Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Grammy winners defend their music to Hawaiians

By John Berger


Hawaiian music album Grammy winners Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho faced a full house of fans, critics and observers Thursday night in a special edition of Amy Ku‘u­lei­aloha Stillman's "… aia i ka wai …" discussion series at the Kama­ka­ku­oka­lani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The Hawaii-born Stillman, a Dai Ho Chun distinguished visiting professor in the UH College of Arts and Humanities, acknowledged she was in an awkward situation moderating a discussion about a controversy in which she is personally involved. Ho and Carrere have been the targets of criticism regarding their series of wins in the now-defunct best Hawaiian music album category of the Grammy Awards, but Stillman is an equal member of their team. She was the lyricist and co-producer of the duo's 2009 Grammy-winning album, "‘Ikena," as well as Carrere's 2011 solo Grammy winner, "Huana ke Aloha."

Stillman told the crowd that although she had tried "very, very, very hard in the last several weeks," she was unable to find anyone willing to moderate the program in her place. She said that efforts to include "other voices and other viewpoints as panelists" were fruitless as well.

"We are not trying to hide anything," she said. "We are not trying to not share or be evasive or be secretive, but we are truly willing to confront many of these issues head-on. In the proc­ess, I also want to try to get people to understand that many of the attacks that have been aimed especially at Daniel and Tia have been attacks that really have been addressing deeper issues and deeper frustrations."

Following a musical performance, Stillman, Carrere and Ho defended their work and shared their perspectives on the Grammy controversy. Stillman set the stage with a partial "laundry list of some of the attacks" against Carrere and Ho and their music. It ranged from complaints the pair are not ethnic Hawaiians and don't live in Hawaii to claims that since they don't also win Na Hoku Hano­hano Awards, their music obviously doesn't deserve a Grammy.

Carrere said the trio's Hawaiian music "tells stories of our particular perspective and our love and our longing for our homeland."

"We've never made any claims of being or representing traditional Hawaiian music. We make no claims to being anything other than what we are, creating all-original compositions in the Hawaiian language, and I feel very proud to be able to share the stage and bring into voice these songs that I love."

Audience member Van Horn Diamond, a third-generation Hawaiian musician "in Waikiki and on the mainland," pointed out that musicians from Hawaii have been writing and recording Hawaiian music on the mainland for more than 80 years.

"For those who grumble about losing (each year), the key is, they gotta find out how you won," he said.

Ho shared his approach to recording and producing Grammy-winning albums. He took several minutes to explain how and why a painstaking and meticulous approach to composing music, recording sound and assembling a finished album is necessary when your work is being judged by some of the best ears in the national rec­ord business — people like Quincy Jones, for example.

Stillman addressed the racial issue, saying that although Hawaiian music at its foundation is the music of the indigenous people, two centuries of in-migration and the adoption and adaptation of ideas from other cultures means that Hawaiian music is no longer exclusively for native Hawaiians to sing, create or record.

A couple of audience questions appeared to strike a nerve. UH Asian studies professor Ric Tri­mil­los mentioned the Hawaiian tradition of paka ("to criticize constructively") in which writers and composers ask others for input as part of the creative proc­ess. The implication appeared to be that Stillman and Ho, working on the mainland away from the Hawaiian community here, have jettisoned that cultural foundation.

Stillman responded that "just because our skill set is practiced a few thousand miles away from here (doesn't matter because) physical distance is no longer a barrier."

Hoku Zuttermeister, a Hawaiian entertainer with a long lineage in Hawaiian music and hula, took issue with the idea that Hawaiian music can be based on music theory or recording techniques.

"It's not about (how to position) notes (in a recording)," Zuttermeister said. "It's a feeling. … It's about knowing when to stop and when to go forward. When you sing about a blossom, it's about knowing how to pick that flower, (how) to put it into a lei and then wear it proudly."

He added that "Hawaiian music can only go so far because of how tied it is to our culture."

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