Letters To The Editor

Don Chapman
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April 06, 2011 - MidWeek
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Hawaii is our Mainland

The writers of this letter are members of a younger generation of musical artists who collectively have experienced some “commercial” and personal success in traditional and hybrid forms of Hawaii’s music. On occasion, we’ve been honored with the opportunity to play in lineups that include both Uncle Cyril Pahinui and Daniel Ho. One of us has met Auntie Amy Stillman and discussed Hawaiian music between here and Michigan. Aside from what they might wear to the Grammy Awards, we believe each of these people (including Tia Carrere) are kind, decent and humble people who do care about Hawaii, its people and its indigenous/local culture.

At first glance, recent MidWeek letters by Uncle Cyril (individually), Daniel, Tia and Auntie Amy (collectively) appear to represent four themes in our Hawaiian music industry:

A perceived division, commercial artistic opportunism, a case of the “‘alamihi crab syndrome” and/or the airing of “dirty laundry.”

We concede some truth on all points. But a deeper look reveals debate that distracts us from the elephant in the room and mirrors the underlying symptoms and circumstances they arise from. Let’s pick up the dirty laundry, “tro wata” on a towel and spank ourselves.

Though not endemic to Hawaii, the “tension between culture and commerce, authenticity and appropriation” described in a recent New York Times article on the “Hawaiian” Grammy is correct. We think Uncle Cyril is right. We should question people’s motives, actions and our industry itself. The question is who, what and how?

Like Hollywood and its glitz, the lives of Isle “celebrities” exemplify a larger than life take on our greatest aspirations and achievements, as well as our limits and flaws. Drop back a few frames, or peel an extra layer, and you see a recurring theme common among all Island people: the tragicomic failure to believe in ourselves despite evidence to the contrary. This failure pervades our community and is not just a symptom of our music industry. It manifests itself in our policy of over-dependency on the “company store” (oil and food), our excessive need for validation and consultation from beyond our shores and our state’s failure to retain much of the talent it begets. It is the cause of depression, great tears and the increasing diaspora of families and friends who feel they must leave Hawaii nei.

The truth is Island people are more beautiful, soulful, strong and resilient than we think. It is the beauty around us and in our communities that makes us so. It is because of this place and our culture that others come to love how we go about life and express ourselves. We can be humble, and exercise and acknowledge these qualities.

Our small Island community is bursting with talent. Athletically, per capita we put out more talent than some states combined. Our Islands’ artistic and musical wealth is incomparable.

Rather than believe and invest in ourselves, we continue to allot greater faith and power in the judgment of others. Yet all of our kupuna have made great strides, paved unique and influential paths, and we will continue to do so. The vibrant language of this land, our spirit and ability to articulate our values and vision increases as we gather the collective will to own our future, and restore our resources and spirits.

This letter is a call to the burgeoning leadership of youth, to the makua and kupuna in our musical and our greater community that believe in the strength within us all. It is a call for action to bring out and invest in our better selves. It is a call for leadership that is proactive and less concerned with what can be taken now than what can be grown and paid forward. We call on the greatest aspirations of our kupuna through servant leadership and aloha. Hawai’i can be so much more.

This is the essence of self-determination. The elephant in the room is our fear of the greatness within all of us. The Grammy and its audience has yet to mature and should be given the time to grow and remain. We will all change its role and purpose in time.

Hawaii is our Mainland.

Kale Hannahs, Kevin Chang, Mailani Makainai and Lee Ann Punua

Send your letters to MidWeek Letters, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 500, Honolulu, HI. 96813; by fax to 585-6324, or by email to dchapman@midweek.com. Please include your name, address and daytime and evening phone numbers. We print only the letters that include this information, but only your name and area of residence will appear in print. Letters may be edited for clarity and space.
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