Tue, 19 August 2014
August 19th marked the seventh anniversary of the birth of Ho`olohe Hou. But Ho`olohe Hou has had so many starts and stops that I should be very clear what this is the anniversary of.
Ho`olohe Hou had an inauspicious beginning as a podcast on January 1, 2006. But it was short lived. After only six episodes – critically acclaimed by Hawai`i’s musicians and distributed widely across the Hawaiian music blogs, chat rooms, and threaded discussion boards – I was advised to “shut it down” to protect myself. At the time, there was no legal means of using copyrighted music in podcasts – an issue eventually escalated all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. But despite that I did not generate any revenue from my podcasting revenue, I could have been fined heftily – or even imprisoned – for spinning Hawaiian music recordings – despite that the recordings I played were largely out of print for 40 or more years, despite that most of the artists and composers had long ago departed this life. Fearing reprisal or legal action, I gave up.
Enter a Hawaiian music lover with an entrepreneurial spirit, Don Narup. Don spent his life in high finance, but his passion was Hawaiian music. Upon his retirement, Don decided to use some of his investment acumen to fund one of the early internet Hawaiian music radio stations from his home in Las Vegas. And thus 50th State Radio was born. Don heard about my podcast and its too soon demise. He reached out to me, and we struck a partnership. Despite that he could not pay me to produce my show as the station was in its infancy, he could pay to produce it legally and ethically. Unlike podcasts at the time, the royalty rates for radio stations were long ago firmly established. Don took on Ho`olohe Hou, giving me a 9:30am Sunday time slot – immediately following a Christian chat program hosted by Reverend Gary Haleamau and his wife, Sheldeen. And what was once a humble podcast became a weekly two-hour radio program which – through 50th State Radio – reached listeners around the world via the internet. And because the world included Hawai`i, Narup eventually agreed to move the show to a 6pm Sunday evening timeslot to accommodate the many fans across the Pacific.
But this, too, was short lived. One week in April 2008, I uploaded my program via FTP to 50th State Radio’s servers, and I waited eagerly at 6pm to hear my own voice hit the airwaves – fancying myself a Hawaiian-style Ryan Seacrest, opening each program with, “It’s time for more music and memories of Hawai`i. THIS is Ho`olohe Hou. Are you listening?” But the show never aired. The station appeared to be on autopilot – songs streaming, but no voice-overs, no time checks… I started calling the station. No answer. I started calling Don’s cell phone over and over again frantically. No answer. No response came until two days later when I received a call from Don’s wife with whom I had never spoken previously. I was shocked to learn that Don was dead – throat cancer, about which he clearly knew but chose not to treat, and about which he told nobody, and certainly not the staff at the station. 50th State Radio was Don’s dying wish, but sadly, the wish died with him. There was no further funding source beyond his passing. And, so, with Don’s passing, so, too, passed Ho`olohe Hou into oblivion yet again.
Over the years – with the help of friends who also happen to be ardent Hawaiian music lovers – I have tried to breathe new life into Ho`olohe Hou the radio program. But to no avail. There is too little market for Hawaiian music, and that market is already flooded with awesome broadcasters, and what the hell could a haole guy from New Jersey know about Hawaiian music anyway? But the truth is that my show is different from Territorial Airwaves and others. Arguably, my collection of more than 25,000 Hawaiian music recordings is one of the largest in the world, and I have access to recordings that even Harry B. Soria does not – unofficial and unreleased recordings given to me by the artists themselves or their children and grandchildren. They were given to me because they knew I would know what to do with them – preserve them and share them, ensure that these Hawaiian music legacies endured. But I have not been given the opportunity again since 50th State Radio. Moreover, my approach to sharing this music may be different from other broadcasters. My life has been what ethnographic researchers might refer to as a “practitioner inquiry” – or learning by doing. I am not merely a Hawaiian music fan. I am also a musician practicing as much of the Hawaiian music craft – from slack key guitar to steel guitar to falsetto singing – as I can without stretching myself so thin that I break. I was raised on Territorial Airwaves, and Harry B. Soria is a friend without whose encouragement I would have stopped participating in – and would never have won – the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest which he hosted. But there are myriad ways in which Ho`olohe Hou is not a carbon copy of Territorial Airwaves. It is largely my approach to analyzing (or overanalyzing) Hawaiian music that ensures that Ho`olohe Hou is not Territorial Airwaves. I approached Ho`olohe Hou as if I had sold it to NPR. I was Sam the Eagle to Harry’s Fozzie Bear. Ho`olohe Hou may have even been a first in Hawaiian music broadcasting – “edutainment.” I wanted to have fun, but I felt it was my kuleana (or responsibility) to educate.
On January 1, 2013, I returned to blogging in the name of Ho`olohe Hou – offering up rarities from my collection a few at a time along with the stories of the artists and composers and the details of how the music is actually made – nuggets of information which might otherwise be lost on non-musicians. Facebook – which did not exist when I began attempting to broadcast – made it easier to reach Hawaiian music lovers. But here is the rub. In the 20 months since its re-re-launch, with dozens and dozens of posts and episodes to its credit, Ho`olohe Hou has more than 400 Facebook followers and an amazing more than 10,000 downloads. Despite that the month is not yet over, there have already been more downloads in August 2014 – more than 1,000 – than in any other month in the program’s history. And yet I don’t know you. When Ho`olohe Hou was a radio show, I received more fan mail than I could respond to. But despite the instant communication that Facebook affords us, I have not heard from you. I realized this when a recent post about Kui Lee received more than 400 downloads but only a half dozen “likes” and only two comments.
So in the tradition of my radio show, I have to ask… This is Ho`olohe Hou. Are you listening?
If so, let me know. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on a post that moved you. Or recommend an artist, a composer, or a musical style to be profiled, and I would be happy to oblige.
Meanwhile, I give you a Ho`olohe Hou anniversary gift – the entire two hour broadcast of the first episode of Ho`olohe Hou originally aired on August 19, 2007.* Check out the original playlist (at this link). What do you see? The show was chock full of rarities you would likely hear nowhere else. At the time, almost all of the recordings I was spinning were out of print (as indicated by the asterisk in the “LP/Source” column at the link above). I offered long forgotten rarities not available on CD or MP3 by Sonny Chillingworth, Alfred Apaka, Sterling Mossman, George Kainapau, Chick Floyd, Poncie Ponce, Karen Keawehawai`i, Kekua Fernandez, Marlene Sai, George Paoa, Ihilani Miller, Alice Namakelua, and Don Ho. Seven years later, all of those recordings remain out of print. More than this, who else would inform you that one of Sonny’s ethereally voiced back-up singers was none other than Nina Keali`iwahamana, that the ridiculously jazzy steel guitarist backing Poncie Ponce was California-based Vince Akina, or that the falsetto singing in George Paoa’s trio was Buddy Fo and The Invitations’ highest voice, Johnny Costello? Only a musician would know these things because there were no credits on the album covers. These are discoveries that can only be made with the ears.
It is my fondest desire to put Ho`olohe Hou the radio program back on the airwaves. If you think you know someone who can help fulfill my dream once and for all, please reach out to me. Until then, Ho`olohe Hou will remain a blog which – in case you do not realize the intricacies of copyright law – is as illegal now as it was when I started on January 1, 2006. Despite that I make no money from this labor of love, despite the historically and culturally important service of preserving this music, artists and composers still demand to be paid. Fortunately, since its inception seven years ago (or nine years ago, depending on when you start counting), no artist has asked for compensation. Either they “get it” or Ho`olohe Hou remains unnoticed. I do not fancy myself either a pirate or a Robin Hood. With your help, maybe I will someday soon find the way to fulfill this mission legally and ethically
Until then, as I said at the close of every episode of Ho`olohe Hou, “Keep aloha in your hearts, and take Hawaiian music wherever you go. A hui hou…”
Me ka ha`aha`a –
*Note that in order to listen continuously to this program, you will need to open a separate browser window. Closing that browser window will stop the streaming of the program. Note also that it may take up to 10 minutes to buffer the entire two-hour program.