Halau Hula Ka No'eau,
(Hawaiian Arts Ensemble)
Hawaii: Traditional Hula
(ARC, 2003)

This CD of traditional Hawaiian music performed by the Hawaii Arts Ensemble includes vocal chants and musical instruments. Much of the music is of religious significance and was originally chanted to appease or call on the gods. Some of the chants are also part of the oral traditions of the people who inhabited the islands and these document their history.

The instruments include such things as pahu ( a hollowed-out tree trunk with a sharkskin drum head), ipu (gourds) and eili eili ( two smooth water-worn pebbles held in each hand and used as castanets).

At first cut, I thought there was no rhythm to this unfamiliar sound. That changed however, and the charm and beat of the music became more pronounced as I listened. A couple of the tracks are influenced by European music and the liner notes explain that the music has continued to evolve with outside influences, but maintains its poetic form. Cut 21 mixes it up with the tune of a Welsh lullaby, which was very well done.

The music is a mixture of a hard beat of stone or stick and rolling vowels and soft voices. The chanting is usually quick. The subjects of the songs are no different than folk songs anywhere. Topics include beautiful geographic features, lonely lovers and praises to the gods.

I was curious about the music from the islands and enjoyed a lesson in Hawaiian hula, but this is a very specialized type of music and is not for me. For a collector of unique folk styles, this would probably be a CD to consider. Otherwise, I can't imagine playing it often. It is more of an educational product than one specifically produced for entertainment purposes, though I suspect a live or visual performance by the Arts Ensemble would be a more complete and enjoyable musical experience. You might consider it if you wanted to try something exotic and very different from mainstream music.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 13 September 2003

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