If you’re curious about Hawaiian music, this article’s got you covered. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, and some of the most popular, classic Hawaiian songs. Hawaii definitely lives up to its nickname of “Aloha State”, as some of these songs will display through their inviting nature.
Some of these songs might even get you dancing (or hulaing), with their contagious rhythms and catchy instruments. Hawaii is a lovely, energetic, and fun place to be, and we hope this list of songs will demonstrate that to you through Hawaiian music.
In no particular order, our favorite Hawaiian songs are:
- Aloha ‘Oe
- Hawai’i Aloha
- Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
- Hawaiian War Chant
- Tiny Bubbles and Pearly Shells
- Blue Hawaii
- Hawaiian Wedding Song
- Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai
- Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride
- My Little Grass Shack
- And more…
With their unique names and styles, you will surely vibe to some of these Hawaiian songs; there are so many you can discover in this article that will instantly lift your mood or make you feel like you are floating on air. So, let’s jump right into our picks of the top Hawaiian songs!
1. Aloha ‘Oe
“Aloha ‘Oe” was written by Queen Lili’uokalani around 1878. The idea of the song came to her when she went horseback riding and saw two people embrace and bid farewell.
She used to sing this song as a farewell to her people, and you can genuinely hear the emotion shining through. The song gained more recognition while Queen Lili’uokalani was kept inside her home at the time of the annexation of Hawaii.
Fun fact: If you’ve ever watched the animated movie Lilo & Stitch, you might remember this song. In the scene, Nani sings Aloha ‘Oe to Lilo.
2. Hawai’i Aloha
A missionary named Lorenzo Lyons wrote “Hawaii Aloha” in the 1800s. He found inspiration in the melody of the canticle “I Left It All With Jesus”. It is an exceptional song centered around uniting people.
If you decide to attend a Hawaiian party or festival, you too can participate by singing along to the song at the end of the festival. At the end of some events, people will join hands to sing this tune together. It is pretty festive.
3. “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”
I am sure that everyone is familiar with these songs. We’re including them together since Hawaiian musician Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole recorded them in one studio session, apparently only taking 15 minutes. While inspired by other artists, these songs are classics and are extremely relaxing and comforting to listen to.
Sadly, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole passed away at the young age of 38 on June 26, 1997, but his songs and legendary status continue to live on.
4. Hawaiian War Chant
Prince Leleiohoku II originally wrote the “Hawaiian War Chant” in the 1860s. The title of the song was initially named Kāua I Ka Huahuaʻi (“We Two in the Spray”) and is about a surreptitious encounter between two beloveds.
So, the melody is not actually a war chant; therefore, the English title of the song has nothing to do with its context.
Hawaiians play the Hawaiian War Chant at free hula productions, and it is mostly played in Hawaiian instead of the English version. It is a fun melody that gets livelier as the song continues, so it is definitely worth listening to!
Here’s our favorite rendition:
5. Tiny Bubbles and Pearly Shells
“Tiny Bubbles” and “Pearly Shells” are some of the greatest songs you can listen to when learning or doing hula dancing. We’re including them together since they were both recorded by world-renowned Hawaiian musician Don Ho in the 1960s.
“Pearly Shells” and “Tiny Shells” are two different songs that seem to be a favorite among Hawaiians and others globally. We prefer to sit back with a glass (or bottle) of wine and have a listen to “Tiny Shells” since that’s what the song is all about!
6. Blue Hawaii
Do the movies “Blue Hawaii”, “Paradise Hawaiian Style”, and “Girls!” ring a bell? Well, if you were a crazy fan of Elvis Presley, you probably watched these movies before. He loved Hawaii, and since he was an adventurous and joyous person, it is not surprising at all.
“Blue Hawaii” is one of the most loved songs in Hawaii, especially among the older crowd. It’s featured in many Hawaiian shows and plays at tons of pubs. It seems like these kinds of songs never lose their essence.
7. Hawaiian Wedding Song
Couples play this song at nearly every wedding, hence the name “Hawaiian Wedding Song”. You can hear people play it for newlyweds, people celebrating their anniversaries, and honeymooners.
The song was initially sung by Helen Desha Beamer in the 1920s, but now various versions are recorded by different (including Hawaiian) artists.
However, Elvis Presley made the song famous after it starred in the movie “Blue Hawaii” in 1961. Its lyrics are primarily in English, but they ensured that they add a Hawaiian verse too.
8. Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai
Hapa was a popular band in Hawaii. The group consisted of Kaneali’i and Flanigan, and together they made lovely tunes and melodies. Their number one hit is “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai”.
It is a traditional Hawaiian song that means “Plants of the Sea” (seaweed if you translate it into English). In actuality, the two artists compared the various seaweeds to different lovers.
They let their creativity shine through with the meaning and title of this song. Hawaiian cultural festivals love playing Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai, and hula dancers enjoy moving along with the melody.
9. Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride
In the animated movie and TV series Lilo & Stitch, the setting is on the island of Kauai, so a lot of Hawaiian songs are featured in the series and movies. “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” can be heard playing at the beginning of the movie, where Lilo is swimming in the ocean.
This song is all about surfing and is quite unique because it was recorded by a hula teacher and musician, Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu. You can hear the Kamehameha School Children’s Chorus happily singing along.
10. My Little Grass Shack
“My Little Grass Shack” is a well-known and iconic Hawaiian song. The song was initially made as a parody of “Back in Hackensack, New Jersey” (1920), but with some editing and altering, the “parody” quickly became famous among Hawaiians.
There’s a high chance you’ll hear it playing at local hotspots in Hawaii. “My Little Grass Shack” is about a person feeling homesick and longing for the Big Island (the song occurs in Kealakekua Bay, Big Island) and its joy and uniqueness.
11. Better Together
Another favorite wedding song is “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. He is a famous Hawaiian musician and lives on the North Shore of the island of Oahu, Hawaii.
All his songs are in English, so you won’t hear the Hawaiian language featured in his songs’ chorus or verses. Much like a few of the songs on this list, you will frequently hear it play on the radio or at social gatherings.
12. Beyond The Reef
“Beyond the Reef” is a bit of a gloomy song. It was performed by a Canadian singer, Jack Pitman. Although it is not a Hawaiian song or written by a Hawaiian artist, it became famous when a well-known Hawaiian singer, Alfred Apaka, re-recorded it.
The song is about losing your beloved/true love, and it usually plays at funerals. Regardless of the song’s meaning, the people of Hawaii really love it.
We’ve included both versions below:
13. Fish And Poi
“Fish And Poi” was a huge hit in Hawaii in the 90s, and still is to this day. People love listening to it since it is all about the island lifestyle and the delicious Hawaiian cuisine!
It’s easy to get lost in the music because it is very catchy. The singer, Sean Na’auao, incorporated an excellent reggae beat and an entire reggae verse in the song. Basically, the song is about someone missing their home (Hawaii) and its lively lifestyle, especially the tasty dishes.
14. You Ku’uipo
As I mentioned, Hawaii truly lives up to its nickname “Aloha State”. Aloha means to love (along with other uses), and this song is a love song written specifically for the island of Maui. “You Ku’uipo” was sung by Willie K, who was a renowned Hawaiian musician.
“Ku’uipo” stands for “sweetheart” in the Hawaiian language. So, it is safe to say the composer gave their heart to Hana Maui when they first arrived there in the 1980s. The song is the perfect tune for Hawaii. It is a high-spirited song that is a joy to listen to.
15. Honolulu City Lights
It seems like people have a difficult time leaving the beautiful state of Hawaii. “Honolulu City Lights” is sung by Keola Beamer, and in this song, he explains how sad he feels for leaving Hawaii to travel to the Mainland.
The Hawaiian Christmas Festival in Oahu is also nicknamed “Honolulu City Lights”, which may or may not be a direct reference to this classic.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I tickled your interest in the Hawaiian culture and their music, then you might be interested in some additional info. Here are some frequently asked questions about Hawaii and Hawaiian music:
Who is the best Hawaiian artist?
Arguably the “best” Hawaiian artist is Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole. He wrote and sang beautiful songs, but the most-loved song he performed is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World”.
For the past two decades, he has been dubbed the best Hawaiian musical artist, and for a good reason. He was a global artist, and the song was featured in many famous films and TV shows. It’s saddening that he passed away due to health complications at a young age, but his music lives on.
What does music mean to the Hawaiian culture?
Music is very important to the Hawaiian culture. They make and play their unique and joyous Hawaiian music to celebrate their culture and Aloha ‘Aina (love of the land). The songs they compose and listen to in Hawaii play a significant role in upholding their spiritual beliefs, indigenous language, social norms, and history.
They express their culture by dancing to Hawaiian music while doing the hula and Hawaiian drum-dance chant. To this day, the people of Hawaii use music to define and express themselves.
When was Hawaiian music popular?
Hawaiian music is known for its unique rhythms and joyful lyrics that express how much they love and enjoy their home and island lifestyle. Hawaiian music was very popular from 1930 to 1960. The 30 years was called the “Golden Age of Hawaiian Music,” which is all thanks to Webley Edwards.
Webley Edwards was a national radio host, and while he was broadcasting from Honolulu, he played some Hawaiian tunes. That was the first time some Americans heard Hawaiian music.
That specific radio show, Hawaii Calls, lasted one hour, and it seems that as the minutes passed by, the people listening in fell more and more in love with the peaceful rhythm of Hawaiian music.
What is the history of Hawaiian music?
Hawaiian music was embedded in hymns and past religious chants. However, when missionaries, immigrants, and international travelers stayed in Hawaii, the native Hawaiians picked up some musical rhythms and sounds from them and discovered new instruments too.
While still incorporating their past religious chants and hymns, the native Hawaiians made their own unique genre of music, merging the sounds, rhythms, and instruments they learned from the immigrants, travelers, and missionaries.
What is the most used instrument in Hawaiian music?
The most used instrument in Hawaiian music is the ukulele. It is a much smaller, four-string version of a guitar. I have always associated the ukulele with Hawaiian music. Jake Shimabukuro was the best and most famous ukulele player. He has some albums of his own and enjoys performing Hawaii’s favorite tunes.
The Wrap Up
By now, you should be packed and ready to head off to the lovely Aloha State. I suggest saving our list of all-time favorite Hawaiian music on your phone, as it’s almost necessary to listen to the songs so that you can hype yourself up for your stay. There is much more to learn about Hawaii, and these songs just might help!
From their traditional dances and music to their delicious cuisines, Hawaii is something you must experience at least once in your lifetime. Until then, enjoy the vibes this playlist gives off; you can find these songs on almost all music platforms. Mahalo!