Category Archives: Music

Back On (The) Board

hokuAfter a two and a half year long respite from the Board of Governors of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts, I’m back. Or at least I will be back officially after the swearing-in ceremony at the General Membership meeting. Mahalo to the current members of the board for accepting my offer to step back in and fill a vacant seat on the board. The General Membership meeting will be held on November 11, 2015 at Island Sound Studios in Hawai‘i Kai. I hope to see many members there. Please contact the HARA office for more information by calling (808) 593-9424 or emailing for more information.

One of the responsibilities I happily undertook during my previous time on the board – and will again – was handling the production of a newsletter, updating of the website and social media presences, and being a point of contact for members with questions or concerns about the organization, the awards, and entry process. So if anyone has anything to ask, feel free to contact me. I can’t respond in an official capacity until after November 11, but hopefully can provide some answers or insight.

I like to believe that musicians put out recordings as artistic expression as well as a means to support themselves and their families. The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards and other such programs play a significant role in gaining exposure and (hopefully) sales. Understanding that, it is surprising when I’m contacted by industry professionals who don’t understand the awards, its entry requirements and guidelines. Please educate yourself. Know the time frame in which your recording must be released in order to be eligible for entry. Know the deadline by which your release must be entered. Know the criteria that determine the category or categories for which your recording is eligible. And if this is not clear – ASK!

Examples: If you want to have a recording entered in the “Hawaiian Album of the Year” category, know that 75% of the tracks must be in the Hawaiian language. Most genre categories have a 75% quantum. Know that if you are a mainland member, your releases are only eligible to be entered in the Hawaiian, Slack Key, Island Music, ‘Ukulele, Haku Mele, and Hawaiian Language Performance categories. Know that by rule all Christmas themed releases must be entered in the Christmas category. So if you live on the mainland and record a Hawaiian Christmas CD, it is not eligible to be entered in the awards. Anywhere. These are just a few examples. Yes it is complicated, and this is why it is behooves everyone to inquire and be informed.

I doubt that many of us really want to consider these things when recording and preparing a release. We don’t want these kinds of considerations to influence our art. But ignore these guidelines at your own peril. During my prior stint on the board, I spoke to many members who were upset at not being able to enter recordings in the categories that they wanted. But they should have considered these factors before finalizing the release.

Submission Forms and Ch…Ch…Changes

The submission guidelines, downloadable submission form and an online submission form for the 2016 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards are now available on the awards website. Please note some recent and important changes:

EP (Extended Play) Releases. The board changed the criteria for Extended Play releases. Previously the criteria included both a minimum and maximum number of tracks, as well as a maximum to play time (less than 30 minutes). Now, the criteria simply states that it must have more than 3 (three) tracks (read: a minimum of 4 tracks) and no more than 8 (eight). There is no maximum playtime. Important note: Since the Single category stipulates that a Single release can have only one or two songs, releases that have 3 (three) tracks cannot be entered in Single nor as EP releases.

Genre Categories. Releases entered in any of the genre categories must now contain 75% newly-recorded or previously unreleased material by the artist to qualify for submission. Anthologies, as albums of previously released material, are the only exception. The Anthology category stipulates that least 75% of the album must have previously released material from at least two (2) different releases.

Slack Key. The board and selection committee have refined the criteria for the Slack Key category. Here is the new language:

“Slack Key Guitar or Ki Ho‘alu Kika is a uniquely Hawaiian approach to guitar playing that is unlike any other guitar style in the world. It gets its name from the way the guitar is tuned – some of the strings are loosened or slacked. It is usually characterized as having an alternating bass line while the melody is plucked on the higher pitched strings.

Techniques and ornamentations include slides, pull-offs, add-ons, hammers, slurs, and harmonics (sometimes referred to as chimes). The music sometimes reflects hula rhythms and is characterized by turnarounds or “vamps”, phrases, and chordal structure of the compositions. Just playing in an alternate tuning does NOT make it slack key. It’s the dedication to the bass in support of the melody that differentiates it.”

In my opinion, there are many recent slack key releases that have begun to wander further and further from the foundations of slack key, incorporating more and more non-Hawaiian influences, and some are becoming indistinguishable from other folk, “world music” and Americana acoustic guitar recordings. Artists are certainly free to do so and call their releases “slack key” if they like. But the Academy – for the purposes of the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards – has chosen to require a closer adherence to the peformance characteristics that make eligible recordings more idenitfiably “slack key.” This decision was made prior to my return to the board, but I support it.

Haku Mele. There is a limit on the number of composers/composition teams that may be entered from any single release: one (1) composition per composer per release is permitted. Compositions co-written with one or more composers may be submitted up to a total of three (3) distinct composer(s)/composer groups per release. This change was implemented last year for the 2015 awards, but it is worth reiterating here.

Deadline For Entries. Friday, January 15, 2016 by 4:00 p.m. All submission forms and deposit material (CDs, DVDs, lyric/translation copies; and for online digital releases only: track sheets, credit listings and cover art) must be received at the HARA office by the deadline, without exception.

Please feel free to visit these pages and read my previous ruminations on the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards, and if you have questions – ask!

More Information

Nā Hōkū Hanohano 101, Part 3: Award Categories

hokuIt is important for HARA members, individuals who may submit product for consideration, and fans to understand the various categories for which Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards are given each year. There are 34 total awards, and they can be grouped into four broad award categories – General Awards (10 awards), Genre Awards (18), Technical Awards (2), and Adjudicated Awards (4). Please note that this article is current as of April, 2014, and may not reflect any changes in criteria or eligibility that the board may implement after that time.

The following are the General Categories: Continue reading

Nā Hōkū Hanohano 101, Part 2: Eligibility

hokuDisclaimer: I am not a member of the Board of Governors of HARA. What I write here is based on my prior experience as a board member, continuting interaction with them and other members, and continuing service on the selection committee. Hopefully it will help, inform and entertain you, but take it with a grain of salt, and a dash of sarcasm.

The first hurdle to understanding the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards entry process is knowing what determines a release’s eligibility for the awards, and there are several factors that play into this: Continue reading

Nā Hōkū Hanohano 101, Part 1: Educate Yourself


Disclaimer: I am not a member of the Board of Governors of HARA. What I write here is based on my prior experience as a board member, continuting interaction with them and other members, and continuing service on the selection committee. Hopefully it will help, inform and entertain you, but take it with a grain of salt, and a dash of sarcasm.

Since last December or so, I’ve gotten a lot of messages, texts, and emails from folks asking for help or advice about their entries for the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards (there is a different season for Grammy requests). Sometimes I feel like I need to add “Music Awards Program Consultant” to my résumé. While it may seem more convoluted than necessary, it’s really not. It is a challenge for the Board and office staff because of the number of categories and variety of criteria that guide them in placing releases in various categories. The changing landscape of the recording industry also requires that they adjust as necessary. Continue reading

He Ahupuaʻa Ke Mele

“Ke Ahupuaʻa” by Mele McPherson.

“Ke Ahupuaʻa” by Mele McPherson.

I was thrilled to have my paper, entitled “He Ahupuaʻa Ke Mele: The Ahupuaʻa Land Division as a Conceptual Metaphor for Hawaiian Language Composition and Vocal Performance”, published in the journal Ethnomusicology Reivew today. I started it over five and a half years ago in a single 10 hour (or so) writing binge that started at about 2 A.M. on a cold morning in Dunedin, N.Z. After many revisions and much restructuring, and trying to weave western academic theory with a Hawaiian conceptual model (the ahupua‘a) it was finally ready to see the light of day.

Mahalo palena ‘ole to everyone who contributed their mana‘o and support doing this long process, and to the editors of Ethnomusicology Review for feeling it worthy of publication..

2013 Hawai‘i Grammy Entry Update

I really don’t mean to be “Grammy Awards Central” when it comes to news and information for Hawai‘i artists, but posting here will help me keep from repeating myself in emails.

The HARA office and I prepared and submitted entries for 36 or so CDs and songs in a variety of categories. All releases are reviewed by a committee of individuals knowledgeable in those categories and the genres included in them. In searching out our entries, it seems that these committees did reclassify some entries. There was at least one releases entered in Regional Roots (where Hawaiian music releases go) that was moved to folk. Two Hawai‘i releases that were submitted to “Americana” were moved into “Pop”, and one “Alternative” entry was moved to “Rock.”

Sorry folks, but this is the Academy’s prerogative. You can call and inquire of complain, but the final entry list is final and they won’t change it. All you could do if you are unhappy with your placement is tell them “remove my release from contention”, which means if you were to receive enough votes to make the final ballot, you would be kept off. Would anyone really want that?

I think that our local Alternative community is a great example of a group that is defining what “Alternative” means in Hawai‘i. But that doesn’t mean that the national would agree with the music fitting their criteria of “Alternative.” Same goes for“rock.” Does anyone thing that most of the country thinks of Jack Johnson as a rock artist? He won Best Rock Album at Nā Hōkū Hanohano a few years ago. That’s not a criticism as all, but another example of how we define genres differently.

Fortunately I believe that all but one of our Hawai‘i releases in Regional Roots was kept there. Good luck to all of our Hawai‘i entries.

The Nā Hōkū Hanohano Music Festival Workshops for 2013 Next Friday

f1f2d8_f10a8280dd6755369cc9e67c77406baa.png_srz_210_110_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzThe Nā Hōkū Hanohano Music Festival Workshops for 2013 will be held next Friday May 24th at the Ala Moana Hotel. Pricing: $25 All Day Pass, $10 Single Workshop, Fees waived for HARA Members and Students (pre-registration required).

There will be two tracks, the first featuring panels on radio airplay in Hawai‘i, music education, promotion, and two different haku mele panels. The second track is performance focused and features panels on the contemporary music scene, and ‘ukulele and slack key performance. I’ll be a member of the music education and haku mele panels. Hope to see you there!

Tis The Season… Again

It is Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award season again. The final ballot was announced today, and Facebook is exploding with posts expressing gratitude, humility, honor, and respect for nominations. It is definitely a feel-good kind of day all around. 

NaHoku2007_4It’s also a great time to remember why we are in the industry and how we got here. I’ve not met anyone who started playing music because they expected to win a Grammy or Nā Hōkū Hanohano award, though I’m certain that there are some out there. For many, it started out as a way to express our artistic inclinations, a way to make a living, or to gain the attention of the opposite sex. Being honored by the members of an industry association like the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts of the national Recording Academy came somewhere down the road, after the hours of practice, composting, gigging, touring, and recording. Whether we’re nominated or not, win or not, we continue to make music and enrichen Hawai‘i and the world.

AlohaKeauhouPersonally, I’ve lost track of my Nā Hōkū nominations. The two I have this year with Kenneth Makuakāne are probably my 8th and 9th or so, most with Kenneth, one with Mailani and another with Harry B. Soria for the John Kameaaloha Almeida compilation release. The number really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the warm feeling that comes with the nominations and knowing that members of the Hawai‘i recording industry respect our work and think highly enough of it to place it on the final ballot. I must say that this year’s nominations in Haku Mele and Single of the Year are extra special because Aloha Keauhou for was done as a tribute to Ke Ali‘i Bernice Pauahi Bishop and her legacy that is being perpetuated at Kamehameha Schools.

I wish I had the time to personally congratulate all of my friends who have garnered nominations, but that would be about 95% of those on the final ballot anyway. So congratulations to all!

Aloha Keauhou In “Song of the Year” and “Single of the Year” for 2103 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards

AlohaKeauhou“Aloha Keauhou”, with music by Kenneth Makuakāne and lyrics by yours truly, is on the preliminary ballot for the 2013 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards in the Single of the Year Category and Song of the Year. We originally composed it for the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest in 2012, and Kenneth re-recorded it for the CD “Ho‘ōla Lāhui, Ho‘oulu Pae‘āina”, released last year. The senior girls won the women’s division of the competition with their performance, and tied for first with their language use. You can listen to the recording on my page for “Aloha Keauhou”, which includes a lot of the story behind the composition, and links to the video of the senior girls’ performance.

HARA voters, I hope you will give it a listen, and if you believe it is worthy, please consider including it in your five choices for Song of the Year and Single of the Year. Mahalo!

Memories Of Kamehameha Schools’ Song Contest, 2012

On the evening of March 16, 2012, my wife and I traveled to Honolulu to attend the 92nd annual Kamehameha Schools Song Contest which was held that evening at the Neil Blaisdell Center. It was a night that Kenneth Makuakāne and I and our families had looked forward to for over four months. Back in the fall of last year, we had been asked to contribute a composition for this year’s song contest. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of Kamehameha Schools. The theme of this year’s contest was “Ho‘ōla Lāhui, Ho‘oulu Pae ‘Āina — Vibrant People, Thriving Lands”. Ten composers and composer teams were asked to create new mele that honor significant parcels of land that comprise the Bishop Estate. Some of them help fund the Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’ vision, and other are rich cultural resources.

Kenneth and I were asked to compose a new mele for Keauhou, Ka‘ū, on Hawai‘i island. This is a different area than Keauhou, Kona. It is situated just on the border between Ka‘ū and Puna, on the Ka‘u side of the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. I was aware of the place, but had no idea of the work that Kamehameha Schools is engaged in there. Previously, large sections of the ahupua‘a were covered with koa trees. Many years ago, many of the koa trees were felled, and subsequently much of the land was leased for grazing. The school later bought back the leases and began reforestation efforts. We were invited to spend a day in Keauhou, and because of work commitments we were unable to visit Keauhou together. We did visit on separate dates, and subsequently shared our experiences. We were both amazed at the efforts being made to reestablish the koa forests, keep out invasive plants and animals, and how dedicated the staff were to their task.

Over the course of the next two months we worked on the mele, sharing concepts, words, melodies, and verses, using the telephone, Skype, emails, instant messages, and occasionally (!) working face to face. The mele essentially documented the day of our first impressions, our experiences, and our hopes for Keauhou. As the group I traveled with moved through the ahupua‘a, we were followed by ‘io (hawks) that watched our every move. When cautiously entered the Kīlauea Forest Preseve (an area that escaped deforestation and remains a pristine habitat), we were observed by the ‘elepaio birds of the forest. I watch as one flew by me and missed my head by only about a foot. All of these experiences became part of the mele “Aloha Keauhou”.

In December, the mele and melody were complete, and turned over to Randie Fong at KS. Our understanding was that one of their regular arrangers would create the vocal arrangments for the students. Shortly thereafter they contacted Kenenth and asked if he would do the arrangment himself. I helped him by formatting the charts in Finale, but otherwise the arrangements were all his. Shortly thereafter, Randie informed Kenneth that the senior girls would be performing our mele.

We arrived at Blaisdell Arena on the evening of March 16 and met the other composers. I had heard that Kellen and Līhau Hannahs, Dennis Kamakahi and Keawe and Tracie Lopes were some of the composers, but didn’t know who else had been asked to contribute mele. Manu Boyd, Carlos Andrade, Ke‘ala Kwan, Nālani Choy, Kama Hopkins were the others. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was the only composer there that wasn’t a graduate of Kamehameha. Of course Kenneth is a KS gradute, and since we collaborate together so frequently, they graciously allowed him to invite me to collaborate on the mele. Still, it was a humbling relevation.

I won’t go into a long description of the event, and would encourage everyone to watch the program on the KS website. I can only say that I was astounded by the mele and the variety and quality of the compositions. The composers of each mele were asked to stand and recognize the performance of their mele upon its completion. I couldn’t stand-I was simply numbed by the performance of the senior women. I’m certainly happy I did not have to judge the competition this year, because all of the classes were outstanding. Neither Kenneth or I heard the rehearsals, so we, along with the audience, were hearing it for the first time. And of course the feeling returned when the presenters announced that the senior girls had won the girls’ division, and tied for their Hawaiian language pronunciation.

As things were winding down and the emotions settling on the Blaisdell arena floor, Manu Boyd joined us. He started raving “My God, I could see the rain, and the birds, and the forest!” and I thought I was going to really lose it. What a compliment from one of the preeminent haku mele of this time.

When Kenneth and I began working together eight years ago, I had two things that I hoped to accomplish as a composer. I didn’t tell anyone, and only mention it to Kenneth after we finished the mele. But one of them came true on Friday night. The other? It has nothing to do with the Grammy or Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. And I’m keeping it to myself until it happens. If it does, you’ll read about it here.