Daphne Hunkin, foreground, a Hawaii-born Las Vegas resident, danced as Hawaii's top-selling female band, Na Leo Pilimehana, performed at Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas last week. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is using Hawaiian music as a tool to attract visitors to the islands.
Hawaii now being promoted musically
The Aloha Live concert tour hits key tourism markets
TOURISM PROMOTERS have seduced millions of visitors to the islands employing tropical images of breathtaking beaches, azure waters and swaying coconut trees.
They're now using the soothing sounds of Hawaiian music.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau last week wrapped up its 11-city Hawaiian music concert tour, Aloha Live, with two sold-out shows in Seattle, the same city the tour began on Aug. 20.
"We've had phenomenal success this year, bigger crowds than ever," said Warren Wyatt, president of WorldSound, which produced the concerts. "The whole purpose of the Aloha Live tour was to spread the music, culture and aloha spirit of Hawaii around the country."
The tourism bureau, a private agency contracted by the state to market Hawaii to North America, spent $75,000 sponsoring the concerts and tapping top Hawaii musicians Kealii Reichel and Na Leo Pilimehana to perform.
The performances also featured dancing by hula halau, or hula schools, from the concert cities.
The selected cities were all key feeder markets for Hawaii tourism, including Las Vegas, San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Portland, Ore. The concerts were usually preceded with a marketing and public relations campaign about Hawaii.
Jay Talwar, the bureau's vice president of marketing, said the agency is using music as a marketing tool, just as New Orleans did with jazz and the Caribbean with its steel drum sounds.
Hawaiian music, however, has varied styles that have been gaining popularity and acceptance in recent years beyond these sunny shores. Island music has expanded into a wide range of offerings, from traditional ukulele strumming and falsetto singing to contemporary instrumentals and "Jawaiian" reggae.
"It's the antidote for everything that's going on in the world right now," Wyatt said. "When you see so many disasters and atrocious situations all over the world, Hawaiian music is the exact opposite of that. It has a healing quality to it."
"Facing Future," a 1993 album by the late Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwoole, became Hawaii's first platinum musical release this summer after selling more than 1 million copies in the United States.
Kamakawiwoole's gentle voice and ukulele have enchanted listeners around the world, making him one of Hawaii's most recognizable artists. The singer topped 750 pounds, contributing to his premature death in 1997 at age 38.
In February, the first Hawaiian music Grammy was awarded.
"Slack Key Guitar Volume 2," a compilation of songs by various artists featuring the uniquely Hawaiian slack-key tuning guitar sound, won the Grammy for best Hawaiian music album.
Before the Recording Academy added the award, artists performing traditional Hawaiian music had been relegated to folk music categories.
On Dec. 13, Hawaii ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabakuro, who is a big star in Japan, is scheduled to do his first live nationally televised gig on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."
"It's hot around the country and around the world, and we've got a lot of wonderful Hawaiian musicians, and so it's just a natural to put the two together," Talwar said.
Nearly 17,000 people attended the Hawaiian concert at the Hollywood Bowl, which was one of the largest crowds ever to see a Hawaiian music concert on the mainland.
"We're trying to give them a sample of Hawaii through the music and the culture," Wyatt said. "They can experience what Hawaii is all about."
Five years ago, Hawaiian music concerts outside of Hawaii were primarily attended by Hawaii natives or isle students going to college on the mainland. These days, most of the concertgoers have never been to the islands.
"They have a limited amount of access to things Hawaiian, so as their hunger grows, they're going to eventually find that in Hawaii," Wyatt said. "Hawaii is a beautiful place, probably the most beautiful on earth, but what makes it even more beautiful is the cultural aspects."