UkePrints – Special Edition – Evolution of Kawika

king-kalakaua-246x350
David Kalakaua

In last week’s UkePrints, I decided to feature the classic tune Kawika as played by The Sunday Manoa. While writing I began to think about the legacy of the traditional chant and it’s evolution over the years. So this week we have a special edition of UkePrints, looking at a couple of versions of Kawika, post The Sunday Manoa.

Digging a little deeper, I found this great blog written by a faculty of the University of Michigan who teaches American studies, ethnomusicology, and hula. Also a Kuma Hula (Hula teacher), she wrote a post on the evolution of Kawika with great insight to the form and the historical precedence both as a chant and a modern tune. She nicely wraps up the piece with:

“The recordings discussed here are highlights among a host of versions by many artists, chanters and musicians alike. “Kawika” is a classic example of a “crossover” mele–one that straddles the performance lines between ancient and modern, by unabashedly embracing both at the same time.”

Check out her blog: Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure here!

I also found this translation and write up from Na Puakea O Ko’olaupoko (a Halau from Kailua). Included is the aforementioned translation alongside chant/dancing instructions and a quick history lesson on David Kalakaua (the subject of the chant). It helps put the song in context and helps add depth to this culturally rich piece.

Here is a link to a PDF of the file.

I wanted to offer some thoughts to the conversation by taking a look of some of the other versions of Kawika post-Sunday Manoa. I chose three versions that show the progression and growth of the piece since 1971. There have been other notable versions, including chants, over the years but here are three significant ‘ukulele driven pieces.

As a child in Hawai’i during the 90s, I grew up listening to the Ka’au Crater Boys’ version of their album Tropical Hawaiian Day. You can hear that it’s a direct descendent of The Sunday Manoa version, launching straight into Moon’s solo and using almost the same form. ‘Ukulele player Troy Fernandez adds his own voice to the solo but keeps a lot of the same riffs, licks, and themes that Moon uses with the Sunday Manoa.

Another young gun that took the mantle is Brittni Paiva. Local Big Island girl has taken the ‘ukulele world by storm since her debut album in 2006. In 2011 she was included in a compilation CD titled Island Style ‘Ukulele Vol. 1 where she contributed her version. Brittni uses a backing track to fill in the rhythm while she interprets the song purely as an instrumental. She takes the melody and and follows the form. She doesn’t solo quite as long as the Ka’au Crater Boys or The Sunday Manoa but prefers a more tasteful approach with an elegant solo and a small breakdown (2:16).

Last but not least is Jake Shimabukuro’s version off his very recent release Travels. Jake offers a fresh approach to the traditional tune, almost fully reinventing the song. He starts off with the solo, emulating Moon with a baritone ‘ukulele as accompaniment. After he’s taken the song around a few times, the a full band jumps in with hits as they change the harmonic of structure of the song. Enter harmonized distorted ‘ukulele (1:51) and the song starts to fly with high energy. Jake continues to the solo to the end not only showing us his chops but his lyrical sense as a soloist.

In terms of the ‘ukulele player I think Jake sums Kawika’s legacy pretty well:

“Kawika, for me, you know that’s like one of the coolest ‘ukulele tunes. It’s kind of like the Stairway to Heaven for ‘ukulele players.”


UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.

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