Emergent Ideology in Popular Hawaiian Music
George Lewis brings a sociological perspective to his article “Emergent Ideology in Popular Hawaiian Music.” It enables one to gain a clearer understanding of how music influenced modern Hawaiian ideology. Lewis touches upon four main themes in his paper along with a concise conclusion to his findings. These themes include music as symbolic action; music, ideology, and the Hawaiian renaissance; the new Hawaiian music; and tourism and the business of music. His conclusion places these themes in the context of an emergent Hawaiian ideology.
Lewis begins by explaining the importance of music as symbolic action. As communication, music is essential as a link between the values of specific cultures and social action. In this theme, Lewis expounds on Raymond Williams’s distinction between dominant ideology and their co-existing alternatives. These other ideologies may be expressed as residual, emergent, oppositional, or alternative. Residual can be seen as “formed in the past, but still remembered and, to some extent, still a part of the cultural process.” Emergent ideology is described as, “the expression of new groups outside the dominant group.” The oppositional is exactly how it sounds; “something that challenges the dominant ideology.” And the alternative is an ideology that “co-exists within the dominant ideology.”
The author uses a valid example of how the music of people like John Lennon and Bob Dylan were significant in influencing the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. There were numerous musicians during this era that had vital inspiration to the many different movements that took place at that time. Lewis also states that music can “reinforce the feelings of communal belonging and social solidarity.” He explains that music can be a more effective form of communication as compared to speeches or pamphlets. This sense of belonging tends to bring to the fore an elevation of moral rights, “surrounding them with a sort of symbolic ‘halo of righteousness’.”
Significant changes in Hawaiian music over the past century is the second theme covered in Lewis’s article. Dr. George Kanahele called this Hawaiian renaissance “probably the most significant chapter in their [Hawaiians] modern history since the overthrow of the monarchy and loss of nationhood in 1893.” This new, thriving culture is most closely connected to Hawaiian music. Lewis explains that much of the commercial music of the 20th century either trivialized or ridiculed the Hawaiian identity. Songs like “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula” and “Princess Poo-Poo-ly Has Plenty Papaya” not only degraded Hawaiian culture but also provided the basis for what people on the mainland and throughout the world saw as the true Hawaiian identity.
But by the late 1960s a new form of Hawaiian music represented several different ideologies at the same time. This music was “emergent in it ideological implications, residual in its ties to traditional forms, and oppositional in its challenges to the political, social, and cultural assumptions of the dominant mainland-created ideology.” Hawaiian music during this time created the beginnings of a new social movement throughout the islands. These social movements were, in large part, a result of Hawaiians engaged in the civil rights protests on the mainland. As stated in the chronology, “these young Hawaiians came home and learned the history of their own ancestor’s struggles and began to protest, re-write, and re-think U.S.—Hawaiian relationships.”
The new Hawaiian music covered in the author’s third theme is more nationalistic and tends to celebrate the traditions of native Hawaiians. This is in clear opposition to the cultural domination of the United States, as well as, “the entertainment needs of the booming tourist industry.” New songs like Nanakuli Blues and E Kuu Morning Dew reflected a fervent connection to the land and Hawaii itself. They clearly “celebrate the beauty of various island places and lament their destruction by contemporary off-island concerns, or the fact that the land—once Hawaiian—is now owned by foreigners who refuse to treat it with the care and reverence it demands.”
Another relevant aspect connected to this particular theme is that many of these songs were written and sung in the Hawaiian language. This, in and of itself, makes the “very act of singing or listening to songs sung in Hawaiian…an act of social protest against the dominant ideology.” Simultaneously, it also becomes an emergent assertion of their Hawaiian cultural identity.
Lewis also explains how the use of indigenous folk instruments like the slack key guitar, the ipu, and the tiple, to name just a few, can be seen as a political statement. It reinforces the “need to respect Hawaiian tradition and to oppose mainland domination and cultural co-optation by the tourist industry.” He also believes that by integrating music with the hula it provides “symbolic expressions of new ethnic pride and identity.”
The last theme addressed in this article covers tourism and the business of music. Even though new Hawaiian music has come a long way over the past forty years, there is still a “demand for the music of the dominant ideological style.” Basically, this type of music has become “part of the tourist consciousness—a construction of reality that is believed to be authentic.” Ironically, this tourist music has actually helped in promoting the “new Hawaiian music.” It has encouraged the social and economic conditions needed for the advancement of this new music. The tourist industry has also created a considerable new market where this new music can gain recognition. Tourism provides jobs and good-paying “gigs” for many Hawaiian musicians. Even someone as famous as Don Ho said of his music, “I don’t like it. I do it because people pay me a lot of money to do it.” This quote sums up the prevalent attitude of many Hawaiians in the music industry.
In conclusion, George Lewis makes valid and relevant points in providing a sociological perspective to music in the Hawaiian culture. He discusses the idea of Raymond Williams’ ideologies as residual, emergent, oppositional, and alternative. The author interprets the development of new Hawaiian popular music that began in the late 1960s, coalesced in the 1970s and pushed into the 1980s. Lewis states that, “This music [was]…clearly oppositional in nature and [had] arisen as protest to both the dominant ideology of the mainland and the tourist industry…and as a serious protest against the political and social realities this dominant ideology supports—trivialization of the Hawaiian people, destruction of their land and their past, as well as the negatively perceived cultural and ecological impacts of mass tourism.” It is clear that this new Hawaiian music has done much, and continues to do more, in breaking these outdated and racist stereotypes. It has begun to bring Hawaiian culture and identity back to where it should be—to the true reality of what it is like to be Hawaiian.