Soundtrack: The Descendants
Label: Sony Classical
Release Date: November 21, 2011
Alexander Payne’s new film, The Descendants, tells the tale of a Hawaiian land owner (George Clooney) who must deal with his daughters and some big secrets that are unearthed in the aftermath of a boating accident that leaves his wife in a coma. To accompany the film, the music department has put together a great collection of Hawaiian music that captures both a relaxed island feel and the subdued emotional nature of the movie’s subject matter. Some of the greats of Hawaiian music, including Gabby Pahinui, Ray Kane, and Lena Machado, are represented in this excellent soundtrack. Don’t expect slide guitars and ukuleles accompanying hula dancers, though — this music is much better than that.
With only one exception, the master musicians on this album are known for a different aspect of Hawaiian music— slack-key guitar. The name describes the instrument’s tuning, in which some strings are loosened so that the open strings form a chord, but it encompasses a whole style of playing that involves finger picking and various other techniques. The resulting songs are gentle, relaxed, and mellow, and they evoke a Hawaiian feel just as much as the stereotypical steel guitar, if not more authentically so. If you must hear steel guitar and cheesy lyrics to feel that you’ve had the Hawaiian experience, however, you can get your fix with “Mom” (track 17), sung by “Hawaii’s Songbird” Lena Machado, who was popular in the 1930s and 40s. This is also the one track with lyrics in English — the rest of the songs alternate between Hawaiian lyrics and instrumental pieces.
Whether or not you are an aficionado of Hawaiian music, I highly recommend this soundtrack. It is perfect for those times when you need something to help you relax and escape stress. I also appreciate its authenticity — kudos to the music department for putting so much thought into the choice of songs. This is a real slice of Hawaii that makes for an enjoyable hour of listening.
- “Ka Makani Ka’illi Aloha” – Gabby Pahinui (2:52)
- “Kalena Kai” – George Winston, Keola Beamer (4:24)
- “Hi’ilawe” – Gabby Pahinui (4:09)
- “Ulili E” – Dennis Kamakahi (4:18)
- “Ka Loke” – Makaha Sons, Dennis Pavao (3:18)
- “Auwe” – Ray Kane (2:16)
- “Leahi” – Gabby Pahinui (3:53)
- “Hawaiian Skies” – Jeff Peterson (2:21)
- “He’eia” – Gabby Pahinui, Sons of Hawaii (2:44)
- “‘Imi Au La ‘Oe” – Keola Beamer (3:11)
- “Kaua’i Beauty” – Gabby Pahinui (3:26)
- “Hi’ilawe” – Sonny Chillingworth (6:12)
- “Wai O Ke Aniani” – Gabby Pahinui (2:53)
- “Paka Ua” – Daniel Ho, Ozzie Kotani (3:50)
- “Hapuna Sunset” – Charles Michael Brotman (3:51)
- “Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest” – Makana (5:13)
- “Mom” – Lena Machado (2:53)
- “Ka Mele Oku’u Puuwai” – Sol Hoopii’s Novelty Trio (3:16)
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
I have to agree with most of your review. I think the soundtrack is great and I think it is great that Hawaiian music is being featured in a major motion picture. However, I disagree with you in a couple of area.
You suggest there is only one non slack key tune on the soundtrack, but there are two. You mention the Lena Machado tune, which I have to agree was not a good choice – she recorded many beautiful Hawaiian language songs that would have been more appropriate. But there is also Ka Mele Oku’u Puuwai by Sol Hoopii’s Novelty Trio, a song that features Hoopii, one of the great early Hawaiian steel guitar players.
I also strongly disagree with one particular sentence of the review, “Don’t expect Hawaiian guitar and ukuleles accompanying hula dancers, though – this music is much better than that.” To me, this sweeping generalization shows a lack of experience with Hawaiian music. Dismissing all Hawaiian guitar and ukulele music as being inferior to all slack key guitar is silly. Gabby Pahinui, whose slack key is featured heavily on the soundtrack, made groundbreaking Hawaiian music for years with The Sons of Hawaii. This group also featured the virtuosic ukulele playing of Eddie Kamae, the Hawaiian steel guitar of David “Feet” Rogers, and the right bass of Joe Marshall. You should listen to The Sons of Hawaii if you need proof that ukulele and steel guitars aren’t ever part of beautiful Hawaiian music. There are, of course, many other examples of ukulele and or steel guitar beautifully accompanying slack key guitar, sometimes along with stunning hula dancing also. Is there any cheesy/touristy ukulele and steel guitar accompanying hula dancers? Sure. However, dismiss all ukulele and steel guitar and you will miss out on very important parts of beautiful traditional Hawaiian music made that much better when accompanied by a graceful hula dancer.
Thanks for correcting me on the 2nd non-slack-key tune – I will listen more closely next time!
As for your other comment, thank you for providing me and other readers with the extra information about Hawaiian ukulele and slide guitar music. I did not intend to suggest that there was anything wrong with it or that it was inferior, simply to let the readers know that this soundtrack was not like the stereotypical cheesy/touristy music that might immediately come to mind for the average person not versed in authentic Hawaiian music. I apologize for my lack of clarity.
Thank you for your comments.
If I were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, now I’d say “Kowaubgna, dude!”