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Steel guitar makes Hawaii think twice on ukulele

By Sam Eifling

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:54 p.m. HST, Apr 26, 2014

Sorry, ukulele. Hawaii won't spurn the steel guitar to sound its love for you.

Bills in the state Legislature that would've declared the friendly little guitar the official instrument of Hawaii both died near the end of the legislative session.

The measures easily passed the Senate and House earlier this year, but with differences that meant more debate. That's when steel guitar players stepped in, setting up a showdown between the state icons.

Alan Akaka, a music teacher with politics in his blood as the son of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, orchestrated an email campaign arguing the instrument born in Hawaii better represents the state.

Unlike the ukulele, which descended from a little four-string guitar Portuguese immigrants brought to the islands in the late 1800s, the steel guitar's development is credited to an Oahu man named Joseph Kekuku. Its sound has spread throughout country, bluegrass and western music. Yet it still conjures in its dreamy, liquidy sound -- made popular by such songs as Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" -- the feel of a Pacific sunset blushing behind swaying palms.

"I have nothing against the ukulele," said Akaka, who mimicked the steel guitar as a child by running the bell of his clarinet along the strings of his father's acoustic guitar. "But what is 'pono,' what is right, is to have the instrument that was actually invented in Hawaii."

Akaka's efforts generated lots of testimony from around the state, as well as from other U.S. states and internationally.

In short order, the conversation shifted from the ukulele's unique position in Hawaiian music to a more complex exchange about identity and cultural value.

The bills that seemed so simple got tangled in conference committees that included lawmakers from each chamber. The Senate amended the House bill to kick the decision back to the state's kids, enlisting primary and secondary schoolchildren to suggest instruments to state lawmakers.

Rep. Mark Takai, D-Aiea, the chairman of the House side of the conference committee that considered the bill, said kids didn't deserve such sway.

"Why not send to them whether they want to change instructional hours?" he said. "Whether they support marriage equality? All these kinds of issues. I'm just trying to extend the logic of allowing kids to vote. It's problematic."

Takai said some senators pushed for other instruments, but there wasn't time to debate the merits of pahu drums or the ipu gourd.

Now, the debate of an official instrument must wait for a future session.

"What we thought was a very easy issue ... became a little bit complicated as it went through the process," Takai said.

Akaka says he'll lobby next year for the steel guitar.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
Neither ukulele nor steel guitar are Hawaiian at all.

How about the ipu heke?

on April 26,2014 | 08:18AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Who improved on what became the ukulele and made it known and then played by people throughout the world? And who changed the guitar into becoming the steel guitar? (Maneki takes over for DiverDave and Ken Conklin when they're not around).
on April 26,2014 | 10:54AM
hanalei395 wrote:
The improvements included the changing of the tuning, which is used today, and being made of koa wood. The sound quality was then vastly enhanced and made better
on April 26,2014 | 04:52PM
Talin2 wrote:
I like both. Make both instruments co-official instruments of Hawaii.
on April 26,2014 | 08:32AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
So a Portuguese instrument is in the lead. I'm surprised they did not go with the Kokyu. Both are as Hawaiian as a steel guitar. How about our over paid politicians simply select a real Hawaiian instrument that was here prior to western or eastern influence? Then move on to doing some real work to reduce our cost of living here...
on April 26,2014 | 08:38AM
hanalei395 wrote:
" a real Hawaiian insrument that was here prior to western or eastern influence" Here is a partial list of the Official State Musical Instuments ...... The Fiddle (Violin): Akansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, S. Dakota. ...... The Guitar: Texas. ......etc. (Not real American insuments).
on April 26,2014 | 11:08AM
Anonymous wrote:
ʻohe hanno ihu was around 1000 years before ukes or electric slide guitars.
on April 26,2014 | 08:57AM
Tony91 wrote:
Funny, I thought the official state musical instrument was a moped without a muffler.
on April 26,2014 | 10:38AM
Skyler wrote:
on April 26,2014 | 05:36PM
handsomeguy wrote:
Do we really need this?
on April 26,2014 | 11:48AM
Duck wrote:
amazing isn't it.
on April 26,2014 | 04:03PM
kahuku01 wrote:
I agree! Does the taxpayers pay these elected officials to spend their time and energy on deciding what should be the official instrument, when there are more pressing issues that affect the people of Hawaii. Next thing these clowns will spend their energy or will be deciding what should be the official fruit, vegetable or wood and in the end, really, who cares whether it's a guitar or ukulele that is voted by these clowns to be the instrument of Hawaii. Will it change the playing of these instruments?
on April 27,2014 | 08:56AM
primowarrior wrote:
Steel guitar sounds too country to me. I would vote for the uke.
on April 26,2014 | 12:47PM
hanalei395 wrote:
According to a book by Lorene Ruymar "The Hawaiian Steel Guitar", ....."The Man Who Gave the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to Nashville" is the title given to Hawaiian born Rudy Waikuiki (1909 - 1979). And Hoot Gibson, a famous cowboy movie star, became the first to use a Hawaiian musician in a country band, Sol Ho'opi'i. Hoot Gibson also introduced Sol to Hollywood.
on April 26,2014 | 03:41PM
bumba wrote:
What a colossal waste of time. We're paing these guys for working on nonsense like this?
on April 26,2014 | 03:42PM
Makua wrote:
Bumba, no worry dis is da kine talk story time about not too important stuffs. We stay having good time for see who can talk more beta about uke or steel guitar. The off the wall moped no muffler comment was priceless. Shaka !!
on April 27,2014 | 05:42AM
NITRO08 wrote:
So what is the most popular instrument to play? The ukulele
on April 27,2014 | 06:18AM
airplane_bridge wrote:
any thing that I want…I'll just call it pono… so there!
on April 27,2014 | 06:39AM
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