Polynesian, Portuguese, and Mexican cultures have all played key roles in developing Hawaii's musical identity. From Polynesian hula dancing, mele chants, and shark skin-covered pahu drums, to Portuguese ukuleles and Mexican guitars, the Hawaiian musical soundscape has been inextricably shaped these diverse waves of cultural diffusion. On the compilation Island Roots, Vol. 1: Contemporary Music from Hawaii, this bedrock of Hawaiian musical influences fades into the background of a fashionable popular music mix. Reggae, R&B, hip-hop, and straight-up pop/rock songs blanket the CD. It begins with "Feel Good Island Music" by Ho'onu'a. An upbeat and slickly produced reggae song that features a couple of youthful-sounding male tenors, Ho'onu'a sets a cheerful and somewhat mind-numbing tone for the CD. Despite the stale nature of this and other songs on the album, a couple of tracks do stand out. "Masese," performed by the band Kapena, integrates reggae reverb and a ska feel with delicate guitar riffs, strumming ukuleles, and lyrics sung in the band's native Hawaiian tongue. Also of note is the cut "Pi'i Mai Ka Nalu" by acclaimed Hawaiian diva Robi Kahakalau. It's a flowing pop tune that spotlights the talented singer's sweet voice and command of the Hawaiian language. Though these and a few other diamonds do shine, most of the songs on Island Roots, Vol. 1 are bland pop tunes that have fallen way out of touch with Hawaii's unique musical heritage.
AllMusic Review by John Vallier