Hal Aloma

Hal Aloma was born Harold David Alama on January 8, 1908.  He attended Kalihi-Waena School and McKinley High School before dashing off to the mainland and New York City where he became extremely popular for his modernized hybrid of Hawaiian music.

A composer, singer, and eventually band leader, Hal Aloma was first and foremost a steel guitar player with a style like no other.  Upon his arrival in NYC, he started out as the steel guitarist with Lani McIntire at New York’s famed Lexington Hotel “Hawaiian Room,” and then later led his own band in this same location as well as the Luau 400 and various night spots up and down the east coast.  He appeared on television shows hosted by Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, and Perry Como, and was even a mystery guest on the game show To Tell The Truth.  Aloma also appeared in the MGM film Ship Ahoy with Tommy Dorsey.  He capped off his amazing career as the first band leader at the Polynesian Village for the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Although born Alama, Hal changed his name to Aloma - presumably to capitalize on the popularity of a Polynesian-themed film of that era, Aloma of the South Seas.  He was the brother of another Hawaiian entertainer, Sam Alama, a singer and composer who left a lasting legacy with a song still sung today, "Kanakanui Hotel."

As a songwriter, while not as prolific as, say, Harry Owens or R. Alex Anderson, Hal’s paeans to his homeland are often just as beautiful - a few even catching on with local Hawai’i artists.  I have heard his “Echoes of the South Pacific” covered by such Hawaiian music traditionalists as Violet Pahu Liliko’i, and his “Wikiwiki Mai” has been recorded over and over including a memorable rendition by Charles K.L. Davis.

Hal was an extremely popular recording artist - landing a coveted record contract with Dot Records in the late 1950s.  His recordings sold extremely well on the mainland, but you will rarely find one in the used record shops throughout Hawai’i.  This may be because the local music trade was focused on its local artists, or it may indicate that Hal Aloma’s brand of modernized, mainland-influenced Hawaiian music was not the appetite of local Hawai‘i listeners.  I have chosen two songs - both Aloma originals - from his Dot Records period - tracks that are about as different as they can be.  The first is a rollicking hapa-haole swing number, the aforementioned “Wikiwiki Mai,” in which you will hear the influences of the mainland dance hall jazz combos, including - again - the drum kit with its persistent ride cymbal and occasional gentle “crash.”  You will also immediately notice that there are two steel guitars - a sound typically identified with the Hawaii Calls radio broadcasts.  The two steelers here are Hal and his great friend, NYC local Sam Makia who also left an enduring legacy.  I have as many Sam Makia sides in this collection as I do Hal Aloma, and as my father was an occasional musical partner of Makia in later years, I can safely identify the lead steel on “Wikiwiki Mai” - a solo played with what I can only call “wreckless abandon” - as Sam.  The other number is far more traditional - a modern take on chant which Hal called his “Hawaiian Love Chant.”  The chant is in the expected rhythm and minor key and sung in Hawaiian, but it is then followed by a fox trot-style hula tempo sung in English.  In both cases, despite the changing times and changing sounds, I hope you can also still hear all that is innately Hawaiian in Hal Aloma’s music.

Direct download: Hal_Aloma_-_Wikiwiki_Mai-Echoes_of_the_South_Pacific.mp3
Category:Steel Guitar -- posted at: 7:35am EST