Drawing representing Hawaiian mahu, or third gender.

Hawaiian Music: More Than Just Hula (But Also Hula)

April 30, 2015 by Craig Phillips in Lists

Hina performing with some of her students, from Kumu Hina
Hina performing with some of her students, from Kumu Hina

In tandem with the PBS film Kumu Hina, we created this Spotify playlist compiling some of the greatest Hawaiian music, from Hula to slack guitar, ukulele, and beyond. And yes, we also couldn’t resist tossing in a standard at the end, while finding inspiration for some of the other choices via Hawaii Magazine, Honolulu Magazine, King’s Hawaiian, and our friends, readers, and viewers from Hawaii.

Kumu Hina tells the captivating story of a native Hawaiian mahu (transgender) teacher who uses traditional culture to inspire a student to lead the school’s all-male hula troupe. The film reveals a side of paradise rarely seen on screen.

Accompanying the playlist are more tracks and videos to further get you in a Hawaiian state of mind, to have your own personal kanikapila (music jam) in your home.

Haiwaiian music playlist


Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwoʻole was a Hawaiian musician, entertainer, and sovereignty activist who sadly passed away in 2007 at the age of 38 from weight-related complications. But his legacy as a musician and Hawaiian independence supporter will live on.

Featured prominently in the film Kumu Hina is the music of Makana, an acclaimed slack-key guitarist whose lovely work was also famously heard on the soundtrack for the film The Descendants.

The all-female trio Na Leo Pilimehana is a mainstay in Hawaii for over thirty years now:

Not only did we forget what a sweet movie Disney’s Lilo & Stitch was, but just how distinctly Hawaiian it is through and through. The opening credits feature a lovely song called “He Mele No Lilo” (lyrics):

Here’s two mellow live performances by native Hawaiian folk-rock singer Jack Johnson. The first is a performance for local children learning about the environment, and the second is newly added (2020) featuring Jack Johnson and friends doing a lovely “live from home” performance for Hawaiian charity during COVID quarantining.

Amy Hanaialii Gilliom is one of the top-selling female vocalists from Hawaii and has a truly gorgeous voice. There are many of her videos on YouTube but we chose this one because it seems so quintessentially Hawaiian, and is lovely.

Submitted in the admittedly cheesier section, but still a lovable classic:

Learn more about Kumu Hina.

Craig Phillips

Craig is the digital content producer for Independent Lens, based in San Francisco. He is a film nerd, cartoonist, classic film poster collector, wannabe screenwriter, and owner of/owned by cats.