Grammys too close to call


POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's been six years since Charles Michael Brotman won the first Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Music Album, but predicting the winner remains an exercise in frustration. How much do the voters know about Hawaiian music? Do they vote on the basis of personal friendships and record label loyalties? Do they vote for artists whose names they can pronounce?

If the voters define “;best”; exactly as they did last year, Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho will win for the second straight year. Their album, “;He Nani,”; is a perfect follow-up to last year's winner—newly written Hawaiian-language songs sung in Hawaiian and accompanied by ukulele, acoustic guitar and piano, instruments that have been considered Hawaiian for more than a century.

However, by those high standards, Ho'okena's “;Nani Mau Loa”; is also impeccably Hawaiian and equally worthy. It, too, consists of Hawaiian-language songs, several new compositions among them, with Hawaiian vocals accompanied by traditional Hawaiian instruments—acoustic guitar, ukulele and acoustic bass.

This is the fifth year in a row that a compilation produced by Daniel Ho and his partners has made the final ballot. Three of the previous four won. The series generally lacks annotation of the standard set by George Winston's “;Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters”; series, and includes artists who are not “;legends”; or “;masters”; of slack key. On the other hand, the inclusion of ukulele players, steel guitarists and falsetto vocalist Richard Ho'opi'i makes some of them more than mere “;slack-key compilations.”;

Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom returns as a finalist for the fourth time—once with Willie K, and three times as a solo artist.

Gilliom's “;Family & Friends of Hawai'i”; is a collection of vocal duets set to producer Matt Catingub's mainstream pop orchestral arrangements. Will the voters find her remakes of six American pop hits and other pop-style English-language material more accessible than the more traditional Hawaiian-language recordings of Ho'okena and Carrera & Ho? And, will cutting the field from five finalists to four change the dynamics of the voting process?

The bottom line is this: Voters have four choices, and the winner will be the one most of the voters liked best.

Watch all the pretelecast Grammy ceremonies, including the Best Hawaiian Music Album award, at 1 p.m. Sunday at