Nahenahe (soft, sweet, melodious): Sounding Out Native Hawaiian Self-Determination

Author / Artist: 
Publication Date: 
November, 2019

Kevin Fellezs published an article, "“Nahenahe (soft, sweet, melodious): Sounding Out Native Hawaiian Self-Determination” in the Journal of the Society for American Music's Special Issue on Music, Indigeneity, and Colonialism in the Americas v13n4.

In this essay, he explores the ways in which kī hō‘alu (Hawaiian slack key guitarists) articulated Native Hawaiian aspirations for self-determination and reterritorialization during the Second Hawaiian Renaissance. He argues that Hawaiian music speaks to a liberatory politics that is embedded within an aesthetic of nahenahe (soft, sweet, melodious). Nahenahe invests slack key guitarists with the mana (power, authority) to invoke a Native Hawaiian perspective that empowers and sustains Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) efforts for self-determination and political autonomy. The connections between music and political activism were highlighted and strengthened throughout the period. Indeed, although numerous political groups organized throughout the period, providing the modern foundations to the struggles for sovereignty today, at the forefront of it all were the musicians.