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Grammy fractures Hawaiian music circles


It only took a moment or two after the winner was announced, early in the untelevised segment of the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, for online message boards to go ballistic.

Hawaii-born Tia Carrere, four-time finalist in the Best Hawaiian Music Album category, had won the Grammy for the second time.

Carrere’s album "Huana ke Aloha," a collection of original Hawaiian-language lullabies, had prevailed over other albums that many observers felt were more worthy.

"We’ve been robbed!!!" said a comment on Twitter by Dennis Kamakahi, one of six musicians nominated for "Amy Hanaiali’i and Slack Key Masters of Hawai’i."

Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom, meanwhile, offered her congratulations to Carrere and her album producer, Daniel Ho, who was nominated for his own album, "Polani." But in a separate Twitter post, Gilliom she said she felt "sad" sitting with "two GREAT Hawaiian musicians, Uncle Dennis (Kamakahi) and Uncle Cyril (Pahinui)" and hearing talk of seeking to dissolve the Hawaiian music category in the Grammys because of dissatisfaction with recent results.

In the same message, Gilliom, a five-time nominee, called on Hawaii’s music industry to "holomua" — to improve and progress.

Others weren’t so gracious. Ho and Carrere, more widely known for her acting career, are taking the brunt of public criticism that seems focused on the fact the two now live on the mainland. (Both were raised here and graduated from local high schools, St. Louis and Sacred Hearts, respectively.)

Others argue the voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences are not qualified to judge Hawaiian music.

Ho dismisses claims that living and working in Los Angeles somehow gives him an unfair advantage in the Grammy voting. "There are 11,000 members, and I’m only one of them," he said. "What perturbs me are the omissions (critics) made in ignoring (lyricist) Amy (Ku’uleialoha Stillman), who has written three entire albums of beautiful Hawaiian poetry, and George Kahumoku Jr., who has recorded 12 albums with me. … And how can anyone say what they’re doing isn’t Hawaiian or doesn’t represent Hawaiian culture?"

After years of complaints about slack key dominating the category, and compilation albums "always" winning, and not enough attention being given to the Hawaiian language, Carrere’s album had no slack key on it at all.

The only instruments were piano and bass, and it wasn’t a compilation, and all the lyrics were in Hawaiian.

Perhaps it was about one record label, Daniel Ho Creations, winning the category six years out of the seven that Hawaiian music has been recognized at the Grammys.

Looking at it from a cultural perspective, Carlos Andrade, director of the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii, described the winning artists and producers as "playing for the Grammy audience."

Hawaiian music has "mostly been the people’s music," he said. Some play for a grass-roots audience here, some for audiences on "the continent."

Manu Boyd, leader of two-time Grammy Award finalists Ho’okena, said boycotting the Grammys or "dissolving" the hard-won Hawaiian music category is not the way to go.

"I also don’t think that any awards necessarily define the industry. … I congratulate Tia and Daniel, but I think because of the reality of the current radio industry in Hawaii, I never heard (her album) so I can’t comment on it," he said.

Leah Bernstein, president of The Mountain Apple Co., the major record label and distributor in Hawaii, sees the current frustration over the results as stemming primarily from two factors.

First, Hawaii music professionals are a tiny subgroup within the NARAS voting membership of more than 11,000 recording industry professionals (the number of local members was not immediately available).

She said many in the islands who qualify for membership choose not to join the academy, further diminishing any influence the Hawaii industry might have in shaping national perceptions of Hawaiian music.

Second is the Grammy selection and voting process. There were 32 Hawaiian music albums on the preliminary ballot for this year. The field was cut to five finalists by a vote of all "voting members in good standing," although members are urged to vote only in their categories.

"How many of them are experts in Hawaiian music? We don’t know," Bernstein said.

The winning album was determined by the votes of those NARAS members who opted to vote for the finalists in the "American Roots" field, which includes American Indian, zydeco, Cajun, bluegrass, Americana, folk, blues and Hawaiian music categories. A person interested in any one of the categories is free to vote in all of them.

"If all the people (in Hawaii) who are qualified to vote in the Hawaiian Grammy category here would join (NARAS), I think that we would have enough of a bloc that we could determine what everybody feels is the right thing. …

"But I feel for poor Daniel and Tia. What should be a joyous occasion (for them) they have to defend," she said.


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