Thanks to their consolidation under the respectable classification of world beat, types of music once considered weird or indefinably alien have found new friends. One genre that can be found beneath this far-flung heading is Hawaiian folk music, which is finding a growing number of converts among those who never dreamed something so strange could be so delightful. After decades of bastardization at the hands of Hollywood, slack-key guitar and other traditional island forms have resurfaced stronger than ever, attracting an international audience. Since no musician worthy of the tag can resist experimentation, new influences have inevitably popped up in the traditional sounds of the islands, making them into something fresh and modern.
What is certainly the strongest lineup of Hawaiian performers to assemble in Houston in recent memory comes to the University of Houston-Clear Lake Sunday to offer in-person proof of their music's evolution. The Makaha Sons -- triple-harmony magicians who accompany themselves on six- and 12-string guitars and upright bass -- have dominated the Hawaiian folk-festival circuit for two decades while winning numerous awards for their nine releases. Sistah Robi Kahakalau, a native of Germany whose Hawaiian-born father was a renowned jazz bassist, blends jazz and pop influences with the traditions she learned strumming and singing her way through the University of Hawaii. After two CDs with the Style Band, Kahakalau recently released a solo effort that features everything from highly traditional originals sung in Hawaiian to a slack-key cover of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." A performer in a much more traditional vein, Cyril Pahinui is a second-generation master of the intricate slack-key style whose true-Hawaiian credentials include a Na Hoku Honohana award for best male vocalist.
The resurgence of Hawaiian folk music has been mirrored by a revitalized interest in the native language of the islands, and perhaps no contemporary Hawaiian performer is as well known for his original lyrics -- both in his language and the language of the missionaries -- as singer/songwriter Jerry Santos. Santos, along with partner Robert Beaumont, were leading forces in the Hawaiian folk renaissance of the mid-1970s, when they performed and recorded as Olomana. And since few genres link dance and music as closely as Hawaiian folk, the Clear Lake festival will also include an appearance by the Chinky Mahoe and the Halau Hula 'O Kawaili'ula dance troupe.
If your interests include the far horizons of voice and acoustic guitar, be put on notice that Hawaiian folk music rests on that horizon like a brilliant island sunset. Catch a glimpse of it at UH-Clear Lake, and remember -- this is not a sunset you can see next week if you miss it this time around.
-- Jim Sherman
Portrait of Hawaii's Music is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, November 10, at Bayou Theater, University of Houston-Clear Lake, 2700 Bay Area Boulevard. Tickets are $25. For info, call 629-3700.
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