The Language Is the Music: Perceptions of Authority and Authenticity in Hawaiian Language Composition And Vocal Performance

Language and languages Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) Music Indigenous peoples Hawaii Pacific Area

This thesis presents the results of an ethnographic inquiry into haku mele (Hawaiian language composition) and modern Hawaiian vocal performance practice. It hypothesises that there are elements and characteristics in Hawaiian language compositions and vocal performance that are valued above others by composers, performers and audiences today, and that certain individuals are viewed as authorities in Hawaiian language composition and vocal performance. This research was conducted by engaging seventeen practitioners of haku mele and performers who sing in the Hawaiian language in kūkākūkā (discussion) and an examination of recorded mele (Hawaiian poetic compositions) of their choosing. Using a dialogic rather than interrogative approach, we identify and discuss those elements and characteristics of Hawaiian language compositional and vocal performance practices that are perceived to be authentic, and those individuals perceived to be authorities in these fields. I argue that these perceptions are influenced by older mele and vocal performances that become models by which listeners compare contemporary compositions and performances. This model–historically constructed, individually experienced and expressed, and socially maintained–directly influences the continued development of Hawaiian language composition and vocal performance today. I will examine and discuss the role of the individual, Hawaiian conceptualization and perception, the use of language in compositions, and finally, the vocalisation of mele by using four exemplary recordings as points of entry for discussion.

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