Category Archives: Music

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.

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

Enter Your Release For The Grammys

The period for entering CD releases for the Grammy Awards has opened. For people who are not Recording Academy members but want to enter their releases, the Board of Governors of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts can help! Check the HARA website for details. This is not just for Hawaiian releases. If you put out a reggae, rock, pop, jazz, Christian, hip-hop, rap, blues, whatever, we can help!

Our Mele On “After The Catch”!

Back in 2009, I helped Mailani Makainai write two mele which appeared on her debut solo CD, Mailani. She subsequently won the 2010 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Female Vocalist of the Year for that release. Today Mailani was featured on an episode of “After The Catch”, a sit down discussion among captains and crew members from the Discovery TV show Deadliest Catch. Mailani played both of those songs-“Penei Iho, Penei A‘e, Penei Nō” and “He Mele No Kahalu‘u”–live on the show, leading into and coming back from commercial breaks. Her TV time was far too short, but Mike Rowe and the crew were quite complimentary of her performance, adding that there would probably be a lot less stress on the boats if they pumped her music as they worked. I agree 😉

I missed the title of the episode on which the music appeared, but it’s first broadcast day was today, June 21. “After The Catch” usually follows the broadcast of new and older episodes of “Deadliest Catch”.

Mailani’s latest release is entitled ‘Āina. We have two collaborations on there-one an original entitled “Ka Nani O Kā‘ena”, and a Hawaiian translation/interpretation of the Beatles’ classic “Yesterday”. It’s been a pleasure to work with Mai over the past few years, on her releases and as colleagues on the HARA Board of Governors.

Kontakt 4/Steve Slate Drums Loading Issues Resolved!

Perhaps one or two people who follow this blog will know what I’m even talking about, but I’d documenting it for the benefit of those who have or will lose hair over this issue. I’ve been using Steve Slate Drums and the Kontakt player for about a year now in my recording. It was great for a long time, but about 7-8 months ago I started having issues with incredibly long load times – sometimes it would take a half-hour or more to load Logic Express projects that contained Kontakt instruments. I crawled the discussion boards, searched Google, deleted .plist files, rebuilt databases, and nothing worked. Finally, today, a breakthrough – Sophos was the culprit. Sophos is an anti-virus program for Mac that looks through files as you download or open them. It occasionally catches a MS Word macro virus in files that are sent to me, but that’s about the only time it’s ever actually done anything for me. Because of the number and size of the samples that Kontakt and SSD contain, it was looking through ever bit of data in the files before it would allow Kontakt to open them. I turned of Sophos, restarted, and- tada! – the files open in seconds.

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?

Happy Day Gone Sad Week

This past Tuesday was a pretty good day. It didn’t rank in my Top 10 all-time days–not that I even keep such a list. It doesn’t approach the day I got married, the day our children were born, or when they graduated from high school, or when my son returned home safe from Iraq, or when I watched my daughter bungee jump in New Zealand. But it was still pretty darn good. The final ballot for the 2011 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards were announced that day, and I was humbled to learn that I had two nominations, and my dear friend and partner in music, Kenneth Makuakāne, had eight. What a thrill and honor. And then Friday came along. Continue reading