Category Archives: ethnomusicology

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.

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: Continue reading

My Post on

For those who are not members of The Recording Academy, you may not know about the Academy’s social networking system, It’s an interesting tool, kind of a Facebook for Academy members. While there is great potential for good things out of it, there are also issues. Some may argue that it can potentially level the playing field for lesser-known members and releases, it also facilitates back-door shenanigans such as vote swapping–an activity that the Academy forbids, but is difficult to prove.

Over the past month or so I’ve received a number of connection requests, many in fields that I know little about. While I’m happy to listen to these peoples’ releases, I do not vote in categories that I don’t know well. I wish others would do the same. Here is my recent status update on

I’m grateful for all of the recent connection, requested and made, over the past month or so. My apologies for not replying to each individually. I like GRAMMY 365 a lot and realize it’s potential. I have to say, though, that it also has it’s downside. Personally I only vote in those categories that I’m knowledgeable about, like the new Regional Roots, Pop, Rock, Jazz and Folk fields, and I wish everyone would do that. I’m happy to listen to the submissions that everyone makes and suggests to me, but unless I really know the scope of the field in which your release has been entered, I probably won’t vote in if. The upside is that I will become more knowledgeable about those categories and at the point I know the lay of the land well enough, I may start voting in them.

While I have no releases of my own entered, a few are that my compositions appear on, Hawaiian entries in the Regional Roots category. I will post links to those releases when the preliminary ballot ships. If you know the genres included in those categories well enough to make an informed vote, and believe that these releases are worthy, I would be honored if you’d consider voting for them. Mahalo a nui (many thanks)

New Journal Publication

I was happy that my first peer-reviewed journal article (and first article of any type in several years) was published in Language Documentation and Conservation. I’ve had interactions with the National Foreign Language Resource Center at UH-Mānoa for many years, presented at their conferences, and have had a strong admiration for their work.

The paper is entitled “Puana ‘Ia me ka ‘Oko‘a: A Comparative Analysis of Hawaiian Language Pronunciation as Spoken and Sung”, and it is a translation, distillation, and revision of my MA thesis, which was originally written in Hawaiian. It is a comparative analysis that uses recordings and compositions by John Kameaaloha Almeida. It took nearly two years for me to translate and pare down, and nearly another two years to tweak it, get feedback, and then get it published. One reviewer felt is wasn’t linguistically focused for this journal, but I think I made an important point that in addition to acknowledging the importance of linguistic diversity in terms of the number of languages that are thriving in society, we also must look at and preserve the diversity that is inherent within a single language. To make this point I documented and examined some significant differences in Hawaiian language as spoken and sung. Some of these differences have been mentioned previously, but never closely examined nor explained.

My Letter To Recording Academy President Neil Portnow

Several weeks ago, representatives from the Recording Academy visited Hawai‘i and conducted several meetings with members of the Hawai‘i recording industry. While the discussions were wide-ranging, the topic of the “consolidation” of the Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album was brought up. I did share my thoughts on the matter, and this past week composed and sent this follow up letter. I am looking forward to working with the Academy on issues that will benefit our local industry, both as an individual member as well as a member of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts.

Neil Portnow
President, The Recording Academy
3030 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Aloha kāua e Neil,

I would like to express my gratitude to you and the other representatives of the Academy for your recent visit to Hawai‘i and the amount of time that you all spent interacting with the members of our industry and community. Your presence and participation spoke volumes to us regarding the significance of our place in the broader recording industry. I would like to communicate a few thoughts with you–some were brought up at our meeting and others I chose to save for this communication. Please understand that these are my personal thoughts, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of my colleagues on the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts’ Board of Governors or within our College of Hawaiian Language.

As I expressed at our meeting, I shed no tears at the consolidation of the Hawaiian Grammy into the new Regional Roots category. It simply was not worth consternation and vitriol that it produced within our community. To be clear, I believe there was nothing wrong with the category’s criteria, although I was very displeased with manner by which the instrumental criteria were added after the open meetings that were held with the Academy. The problem was simply the manner in which the voting was handled. While I understand the difficulty of establishing different voting qualifications for many categories, I believe that the Hawai‘i and broader Hawaiian music communities simply will not embrace an award in which their informed voices are drowned out by a sea of Academy members who are unable to make qualitative assessment on those criteria that define the category. To reestablish the award while not addressing the deficiencies of the selection system would be a grave mistake, and again throw our community into disunity, when what we really need unity.

I would like to discuss the Hawaiian and Native American awards from a different perspective. While I understand Bill Freimuth’s comparison of the consolidation with the World Music category in that both contain very diverse musical forms, there is a distinction. These forms are representative of the indigenous peoples of this nation–the same nation represented in the name “National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences”. The languages and cultures of these peoples, found in every state, have been subject to systematic suppression, and it has only been in recent decades that these peoples have been able to organize and work toward the documentation, reclamation and revitalization of their languages and traditional practices, including their music. As such, they are deserving of special consideration by the Academy, and awards implemented that do not marginalize them. Reestablishment of these categories should not be simply a numbers game. If implemented correctly, separate Grammy categories for the music of indigenous peoples within the U.S. would be powerfully symbolic–something that further supports the Academy’s mission to “to positively impact the lives of musicians, industry members and our society at large”.

I have been deeply bothered by recent discourse on the consolidation of the Grammy Awards. While I believe that it was done with honorable intentions, it was poorly implemented and communicated. The subsequent press releases and justifications from the Academy regarding the consolidation were also poorly handled, and from my humble perch amounted to little more than “spin”. I must add that I have been disgusted by the tone of many response and charges of racism leveled against the Academy. Some members of one of the academic societies that I am a member of, the Society for Ethnomusicology, have expressed their concerns regarding the consolidation and its homogenizing affect on musical diversity. I share their concerns, and also fear, as I expressed at our meeting, that the consolidation of the awards and subsequent discourse have further distanced the Academy from the grassroots membership whose support it clearly needs, given the current state of the industry.

While I was tempted to allow my membership in the Academy to lapse upon learning about the consolidation, I did indeed renew it. I believe that the only way to implement change, be it in government or organizations like the Academy, is to be an active participant. I look forward to working with you and others in the Academy to implement positive changes in the Academy. If I can be of service to you, the Board of Governors, the Pacific Northwest Chapter, or any department of the Academy, please feel free to contact me.

me ka ‘oia‘i‘o (sincerely),

Keola Donaghy
Assistant Professor
Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language
University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

cc: Barb Dehgan, Vice President, Communications & Media Relations; Bill Freimuth, Vice President, Awards; Erica Krusen, Sr. Director, MusiCares;Lourdes Lopez, Sr. Director, Communications & Media Relations; Shannon Roach, Executive Director; Michael Stephens, Sr. Project Coordinator, Pacific Northwest Chapter, Dr. Kalena Silva, Director, Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language; Dr. Pila Wilson, Chair, Academic Division, Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

Redefining Ethnomusicology?

There has be a very vigorous discussion on the email list of the Society of Ethnomusicology during the past week. Some are feeling that the name of the field–ethnomusicology–is no longer valid. It’s come to stand for a diverse set of practices and foci which are clearly difficult to identify as being from the same discipline. A number of names, both serious and humerous, have been offered. Given the “all-over-the-map” nature of the discussion, and the nature of my own interests, I’ve decided to go with this for my next business card:

I think this will keep people from asking too many questions, don’t you?

Peeking Ahead To the 2012 Grammy Awards

I found my preliminary ballots for the 2009 and 2010 Grammy Awards. Here’s a breakdown of the entries in the three primary categories that will compete for the “Best Regional Roots Music Album” Grammy in 2012 :

  • Best Zydeco Or Cajun Music Album 2009: 30 entries, 2010: 34 entries
  • Best Native American Music Album 26 entries, 2010: 32 entries
  • Best Hawaiian Music Album 20 entries, 2010: 32 entries

I should note that the Board of Governors of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording arts went to extraordinary lengths to get entries in 2010. I personally entered half of the 32 entries into the Hawaiian category on behalf of various artists and labels. There likely would have been far less if we had not done so. Given the numbers above, I think it would be foolish for people to assume that Hawaiian releases have no chance of wining the award. It’s all going to come down to networking and PR, as it always has. Which means it will be business as usual for those that covet the trophy.


The Hawaiian Grammy Is No More

Today The Recording Academy, bestowers of the annual Grammy Awards, announced a major restructuring of the awards that reduces the number of awards from 109 to 78. This change will be implemented in next years awards–the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. One of the categories affected by this adjustment is the Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album–it has been eliminated. However, releases that would have been eligible in this category will now be eligible in the new “Best Regional Roots Music Album” at the 54th Grammy Awards. Other genre that previously had their own categories and will be entered in this category next are Best Native American Music Album and Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. Or course, Hawai‘i releases in other genre categories can enter in those categories.

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March Madness, Music Awards, Awareness Campaigns, and a Promise

HARA logoMarch has arrived, and with it comes the preparation, printing and mailing of the preliminary ballot for the 2011 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Like many, I was oblivious to the amount of work, consideration and communication that goes into this process until I joined the HARA Board of Governors four years ago and subsequently became a member of the selection committee. The amount of work is tremendous, the rewards few, and the consternation is sometimes overhwelming. It’s impossible to please everybody, and the job of finding the appropriate category for many releases is challenging, particulary when the majority are based on musical style (jazz, reggae, rock, etc.), others thematic (Christmas, religious, island music) and some based on language (Hawaiian Album and Language Performance). The committee did an admirable job, and I applaud my colleagues.

Another part of “March Madness” (as I fondly call it), is the beginning of the “awareness campaigns” that are popular during the preliminary and final balloting processes. Neither the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts (the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards) nor the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammy Awards) allows blatant solititation of votes, vote swapping, or other nefarious activities, though I doubt there are many that would deny that it happens with both awards.

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