I live in Australia. Here we think of Hawaii, if we think of it at all, as a set of clichés. Big waves, hula dancing, colourful shirts – oh, and pineapples. I don’t know if they have them anywhere else, but in Australia you can order a thing called the Hawaiian pizza. This is basically a capricciosa with the addition of diced, tinned pineapple. There are worse things to put on a pizza, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head.
But you shouldn’t judge a country by the pizza named after it. I hope not, anyway – there is a thing called “the Aussie pizza” which I can’t even bare to describe. Eggs are involved.
Anyway, beneath the kitsch, Hawaii is a fascinating place, an amazing melting pot of cultures with a rich musical tradition. As is true in a lot of places, it was the people at the bottom of the social pile – native Hawaiians and immigrant labourers from China and India – who were the innovators.
Lots of great music came out of Hawaii in the 1920s and 1930s, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. The place didn’t have a big population, it was under American control but not yet properly part of the United States – that happened in 1959 – and it is thousands of miles from anywhere else. A big player in this cultural flowering was Sol Ho’opi’i, a native Hawaai’in, born on the island of Honolulu in 1902. He was one of the pioneers of the distinctive Hawaiian steel guitar sound. That sound has itself become a cliché, overfamiliar.
One of the rules, here on Planet Vinyl, is that we forget what we know. Put out of your mind all your preconceptions about Hawaii and its music. Imagine that is is 1938, and you are at a party, and someone cranks up the portable gramophone. Now, just listen.
- Artist: Sol Hoʻopiʻi
- Title: The Wang Wang Blues
- Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
- Label: Decca X2026
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Year: 1938