By John Marsden
The CD Born and Raised is among my recent acquisitions. It features the brilliant guitarist Ian O’Sullivan, who teaches classical guitar at the University of Hawaiʻi.
Reading the informative liner notes, and leaving aside the unproven assertion that the guitar was introduced to the Islands by (three) Mexican vaqueros (in 1832), I was struck by the omission of the Hawaiian steel guitar in the list of Hawaiian music’s trademarks. Despite remaining, as Jerry Byrd used to say, its “signature sound” internationally, it does seem that the steel guitar has become unloved and unwanted in its homeland. Today, the focus is all on ‘ukulele, which boasts some incredible young players, making waves and thoroughly deserving their recognition. However, the fact remains that here in the U.K. most people still associate ‘ukulele with 1930s comic actor George Formby and his funny, risqué songs. I bet that in the U.S., Tiny Tim is the name that similarly comes to mind. From the very start, ʻukulele was adopted into this light and comic repertoire, and its Hawaiian roots were forgotten or disregarded.
Today, in Hawaiʻi, the ʻukulele has taken the steel guitar’s place at the musical cutting edge. It’s noticeable that the latter has stuck with a repertoire now 70-90 years old, which, of course, we’re anxious to preserve. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t resonate so much with today’s general audiences, whose tastes have so radically changed.
Goodness knows what the answer is—perhaps there isn’t one at present—but it will be a tragedy if steel guitar is gradually being written out of Hawaiian music history and its distinctive voice forgotten.
In this issue:
Fort Collins Guest John Ely
Newsletter Goes “Electronic”
Waikīkī Steel Week Preview
Unloved in its Homeland?
Ka Oiwi Nani
HSGA Japan’s Fourth Biennial Convention
WCC Hawaiian Steel Guitar Lessons a Success!
Polynesian Meatballs Recipe
A “Techno-Tale” From Kona Beach
My Wonderful Years In Music
HSGA Staff & info