Setting The Record Straight Regarding The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards

Aloha kākou. My esteemed colleague and friend Dr. Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman writes eloquently and passionately about Hawaiian music on her blog “Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure”, and I encourage artists, labels, producers, engineers, other industry professionals and fans to check it regularly. I owe much to Amy in my development as an ethomusicologist and budding academic, and for adding clarity to my thinking regarding many issues that surround the culture of music, but this does not mean we agree on everything. While we differ on many of the issues surrounding the Grammy Awards, their legitimacy when it comes to recognizing excellence in Hawaiian music, and other issues, I value her opinions and friendship.

Amy recently wrote a post on her blog about the recent announcement of the finalists for the recently consolidated Grammy category for Best Regional Roots album. This category includes Hawaiian, American Indian, Cajun, Zydeco, Polka and other region specific genres of music that have originated within the political boundaries of the United States. While I disagree with a number of her points and analysis, I will restrict my comments here to one glaring inaccuracy as it pertains to the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Here is the passage that I contest:

Many folks do not realize that the requirement of Hawaii residency in many Hōkū categories excludes the work of many artists who work on Hawaiian music outside Hawaiʻi. HARA has instituted one new “international” category that will go into effect this year.

To provide some background, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards were established to honor Hawai‘i recordings of all genres, some of the musical forms that had no place in the Grammy or any other award programs at that time. Like the Grammy Awards, the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards have grown in size, scope, exposure and significance. The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards were not established to honor or focus on Hawaiian music. Very few people know that in the first ten years of the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award, only once was a Hawaiian language song honored as “Song of the Year”–Tony Conjugacion’s “Ka Beauty A‘o Mānoa”. The significant successes, some may say dominance, of Hawaiian language songs and Hawaiian music CD releases in the awards is a more recent phenomenon.

Two and a half years ago, during our summer retreat in 2009, the HARA board voted to allow non-Hawai‘i artists and producers to enter releases in genres of music that were of Hawai‘i origination. These changes took effect on January 1, 2010–nearly two years ago. We responded to the concerns of non-Hawai‘i artists, producers and labels–including Amy–who lamented that excellence in Hawaiian music should be eligible in the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards no matter where it is recorded. Therefore, the statement that “the requirement of Hawaii residency in many Hōkū categories excludes the work of many artists who work on Hawaiian music outside Hawaiʻi” is inaccurate, and has been for nearly two years. The HARA board worked very hard to notify artists, producers and labels about the new eligibility guidelines, which rightful allowed mainland artists producing albums so that they could enter in the awards as long as they meet the criteria for Hawaiian Album, Island Music, Slack Key, Haku Mele and Hawaiian Language Performance. Let this be clear: all mainland and Hawai‘i releases that meet the criteria of these categories are eligible and included in the same category. Mainland and Hawai‘i artists and producers are now of equal stature in our entry guidelines, and compete in the same categories. Mainland releases can potentially be entered in seven categories in the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards.

One mainland artist did make the final ballot of the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards last year–Patrick Landeza (in the slack key category). Other notable mainland releases were not entered, even though the artists, labels and producers were aware of their eligibility. Patrick approached me at the Awards ceremony this year, and offered a very emotional mahalo for our academy’s acceptance and recognition of his work. I have to admit that I have received some negative feedback from some Hawai‘i members of our academy regarding my support for including mainland releases, but after seeing and talking with Patrick, I knew we did the right thing. It was disappointing that some eligible mainland releases were not submitted.

I should note some additional modifications to the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award guidelines: that mainland producers of compilations and anthologies that contain sufficient Hawaiian, slack key, or island music material are also eligible in those categories. Non-US producers of Hawaiian, slack key, or island music anthologies and compilations are likewise eligible in the International award. These changes guarantee that all genres of Hawai‘i originating music have a place in our awards, no matter who records them or where they are recorded. I realize that some of these changes are a bit nebulous, so I invite you to download a copy of the updated category guidelines from HARA’s Scrib.com site, and to contact me or the HARA office if you have any questions.

Regarding the International award, yes, it is true, we did establish a new separate category, and which will be awarded in 2012 for eligible recordings that are released in 2011. This is a single category for all international entries. Hawai‘i and mainland artists and producers are not eligible in this one category. All non-US releases that meet the criteria of the Hawaiian, slack key and island music categories can enter, as well as producers of compilations and anthologies that contain the requisite amount of Hawai‘i/Hawaiian content. We decided to keep this award separate, and make it adjudicated for at least the first year of its existence. We decided that we would prefer to have mainland artist sit at the same table with Hawai‘i artists when it came to Hawaiian, slack key, and island music genres, and I stand by that decision as well as our creating a separate, adjudicated award for non-U.S. releases.

Amy laments the lack of respect that critics of the Grammy voting process and results show to The Recording Academy. I lament the lack of respect given to the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts, its Board of Governors, and its members. In addition to accommodating mainland and international Hawaiian/Hawai‘i genre releases, we have responded directly to member criticisms such as the awkward pairing of R&B and Hip-Hop as a single category, and created separate categories for each. We have also had internal discussions regarding the issue of members voting in categories in which they are not qualified to judge quality. The Recording Academy did nothing to address the legitimate concerns of the Hawai‘i and broader Hawaiian music communities regarding the selection of the Hawaiian Grammy.

I have spoken to many people who believe that all of this discussion regarding the Grammy is much ado about nothing. Why do we spend so much time and effort talking about music, and discussing its many merits at all? I agree with the esteemed music scholar Dr. Aaron Fox, who argues that discourse about music “constitutes a formal object of equal importance to song and verbal art, not merely context, background or commentary”(1). Discussions about music are a significant area of study as the music itself is, and sometimes even more interesting. While passion and anger often accompany such discourse, I must credit Amy for leading me down a path, through our extensive discussion on these issues, that peels away much of the emotional baggage that often encumbers this subject.

Let me be clear–there are legitimate concerns regarding the politics and processes of The Recording Academy that cannot be blithly dismissed, and those legitimate concerns are not aided by hyperbolic statements made by critics of the awards. That fact that many Hawai‘i artists claim to be Grammy winners and aggressively advertise themselves as such when they have not won a Grammy does not endear them to those of us who do believe that a Grammy does hold some significance, or that it should. I have many more thoughts to share on Amy’s post, but will discuss them with her privately, and perhaps address them in future posts.

Citations:
1) Fox, A.A. 2004, Real country: music and language in working-class culture, Duke University Press, Durham.

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