During a post-Grammy celebration party that took place at Puako on the Big Island, the musicians involved with the award-winning "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2" shared a toast: From left are Charles Brotman, Charlie Recaido, John Keawe, Randy Lorenzo, Ken Emerson, Keoki Kahumoku, Jeff Peterson and Sonny Lim. Also on the album, but not pictured, are John Cruz and Bryan Kessler.

Local Grammy controversy
strikes sour note

Charles Brotman's "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2" Grammy win was a coup for local musicians who had sought Grammy recognition for years. But right after the win, in the inaugural award for Best Hawaiian Album, which should have been a source of pride for all, the backlash began.

Brunch on the beach

Featuring entertainment by Grammy winner Charles Brotman, with John Cruz and Charles Recaido, plus Grammy nominated Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom:

Where: Kalakaua Avenue fronting the Hyatt Regency

When: 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free

Call: 923-1094


Jeff Peterson, one of the featured artists on Grammy-winning "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2" performs:

Where: Pacific Guardian Center, 737 Bishop St.

When: Noon to 1 p.m. March 25

Admission: Free

Call: 523-5549

The four nominated groups and artists who didn't win began fielding calls of condolences and some outrage from friends, fans and family in Hawaii over the fact that Brotman is not Hawaiian.

Even Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director and professor at the University of Hawaii's Center for Hawaiian Studies, got into the act, telling a local television news reporter that non-Hawaiians awarded a non-Hawaiian for packaging Hawaiian culture.

Which put nonwinners, including Robert Cazimero and his record producer, Mountain Apple Co. owner Jon de Mello, and Keali'i Reichel and his producer, Jim Linkner, in the position of trying to calm the folks back home, saying that the win was neither "an outrage" nor "another case of those mainland haoles giving it to a haole" and "screwing Hawaiians again."

Randy Lorenzo, one of the winning slack-key artists and recipient of 11 Hoku awards, was angered by Kameeleihiwa's remarks.

"What she's saying is that only Hawaiians should perform Hawaiian music and only Hawaiians should be allowed to enter the Hawaiian music category," Lorenzo said recently at a private Grammy celebration party at Puako on the Big Island. "That's racist, plain and simple.

"(Slack key) is Hawaiian music, and that's all there is to that. I'm so offended that there's this resurgence of haole vs. Hawaiian thing. Aren't we past that?

"I'm Hawaiian, and our music is for anyone to enjoy, to listen, to play. How can we all live together with comments like hers? Music is a universal language."

What Kame'eleihiwa, who did not return several messages left for her at her UH office, didn't say -- or didn't know -- is that eight of 10 guitarists on the winning CD are at least part Hawaiian.

"Hawaii must be proud that its music finally is being recognized," Robert Cazimero told a caller. "Slack key is very Hawaiian, and the CD is filled with fine guitarists, many Hawaiians.

"This is a time for joy and unity."

Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, kumu hula of Kuhai Halau O Kawaikapuokalani Pa Olapa Kahiko and Merrie Monarch judge, is a voting member of the Grammy academy and the Hawaii Association of Recording Artists. Hewett was a proponent of a rule that would have required albums in the Hawaiian category to comprise 100 percent Hawaiian language. That rule was struck down.

"I called Charles to congratulate him and said, 'You may not be Hawaiian, but you are perpetuating a Hawaiian tradition,'" Hewett said.

Hewett also received telephone calls from people criticizing the "non-Hawaiian" selection.

"I tried to give them the right perspective that it's still Hawaiian music," he said. "Most of them thought Charles was the only one on the CD, so I had to tell them about all the Hawaiians who played."

The award is for Hawaiian music, and not just Hawaiians are eligible, Hewett said.

"That point of view distressed me," he said.

Linkner said being Hawaiian "should not be a prerequisite for the award."

"If you're supporting the culture, you're supporting the culture," he said. "It should not be a race-based award, but based on artistic culture that promotes the Hawaiian culture."

Lorenzo shows the plaque he received.

WASHINGTON STATE-born Brotman has lived in Hawaii for more than 15 years and taught guitar at the University of Hawaii for nine. Moments after winning the Grammy, he received a call from a Hawaii TV reporter who "implied 'how dare you, a non-Hawaiian, winning this first Grammy,'" said Jody Brotman, Charles' sister and business manager of his label, Palm Records. She declined to name the station or reporter.

"That hurt all of us, but especially Charles," she said. "This call came from our home."

Brotman, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Waimea on the Big Island, didn't mention any negative reaction in Hawaii when interviewed by mainland reporters. But he did name all the musicians on the CD and credited slack-key greats like Gabby Pahinui for passing down the tradition.

THERE ARE understandable reasons for some of the negative responses. People from within and outside Hawaii's music industry didn't understand Grammy criteria for what qualifies as a Hawaiian album.

Also, for weeks leading up to awards ceremony, Hawaii media and HARA members predicted a win for the Cazimeros or Reichel.

Reichel won eight awards at last year's local Na Hoku Hanohano Awards ceremony, and the Cazimeros' three-decade career, body of work and 36 career Hoku awards caused people to think of them as front-runners.

The slack-key CD had fewer record sales than Reichel's or the Cazimeros' nominated albums and contained no Hawaiian language.

Perhaps the biggest and least-discussed factor for slack key's win rests on pianist George Winston's shoulders. Since 1985, Winston's Dancing Cat label has produced 36 slack-key albums with Keola Beamer, Sonny Chillingworth, Ledward Kaapana, George Kahumoku Jr., Dennis Kamakahi, Ray Kane, Ozzie Kotani, George Kuo and Cyril, Bla and Martin Pahinui. All toured the mainland.

"George Winston set the tone for this Grammy win," said de Mello, who explained that mainlanders' perception of "traditional Hawaiian music" differs from that of kamaaina.

De Mello, who is the distributor for Brotman's Palm Records and for another nominee, Ho'okena, is well aware of Grammy voter demographics. There are about 16,500 Grammy voters, with half living east of the Mississippi River, he said.

"There are a lot of pickers and guitar players back (East), so what do you think they recognize when they look at the ballot?" he said.

By comparison, there are fewer than 100 voters in Hawaii, although hundreds more would be eligible if they joined the Grammy organization, de Mello said.

Membership costs $100 annually, or $180 for two years.

ALTHOUGH THERE were more than 100 music categories this year, Grammy members are allowed to vote only in seven. The organization asks members to vote in genres in which they understand the music.

"It's very easy to understand what happened with the Hawaii award if you're in the music business," De Mello said. "It's called f-a-m-i-l-i-a-r-i-t-y."

Linkner, who said he was "very surprised and disappointed" with the slack-key win, said Winston did "a great job to introduce slack key to the country."

"He ... educated audiences," he said. "So everything worked out true to what the Grammy people had explained to us.

"We were warned ... that (for a Hawaiian music category) there would have to be an educated, informed vote about the nominees. We assumed that the majority of people who were going to vote would be from Hawaii, but obviously, the vote came from the mainland."

ANOTHER miscalculation was thinking that winning multiple Hoku Awards would lead to a Grammy.

"I'll bet Hawaii's Grammy voters voted according to who won Hokus," de Mello said.

Hewett said the Hokus "may belong to Hawaii, but the Grammys aren't concerned at all about our awards here.

"We went into the Grammys knowing that; we knew the Grammy business," he said. "If we want to play at this level, then people who are eligible to vote need to join Grammy, but know full well what you're getting yourself into.

"Make sure you know all the rules, and then don't cry if you lose."

Linkner and Reichel believed that "the heaviest competition" would be among the four vocal groups, including the Brothers Cazimero, Ho'okena, Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom because "so much stress was put on the Hawaiian language prominence."

"We ... were wrong," Linkner said.

ONE THING ALL the nominees agreed on is the need to separate vocal and instrumental categories.

"The Hawaiian language lyrics are poetry; so much of the culture is promoted in the music form of a vocal album," Linkner said. "To have attached a single vocal personality or group to the award ... would have moved the category forward."

When the nominations were announced last December, no one seemed concerned that an instrumental album was included.

"No one expected it to win," said Linkner. "Slack key really isn't unique to Hawaii, so I don't really understand why it fell into the category. It's prevalent here but not uniquely Hawaiian.

"These aren't sour grapes, but slack key is easy to embrace ... because it's simplistic, very accessible, very nice."

Hewett disagrees.

"Slack key is Hawaiian music," he said. "And it's the music the (voters) chose."

Hewett attended several meetings here beginning two years ago when Grammy executives arrived to discuss criteria for a Hawaiian music category. Hawaiian language requirement suggestions ran as high as 100 percent to as little as 25 percent, Hewett said.

"I was passionate that if hula is the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people, then the blood that beats in that heart is our language," he said.

When the final criteria were announced, no percentage of Hawaiian language lyrics was specified, with the understanding that Hawaiian music or language had to be "prominent" in the music.

"We figured that it meant 51 percent," Hewett said.

It didn't, according to a former Northwestern Grammy official. "Prominence" meant a Hawaiian theme has to be prominent, whether a recording was instrumental or vocal.

"Eventually, (mainland voters) will realize the importance of the vocals and that the Hawaiian language carries the culture; they will eventually get it," de Mello said.

Manu Boyd, lead singer for Ho'okena, said a single category combining instrumental and vocal albums is "stage one."

"This is a baby step, and the baby, the category, is going to grow," he said.

Hewett agreed.

"We all have to work toward having more categories," he said. "This has opened the door. ... If we continue to work with Grammy people in a positive way, it will happen.

De Mello said it's "a big task" for Hawaii music lovers, musicians and the local recording industry to "untangle about 100 years of perception that Hawaiian music is Arthur Godfrey, Bing Crosby and Do Ho."

De Mello predicts twice as many Hawaiian nominees will try for next year's Grammy.

"Every musician in Hawaii will all be thinking they can beat slack key," he said.

Some Ho'okena members and de Mello have joked that their next CDs will be called "Cool Elevation Slack Key" and "Some Call It Slack Key ... Don't Tell," respectively.

MEANWHILE, De Mello wonders how mainland Grammy voters feel about Hawaiian words. He doesn't think there'll be a Grammy-winning album with a Hawaiian word in the title "for a few years."

"As soon as you put a Hawaiian phrase in the title, it becomes a tongue twister for people on the mainland who don't know what it is," he said.

Matt Catingub, Honolulu Symphony Pops musical director and a former Grammy nominee, says: "It's great that this year's Hawaiian music Grammy was a general award.

"It lets a lot of musicians and not just one person run around saying they're the first," he said.

Maui-born Jeff Peterson, one of the winning CD's guitarists, agrees.

"What's really so beautiful about this recognition is that it's not for one person, but for many people," said Peterson, who performs at Michel's at the Colony Surf. "This award is all for all slack-key musicians who traveled all over to spread the music and the people we all learned from. The tradition is being carried on."

Catingub, who was raised in Los Angeles where his music career began, takes the Grammys with a grain of salt.

"Knowing what wins and what doesn't win every year, well, there's not a year that goes by that you don't ask, 'How did that happen?'" he said. "You can't take the Grammys too seriously because you'll get your heart broken every time."

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