As someone who grew up watching elementary-school girls dancing the hula — at Maquiling School “Tiny Bubbles” and “Aloha Oe” were the songs of choice — I thought that Don Ho epitomized Hawaiian music. (Okay, Arthur Lyman is great, too, but that’s a different story.)
But a visit to Hawaii with Madeline for a friend’s wedding a few years ago brought the joys of more or less real Hawaiian music straight to my ears. Sure, they were playing the slack-key guitar stuff right on the Hawaiian Holidays plane as they served up the mai tais, but it was pretty cool all the same. When Madeline and I (her in her tankini, me looking all skinny without a T-shirt) drove around the island in our little rental car, the car radio was tuned in to local radio (Da Kine) the whole way.
This essay on Hawaiian Music at the Perfect Sound Forever website is a nice little intro, more or less encapsulating the same experience I had, though it doesn’t mention my favorite album (an instant purchase from the Ala Moana Shopping Center): Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters, a compilation selected by George Winston out on Dancing Cat Records. This has truly stellar guitar playing; quite gorgeous stuff. (The easy thing to say would be that it instantly brings back fond, relaxing memories of the islands, but the amazing musicianship should be appreciated regardless of the context by which the music was originally heard.)