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Loss of Hawaiian album Grammy greeted with dismay and shrugs


Reactions ranged from sorrow to blunt dismissal yesterday at the announcement that the award for best Hawaiian music album will be eliminated from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences lineup.

The award is one of 31  being cut in a radical downsizing that reduces the number of award categories from 109 to 78.

Hawaiian musicians will compete against American Indian, Cajun, zydeco and polka recordings in the newly created Regional Roots Music category. Four other “roots music” genres — Americana, bluegrass, blues and folk — will continue to have separate individual award categories.

A representative for island recording company Mountain Apple said, “It is regrettable that — at a time when Hawaiian music as a genre is experiencing greater popularity and gaining traction with new audiences — the music industry will lose an international platform for recognizing gifted artists. Hawaiian music … is more than simply music from a specific geographic region. Hawaiian music is unique.”

Dennis Kamakahi, two-time finalist in the category and an outspoken critic of the awards process, dismissed the decision as irrelevant to “true Hawaiian music,” commenting via email that “the approval of our teachers and kupunas is the greatest award and recognition we could ever want.”

Slack key guitarist/record producer Jeff Peterson described the move as “unfortunate.”

“I’ve tried to stay out of all the controversy (about the category),” he added. “I’m just trying to make the best music I can.”

Academy Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth said lack of participation by eligible Hawaiian recording artists had been a consistant problem.        

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve had lengthy phone conversations with members of the Hawaiian community that have not been pleased with the award recipients. One thing that I found out during these calls was that a lot of these people were qualified to be members of the academy, but chose not to, so it was difficult to talk with people who decided to not be part of the process.”

Neil Portnow, Academy president and CEO, said that “critical mass” was the issue.

“It’s too bad that the Hawaiian category didn’t develop (the) critical mass that we hoped it might.

The Recording Academy (NARAS) doesn’t control the results. It can only react to them.”  

Hawaiian music received its Grammy category in 2005; a compilation album of slack-key instrumentals produced by Big Island resident Charles Michael Brotman won the award.

Albums produced or co-produced by Hawaii-born Daniel Ho and released on his Daniel Ho Creations label have dominated the category ever since. The 2011 winner was Tia Carrere’s Hawaiian-language album “Huana Ke Aloha.” She and Ho shared credit as performers for the 2009 winner, “‘Ikena,” which also featured Hawaiian-language vocals.

Ho won four other years as the producer of compilation albums with his producer-partners, Paul Konwiser, Wayne Wong and George Kahumoku.

Ho’s domination of the category prompted an ever-growing backlash. Some critics said the NARAS membership wasn’t qualified to judge Hawaiian music. Others attributed Carrere’s wins solely to “name recognition.”

There were also complaints that living in Los Angeles gave Ho and Carrere an unfair advantage over Hawaii residents.

Two-time winner Carrere saw several elements in play.

“I know that (the total number of awards) has been a concern … but more specifically to the Hawaiian category, I think the negativity that we saw in the New York Times and the Twitter (comments)  — and especially bad-mouthing NARAS — didn’t help.”

Ho says eliminating the category “doesn’t change anything I do, but I’m hoping the craziness (surrounding the category) will go away. Each year, I get beat up and that stuff goes viral.”

Major shuffling

The Grammy Awards will be singing a new tune next year.
In a process that took more than a year, the number of categories was cut to 78 from 109. While no musical genres will be excluded from contention, the changes will make the awards a lot more competitive. For example, separate male and female vocal categories in fields like pop, R&B and country are among those being dropped. Men and women will now compete together in each overall field.

Effect on Hawaiian music

Hawaiian music will now compete in the newly formed Regional Roots Music category, along with albums from other deleted categories including Native American, polka, zydeco and Cajun.
There has been a great deal of concern about the consistently low number of entries in several of these categories.
It was believed best to continue to honor such regional music, but to do it all together, recognizing the best with one category.

Local reaction

“I know that (the total number of awards) has been a concern … but more specifically to the Hawaiian category, I think the negativity that we saw in the New York Times and the Twitter (comments) — and especially bad-mouthing NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) — didn’t help,” said two-time Grammy winner Tia Carrere.


Star-Advertiser staffer Gary Chun and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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