Saturday, 29 April 2017

Queen and composer - Lili'oukalani


Lili'oukalani, (1838-1917) not "forgotten" the last Queen of independent Hawaii, not "forgotten" at all, for she was and remains a symbol of Hawaiian identity, an issue still alive today.  Lili'oukalani was well educated, accomplished and well travelled, who believed in enlightened "Victorian values" of serving her people. "From time immemorial",she wrote "the Hawaiian people have always been lovers of poetry and song"."To compose was as natural for me as to breathe".

Although Hawaii had an elected government and its monarchs were popular, the sugar and pineapple barons from the United States wanted control.  Capitalism prevailed. Hawaii was annexed. Lili'oukalani did not want violence, but was arrested and sentenced to death. She was reprieved but served five years in prison   In prison,she continued to write. "Music", she wrote in her memoirs "remains the source of the greatest consolation".  She never gave in, challenging the annexation through the courts until her death, one hundred years ago.  Though she couldn't defeat colonialism, her defiant spirit lives on in her legacy of music and intelligence.

Lili'oukalani's song Aloha Oe,written in 1873, is so famous that everyone knows it, even if they know nothing else about Hawaii.  With its ukelele accompaniment and swaying rhythms it fits tourist stereotypes though it reflects traditional Hawaiian music.  The song was written in 1878, when her brothers were Kings, and after her marriage.Aloha Oe is so famous that it's ubiquitous, but she wrote a lot more. Her  songs are published and performed in Hawaiian circles.  Yet she shouldn't be seen merely as a niche composer.  Her music shows the influence of 19th century art music,with which she was familiar, for she lived briefly in Europe and clearly had access to scores and the music of her time.  The clip I've added below was made in 1904, so the "western" song aspects are probably affected by the taste of the time,ie."missionary"song.. There is a MUCH better version on YT with Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole. Lili'oukalani was a fascinating personality,worth reading about. There's also a good documentary, if you search on YT.





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