The first Grammy nominees in the Hawaiian music category are, top row from left, Charles Brotman, producer of "Slack Key Guitar Vol. II," Keali'i Reichel, Roland and Robert Cazimero; and, bottom row, from left, Willie K, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Ho'okena.

Listen up!

Local artists have high hopes
for the new Hawaiian
Grammy category

It's Grammy time again -- the music awards ceremony takes place next Sunday -- and for the first time the prestigious event is including a Hawaiian music category.

"It's not like we've been hiding," joked Keali'i Reichel, one of five local nominees. "Hawaiians only have been playing music for 2,000 years, so I guess it's about time they discovered us."

This week in Features

In the days leading up to next Sunday's Grammy Awards, we will present daily profiles of the artists nominated in the new Hawaiian music category.

Tomorrow: Charles Brotman, producer of the compilation "Slack Key Guitar Vol. Two"

Tuesday: Ho'okena; nominated for "Cool Elevation"

Wednesday: Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K; "Amy and Willie Live"

Thursday: The Brothers Cazimero; "Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell"

Friday: Keali'i Reichel; "Ke'alaokamaile"

Saturday: The Grammy process, demystified

Next Sunday: Hawaii's artists partake of the L.A. experience leading up to the Grammy Award ceremony.

The Brothers Cazimero playfully lamented that Hawaii's "special secret" is being revealed.

"With all the publicity Hawaiian music will receive, we'll have to share it with the world," Robert Cazimero said, laughing. "It was inevitable."

Also nominated for the inaugural award are Ho'okena, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K, and Charles Brotman for a slack-key guitar compilation disc. While there will be only one winner, all of Hawaii and its musicians stand to gain. The Grammys bring a crowd of journalists and publicists to the entertainment capital, which could translate into increased recognition, record sales, performance fees and publicity campaigns for the celebrated artists, and Hawaiian music in general.

"Every nominee can say for the rest of his or her life that they were a Grammy nominee or the winner," said Alan Yamamoto, president of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists.

Being nominated will "pay" in other ways, he said.

"All will see a bump in records sales -- especially the winner -- and performance fees will definitely increase significantly for the winner, like they do for winners of the Hoku awards." (The Na Hoku Hanohano Awards are Hawaii's version of the Grammys and presented by HARA.)

"The mainland door for these nominated artists specifically, and Hawaiian music generally, is opening," said Matt Catingub, a former Grammy nominee and conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Pops Orchestra. "It's about time."

Nominees, local entertainers and promoters admit frustration that it has taken so long for the genre to be recognized by awards officials and that there is only a single "traditional" Hawaiian music category.

"Baby steps," says Manu Boyd, vocalist for Ho'okena. "Eventually the child will run."

Catingub wants to see at least three Hawaiian music categories, as has happened with country music. He calls the single category "an important step in the right direction to eventually recognizing the real music."

"Let's face it, no one since Don Ho or (Cecilio and Kapono) has really broken down that door and had mainstream acceptance. When they add a contemporary Hawaiian category, the door will be fully open."

Many in the Hawaii music industry agree that the first Grammy is a win for the Hawaiian people, culture and state.

"At least this first time out, we're all ohana," said Willie K, who is nominated with Gilliom for "Amy and Willie Live." "This is not about just individual pride or recognition, but for all those musicians before us who kept the music alive."

Gilliom agreed. "I wouldn't be here if not for them. I say mahalo to centuries of our people's music."

Na Leo Pilimehana's Nalani Choy said she knew the Grammy day would come, having seen Hawaiian music "grow and really develop" the last few decades.

"A lot has changed since the early days of 'Hawaii Calls' and Don Ho, which created an interest and a feeling, but now it's time for the mainland to hear the new Hawaiian music."

Local entertainers and promoters pay homage to Alfred Apaka and Robin Luke, but especially Ho, who had four albums on Billboard's hit list in the 1960s but never earned Grammy recognition.

"It was great back then because it showed that America would listen to music from here," Ho said. "Over here, we were doing happy Hawaiian music with some Hawaiian words in it to make it Hawaiian."

Ho won't concede any contribution he may have made to Hawaii's music scene.

"That was then and this is now," he said. "Suddenly we have people who know how to get this category in the Grammys to prove still that we have all kind music here."

Ho's influence over 40 years has been so strong that the mainland's impression of Hawaiian music is largely of him and the tiki-style exotica perpetuated in films and TV shows with Hawaii as a backdrop.

"It's still pretty much steel guitar, slack key and 'Blue Hawaii' stuff," Choy said. "Most of the contemporary Hawaiian music and certainly the traditional music we have here isn't being heard much on the mainland."

Entertainer Henry Kapono hopes those impressions will change. "Everyone used to only associate Hawaiian music with hula dancers, ukuleles, sweet-sounding melodies and hapa-haole stuff. Please, people across the pond, come visit and see how things have changed."

Ho singles out Reichel as being "as close culturally as you can get musically."

"He gets lots of record sales and radio play, which is a key to getting your name out there, to sell records and to win awards, whether it's a Hoku or Grammy."

Although Reichel is appreciative of the Grammy recognition, he said it doesn't make the music more or less important than it's been for centuries.

"It's wonderful that it's being recognized, but the music has always been credible," he said. "What's important is that the recognition may increase worldwide awareness of the Hawaiian culture, expand audiences and simply educate people about us."

GRAMMY RECOGNITION of Hawaiian music has been helped by Hawaii residents who have moved to the mainland and "took the culture with them," Kapono said.

"They're like emissaries and are making people more aware of Hawaii's native arts and culture," he said. "It's creating a familiarity."

Popular mainstream artists who have incorporated Hawaiian music in their albums, including Kenny Loggins and Jimmy Buffett, have also helped spread the word.

"It all helps to get the music out there and some respect from that side of the pond," Kapono sad. "It translates to 'I want to go there, and I want to hear more of that music.'"

Actor/singer Jim Nabors, who has recorded 46 albums and lived in Hawaii since the 1970s, compares the Hawaiian music evolution to that of country music. "It's not New York and it's not Hollywood, so where do we put it? The truth now is Hawaii and its music have become international, like country."

Na Leo's Choy says country music was regional until it was accepted in the large markets of New York and Los Angeles. "Now it's crossed into adult contemporary radio where you hear artists like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

"When there's a contemporary Hawaiian music category, there'll be artists who can make that same crossover."

Na Leo was ineligible for Grammy consideration because the trio's music is considered contemporary. The addition of such a category would likely attract a younger demographic, the majority of listeners for world music, Catingub said. "That's where most Hawaiian music has been shoved for so many years," he said.

Hawaiian music has had "an interesting place" on the mainland since the 1930s, beginning with Bing Crosby and the "Hawaii Calls" radio program, Nabors said.

"Hawaii has never lost its allure," he said. "It's still a dream, and people come to Hawaii to hear the music, learn about the culture, enjoy the scenery. Credit a lot of that to Don Ho."

Catingub added, "He put it on the map, along with Alfred Apaka, but Don made it mainstream."

Ironically, Ho's success might also have hurt today's traditional artists.

"So many people only remember Don Ho and still consider his music to be Hawaiian music," Catingub said. "The Grammy category will prove that there's something here besides Don."

Promoter Tom Moffatt points out that several Hawaii artists have been popular with mainland audiences, though not with Hawaiian music. They include Martin Denny, Yvonne Elliman and Bette Midler.

"Still if you ask just about anyone on the mainland to name a Hawaiian music artist, they'll say Don Ho," Moffatt said. "What does the average visitor want to do? See Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and Don Ho. That's all great, but there is a lot of great music here ready to be shared and heard."

The Grammy does a lot to bring that about, he said. "Grammy recognition screams to the world that we're an entity that produces great music. Hopefully, this will make mainland record companies realize there's something big here just ready to break."


Handicapping the Grammys

Local music experts predict who'll win the first Grammy for Best Hawaiian Album

Tom Moffatt

"Keali'i Reichel should win it. His album best fits the traditional Hawaiian music criteria as the most Hawaiian. He's also pretty well known on the mainland, as are the Brothers Cazimero, who could take it, too."

Matt Catingub
Honolulu Symphony Pops conductor

"I wouldn't be surprised if the Brothers take it. They've been around the longest, been recognized for so many years for what they've contributed to Hawaiian music and have a mainland following. Keali'i also has a following there. You have to remember all those transplanted Hawaii people who can vote. But bottom line is that the Grammys, when it's all said and done, is a popularity contest."

Jim Nabors
Actor, singer

"The Cazimeros are connected to Hawaiian music for a lot of those mainland people and Hawaii voters for their 30-plus years of performing. I think mainland voters will go for the 'Slack Key Guitar' album. I know the industry and I know how it thinks. Slack key is like jazz, and it has its own coterie of people who love it and are very loyal."

Henry Kapono
Singer, composer

"Well, Willie and Amy are more recent and her Hawaiian music is incredible, but I think Keali'i will win. He gets a lot of publicity, but then the Brothers have been around a long time and (mainland) people know them, too."

Nalani Choy
Singer, Na Leo

"Keali'i or the Brothers. Both are known album after album for the finest quality in songwriting, musical production, performances. You cannot argue with their success: the Brothers for decades, Keali'i more recently. But 'Slack Key Guitar' is a dark horse because there are loyal followers of the music, and it doesn't have that hindrance of the Hawaiian-language vocals, so some voters can gravitate to it easier."

Alan Yamamoto
President of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts

"My gut says Keali'i, but there's a lot of awareness for the Brothers Cazimero because of how long they've been around, though it's not supposed to be a career award. Slack key has made a lot of inroads in the industry and touched a lot of mainland people. Then you have the unquantifiable factors for voters, like, 'Which one of these (people's names) can I pronounce?'"

Don Ho

"Keali'i. He has a beautiful voice, is exquisite with the Hawaiian language and incorporates the culture into all of his music."


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