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.

I’ve already received emails and messages from people blaming Daniel Ho and Tia Carrere for the death of the Hawaiian Grammy, and seen Facebook posts and Tweets expressing the same sentiments. I’m no supporter of Ho or Carrere or apologist for their wins, either. But it is not correct or fair to blame them or the controversies that ensued their wins for the elimination of the category. You have to look at the extensive reorganization and consolidation of the awards to understand the scope. I don’t think the category would have survived even if we had 100 entries every year (there were generally between 20-35 each year) and if Keali‘i Reichel, Ho‘okena, Amy Hānaiali‘i, Mākaha Sons, Dennis Kamakahi or any other worthy artists had won. Given the breadth of the award’s reorganization, we would have lost the Hawaiian Grammy regardless.

I don’t have my 2010 preliminary ballot handy, but in 2009, each of the other two categories had about 50% more releases than Hawaiian. Personally I don’t think it will be as difficult for a Hawaiian release to win the category as some people think. One disadvantage now is that there are no clear criteria on what constitutes a Hawaiian release. This is the new category’s wording:

“For albums containing at least 51% playing time of new vocal or instrumental regional roots music recordings. (Albums Only)

NOTE: This category is intended to recognize recordings of regionally based traditional music, including but not limited to Hawaiian, Native American, polka, zydeco and Cajun music.”

Statement from the Academy: “Music is inherently a niche art form — people like certain kinds of music — and when you drill to such a fine level you end up having people vote on things that they’ve never heard before.” So now people are going to be comparing apples and oranges in the same category. The Academy’s justification for the consolidation is pretty weak and full of contradictions, but it’s water under the bridge now.

Hawaiian music and the musicians that create it have always been and will continue to be worthy of national and international recognition, but it comes at a price. The cost of the Hawaiian Grammy was that members of the Hawai‘i recording industry gave away much of the authority to define what Hawaiian music is and who was deemed worthy of the award. We also gave away accountability. The Recording Academy and its membership proved to be unworthy of the responsibility that goes along with ability to bestow the title “Best Hawaiian Album”. To the Academy, a Grammy means nothing more than the opportunity to pimp product. To us, that title means so much more, as it should. For this reason and many others, I shed no tears for the loss of the category.

The Academy has provided a category mapper to show how entries from last year’s awards will be entered in next year’s awards. There is also a complete list of the new awards structure and a FAQ regarding all changes.

This post is a distillation of a number of posts and replies I made on Facebook in the hours following The Recording Academy’s announcement. For the record, I am a member of the Academy, though I am debating whether or not to renew my membership.

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