‘Hawaiian Grammy’ controversy
After being dominated the last few years by Los Angeles-based recording artist/producer Daniel Ho, the Best Hawaiian Music Album category in the annual Grammy Awards has become quite the controversial topic once again this week, after Hawaii-born artist Tia Carrere (pictured at right with Ho) won her second trophy for "Huana ke Aloha" on Sunday.
If you haven't been paying attention, go check out this story by my Honolulu Star-Advertiser colleague John Berger, who did a good job of speaking to a lot of the parties involved.
Basically, it comes down to this: Hawaii-based recording artists have started to realize that the Grammy playing field isn't exactly level, and there are different opinions as to what needs to be done. While some believe there needs to be more sub-categories in the Best Hawaiian Album category, others are starting to think the right move would be to petition the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to kill off the category altogether.
If Hawaii-based artists want to take the ball and go home, so to speak, they can try. But it's not likely that NARAS will listen to non-members with a bone to pick, and the thought of complaining because the "right" record didn't win a Grammy is ridiculous.
At the same time, local artists do have the right to voice their opinions. Dennis Kamakahi, who was nominated for his work on Amy Hanaiali'i's "Amy Hanaiali'i and Slack Key Masters of Hawaii," posted on Twitter what a number of other people were thinking last Sunday night.
"We've been robbed," he wrote.
Robbed? Probably. Was it preventable? Definitely.
AS WAS noted in Berger's story, the same record label (Daniel Ho Creations) has won the Grammy for Best Hawaiian Music Album six out of the last seven years.
Ho, who is based in Los Angeles and participates in numerous Grammy-related events during the year, deserves recognition for his ability to play the game and get his music in front of the Academy's voting members. It's a matter of visibility — if you live on the mainland, it's always going to be easier (and cheaper) to take part in the politics that surround the awards.
Another point to consider: Of the 11,000 music industry professionals within NARAS' voting membership, only a small number are from Hawaii or have any practical experience evaluating Hawaiian music. Many local artists are not NARAS members, which means we have no voice on a national level when it comes to submitting our best music for award consideration.
"How many (NARAS voters) are experts in Hawaiian music," The Mountain Apple Co. president Leah Bernstein asked in Berger's story. "We don't know. … If all the people (in Hawaii) who are qualified to vote in the Hawaiian Grammy category here would join, I think we would have enough a bloc that we could determine what everybody feels is the right thing."
Another way to put it: You've got to get in to fit in. Unless more local artists join NARAS and become voting members, it will be up to mostly mainland haole who determine what the best Hawaiian music album is each year. And without someone — or some organization — to rally everyone and coordinate their efforts, there's a good chance nothing will really change in the short term.
IF THE Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts were to step up and take the lead, more local artists might jump on the bandwagon and join NARAS. They also have the experience and contacts to spearhead trips to Los Angeles that can bring local artists and voters together in the same room.
Get the State of Hawaii involved in the process, too (we're talking about tourism dollars here, as many visitors to Hawaii are influenced by the music of our islands), and it's definitely possible to envision a 2012 Grammy Awards junket that could incorporate meet-and-greet events, concerts and other networking options that would raise awareness among mainland voters.
Instead of complaining, Hawaii's music industry needs to rally together and come up with a plan to bring the Grammy for Best Hawaiian Music Album back to Hawaii.
Sure, you don't need to be from Hawaii to win the award (or even Native Hawaiian, for that matter), but that doesn't mean local people can't work together to ensure we have a better chance at winning in the years to come.