Roberto Delgado

Blue Hawaii

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The importance of music to Polynesian culture has always been a blind spot for Westerners and Easterners alike; without a written language, these sweet voices and languid melodies had the social task of collecting and passing on vital science, history, and social etiquette from generation to generation. Songs contained information on how to cultivate food, navigate stars, keep a family happy, and maintain genealogical histories, connecting an entire civilization on small islands separated by vast seas. When the United States forcibly annexed Hawaii in the 19th century, the citizens back home were told that the ignorant savages of these remote islands welcomed American protection and guidance, when, of course, nothing could be further from the truth. When the last Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, toured the United States on the lecture circuit, she sang her own beautiful songs and chants pleading for her country's independence; exotica-seeking attendees ignored the content and went home humming the happy melodies, dreaming of a Pacific paradise and ignoring the disease-ridden reality at the heart of the Queen's story.

For generations since, the story has been the same, and the Hawaiians, a genial people, eventually went with the flow. Hawaiian song and dance gripped the public imagination repeatedly, and traditional waiata evolved into hula songs and sweet ditties. Hawaiian music became a theme for Cliff Edwards hamming it up as Ukulele Ike, Dorothy Lamour flirtatious and vivacious in a sari, Esther Williams vying with hula-skirted Rita Moreno, Elvis Presley's languid mooning; and it is this Hawaii, of course, that Horst Wende references on Blue Hawaii. To him and his Hamburg crew it didn't matter that no real musicologist would associate Hawaiian music with trombone, accordion, Hammond organ, flute, electric guitar, or electric bass guitar; evoking the public perception of a Polynesian paradise was all that mattered. Taken with all that in mind, this is a nice album. It moves languidly, with appropriately soft voices, gentle rhythms, ear-perking harmonics, and excellent performances, covering much of the ersatz Hawaiiana of previous decades -- "Pagan Love Song," "Blue Hawaii," "Honolulu Ragtime Doll," and so on. As can be expected, guitar whiz Ladi Geisler is featured prominently, most notably on "Hawaii Tattoo," with nice dual guitar interplay and an insistent backbeat leading into a swinging accordion lead. Unapologetically inauthentic and nicely executed, Blue Hawaii is a slight Delgado work that will no doubt make longtime fans happily sway in their living room, wishing they had little umbrellas to put into their drinks.

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