As music changes,
will the Hokus?

The Hawai'i Academy of
Recording Arts must re-examine
its award criteria, vp says

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

It is often observed that the Board of Governors of the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts is like a bear that comes out of hibernation once a year just long to present the Hoku Awards.

There's more to it than that.

HARA has worked effectively in recent years to build awareness of Hawaii's music outside the islands.

After years of wheel-spinning HARA is getting serious about working with the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences to introduce a category for Hawaiian music at the Grammys. And HARA is working directly with record chains nationwide to increase the visibility of island music.

When it comes to questions about HARA, Alan Yamamoto is the man to talk to. Officially he's vice president of the board, but the board has been without an elected president since Krash Kealoha resigned in 1996.

So it is Yamamoto fielding questions about the Hokus, HARA and possible changes in the way the awards are made.

Yamamoto says HARA sees "an opportunity for big big growth" in exposing Hawaiian music in other markets.

To that end, the board, with the support of the state, is working with big retailers such as Tower Records and Borders Books & Music to carry island sounds on the mainland.

Does that mean the board will finally eliminate the requirement that a product of the Hawaii recording industry must be "primarily distributed in Hawaii" to be eligible for a Hoku?

The issue has been smoldering for almost 15 years. In 1984, the board decided that an album of original songs written and performed by a Hawaii resident and recorded in a Hawaii studio was not eligible for a Hoku because the producer had succeeded in getting the artist signed to a national label. However, albums of songs by mainland composers recorded by Hawaii residents in mainland studios were eligible if they were released on local labels.

Supporters of the "local label" policy got peevish when Kauai's Glenn Medeiros was ruled eligible for an award - and won - in 1988; his debut single had been recorded here but he had earned a deal with a national label by Hoku time.

George Winston's excellent Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters Series is recorded by Hawaii residents who are signed to a mainland label with international distribution through Windham Records. This makes Winston's series ineligible because it is no longer "primarily distributed in Hawaii" either.

Meanwhile, Hawaii-based distributors Hula Records and The Mountain Apple Co., which represents such artists as the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and the Brothers Cazimero, have nationwide reach. And more island artists, such as Na Leo Pilimehana and Keali'i Reichel, are earning contracts with national labels. How does HARA view this situation?

"I think a lot of what's happened in the last year will require the board to relook (at it). The new board members, Lea Uehara, Teresa Bright and Manu Boyd, are known as being more traditional, but they've been more open to looking at the different styles of music.

"One of the concerns we've had is that some people seem to be see HARA as the 'Hawaiian Music Industry Awards' rather than the 'Hawaii Music Industry. . .' The new board members are concerned that we not exclude or ignore music that isn't considered 'Hawaiian'," Yamamoto said.

Another simmering issue is the Hoku awards show itself. This year, the awards were presented in two segments. The awards for excellence in the technical categories were presented during a non-televised, first-night ceremony, giving the impression that they were less important.

The Hoku for Best Anthology album was given the not-worthy-of-prime-time award treatment. So were the culturally significant scholarships, the Bankoh Ki Ho'alu Award and the ASCAP Composers' Award. That policy will almost certainly remain in effect in 1998.

Yamamoto says that making the Hoku ceremony a two-night event was an experiment that worked. "Over 90 percent" of those who commented to board members liked it. The 1998 show will likely be another two-nighter, but with the dinner the first night and a straight awards show the second.

Another frequent point of criticism is one of perspective: Are these awards for excellence intended exclusively to perpetuate native Hawaiian music or to perpetuate and encourage excellence in all the styles of music that island residents record here?

For example, the island group Tenderoni sings rock and has a national recording contract with Yab Yum/Epic Records and Sony Music. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, the Grammy-winning producer and recording artist, is writing a song for the group's first nationally released single.

Will the group get Hoku recognition, even though it doesn't record in Hawaiian?

Yamamoto says, "There's concern (on the board) that the rock categories aren't being recognized. With the kind of exposure Tenderoni has gotten they (still) didn't get the support among the academy members.

"Here's an act that's going to be a breakthrough act for Hawaii nationally and the academy members didn't recognize them. We can see there's a problem. We're going to be looking at it."

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