re only recording music they really believe in. That’s rare."  

Hawaiian culture is an oral tradition. Legends and stories are passed down from generation to generation through songs. Many artists have said that with Ululoa, the Rohrers are saving a culture that might otherwise be lost, but Laurie Rohrer says they are just trying to put out good music.

"It cannot be said that we are doing what we do to preserve Hawaiian culture, but if by recording Hawaiian people and their music has that as an end result, we would be very happy."

Laurie and Jake Rohrer keep a close eye on native Hawaiian singers coming up in the next generation. When the best of them are ready, they will be invited to record on the Ululoa label, continuing the Rohrers’ success in promoting and preserving Hawaii’s unique sounds.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs