Islandelights Music Blog, Hawaii USA

gregarious tidings of life's passion

ISLAND MUSIC- what it is?


What island are you from?

When I mention to people that I play sort of like ‘island music’ they immediately think of Hawaiian or Polynesian music or some other native island music.  I suppose the name or genre itself  “island music” depends on what island (or planet) you’re from or have perhaps visited on a tropical holiday. I don’t think there actually is a genre called island music these days, but there are a slew of off-shoots that people know,  recognize, and enjoy like, Reggae,  Roots, House Dub Beats, etc.

HarryBelafnte Going way back, I can recall Harry Belafonte was called the “King of Calypso” for his “DAY-O” (The Banana Boat Song) when I was a very small kid. This was probably some of the first ‘pop island music’ that American audiences heard on the radio and enjoyed because it was basically fun upbeat dance music. I was quite fortunate in my very early career to meet Harry Belafonte in New York and he’s still at it today at 86 y/o.  What an incredible talent.

Simultaneously, there were and are great island music artists from the Pacific Islands, but I never actually made it out to Hawaii to play music until much later. There was a time when people called the new Hawaiian music, “Jawaiian” because the caribbean and reggae influences had made it to Hawaii early on and the Hawaiians related to it. The ‘Jawaiian’ identity didn’t last long and today the island music from Hawaii can be anything from traditional Hawaiian to rap,  hard rock, and a blend of many different music styles melded together. The biggest recording artists in Hawaii like Fiji & Willy K do a little bit of  Hawaiian traditional music but they too are doing  pop r&b and dance music for the tourist audiences. The real Hawaiian artists only play small local venues yet have a fabulous sound and they are great singers and songwriters.

I’m not sure why I loved this island music so much but I ended up playing with some of the greatest players in the business over the years and a few of them are still at it or reside in rock & roll heaven.

The next chapter of island music back then that I recall was pre Bob Marley’s rise to global fame.  American pop singer Johnny_Nash Johnny Nash had traveled to Jamaica to meet with Marley and record some of  his early reggae  songs (Stir It Up, I Can See Clearly Now, etc) and took me along as guitarist-keyboardist.

Later back in LA, I met another group of islanders headed by Robert Greenidge who was raised on the sounds of the steel drums (modified empty 50 gallon oil drums with dents on them to make the sounds) from the island of Trinidad, and is still to this day the #1 pre-eminent steel pan player in the world that you may have seen playing with Jimmy Buffet over the years. robert1

Robert headed up a  small handful of island musicians in LA back when, and I was invited to join the group called ‘Mi Alma’ with Robert and the late Chile Charles, & late Vince Charles. We recorded at A&M (Herb Alpert’s label) but the heavy rhythmic style was perhaps a bit too ethnic for where the industry was headed at that time,  although shortly there after A&M signed the group, the POLICE and they came out with a sound that Sting continued on with which had some interesting island influences blended with rock and pop.

Later I left Hawaii after playing there a few years to explore other musical realms further east which eventually became yet another genre of music called ‘world music’. I found an array of really interesting rare eastern instruments, amazing musicians and some totally different sound textures that still have not made it to the west. The language barrier has kept much of this part of the world isolated from the so-called mainstream music industry which is basically now more global but wasn’t until recently.

Jump to today! WOW, the technology has advanced so far so rapidly this past decade that most people have been overwhelmed at the vast amount of different music being put ‘on the table’ due to the collapse of the record industry as we knew it and the proliferation of the internet and now mobile phones. It is totally amazing to me that the largest record company  in terms of sales is now Apple Computers,  iTunes Store, and just yesterday I read that Google is in the running with their own music streaming service that competes with Spotify and those types.

I know that I’m overwhelmed – so there’s no doubt that the average listener has a most difficult time finding the songs and the groups and the styles that suits them best.  I try to listen through to a wide selection of artists and find some new artists that are ‘something special’. They are out there yet it’s hard to wade through all the social media,  internet and now mobile phone hype that we are bombarded with to find music artists we really like and will support.

I personally have a facebook page and I do use  Twitter some – but one can’t pound ‘the pitch’ to people too hard because the world is already a very  busy place and all the media outlets are trying to capture the largest audience they can by whatever corporate means = more & more commercial sponsorships.

Even with the global economic situation lingering, people still need to carve out some time to enjoy life and have some fun. That’s what music is really all about. Anywhere from purekicked back relaxation to good fun, enjoyment, dancing, etc. One would think that there is nothing whatsoever good going on in this world by viewing the news, but that’s  just not true.  People work, play, go out, have holidays, fall in love, have families and definitely need some positive relaxation time to recharge their batteries. I personally have taken the time off to ponder just what it is ‘I like’ the most, and what I want to do with my leisure time. The tropical island lifestyle and healthy living are my personal choices & priorities. Money can’t buy you love or your health!

I had intended to get this current CD project finished sooner, but I also wanted to make sure each cut had it’s own “little bit of heaven” and some of the ‘island spirit’ to share with those who appreciate the simple things in life.

Please visit my website and give me a ‘like’ or say hi on Twitter. I’m @islandelights


Wishing you rainbows, resilience & longevity!


Tomy Gunn


May 17, 2013 Posted by | Island Music | , , , , | Leave a comment