In the 1930s, Hawaiian hotel ballrooms were full of dancers doing the lindy and jitterbug to island swing bands. Hawaiian orchestras took the swing of Glenn Miller, added the Hawaiian ukulele and steel guitar, and created an infectious sound that became popular across America. Like in the mainland, the Hawaiian big bands disappeared as tastes changed.
Now the music has re- emerged thanks to Kahulanui. This 9- piece juggernaut is led by Lena Naipo, a third- generation Hawaiian musician.
European brass instruments were first brought to Hawaiian islands in the mid-1800s. In the 1920s, ragtime came to Hawaii, and local musicians fused it with native melodies, creating a genre known as hapa haole -- "half white." During World War II, American servicemen brought their swing records with them. Local orchestras added a Hawaiian touch and gained a national radio audience through the "Hawai'i Calls" program.
Naipo heard about the big bands from his grandfather, Robert, who helped lead the Royal Hawaiian Orchestra in the 1930s, and whose ukulele playing at home made a strong impression on his grandson at an early age. Lena's father, Rodgers, toured the world as a musical ambassador for Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines.
For most of his career, Lena played with small combos. One day in the studio, he showed his producer a YouTube clip of Ray Kinney, a Hawaiian singer and swing-band leader who played on Broadway and at hundreds of army bases starting in the 1920s.
In 2017, Kahulanui released "Mele Ho'oilina," which means "A Musical Legacy." It includes the oldest known hapa haole song, "The Eating of the Poi."