Sunday, August 08, 2004


Hawaiian Music Beyond Waikiki

by Wayne Robins

Yesterday I started down the road of random musical discoveries
from the communal library where I work. Here's a perfect example:
"Hawaiian Tangos, Hulas & Blues" by Ken Emerson and friends. (Not the same Ken Emerson who wrote the fine book about Stephen Foster, by the way). Emerson plays "acoustic slack & steel" guitar, it says on the jewel box. Both the album title and the primary instrument caught my eye: This isn't Waikiki tourist ukulele music, for sure.

The inside booklet gives quite thorough explanations of the origins and developments of the songs Emerson, who lives on the island of Kaua'i, chooses to play. "Sitting On Top of the World," the Carter Family standard that has been adapted by everyone from Cream to Jerry Garcia, for example. This is a bouncy blues recorded in England by Emerson and his "London music partner," the mysteriously named Papa George. But the vibe is still Marin County mojo: The dots to Garcia's style of interpretation connect, and much of the record was cut in the Marin town of San Rafael.

Another tune, "Natural Fact" is a ska tune from the repertory of a Hawaiian ska band. Jamaican music is so deeply entrenched in these Pacific islands that the local style of reggae is known as "Jawaiian."

Varied, versatile, laid-back and hip, I like Emerson's record more with each playing: If I had to make a single comparison, I'd say he's got the touch and curiosity of Ry Cooder. The label is
Cord International, which does a fine job of preserving and exposing vintage indigenous Hawaiian music.

(c) 2004 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. E-mail for info, or to say hello.

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