Ukulele Wins Big at 2017 Hawaiian Music Awards

By Greg Olwell

The best in Hawaiian music was celebrated at the 40th annual Ha Noku Hanohano award show in Honolulu, Saturday May 20. The awards, which are sometimes referred to as the “Hawaiian Grammys,” focus on Hawaiian artists. It’s no surprise then that the ukulele plays a big role in much of the music celebrated at the show.

Hawaiian virtuoso Led Kaapana was the winner of the ukulele album of the year for Jus’ Press, Vol. 2, which is the first all-ukulele album from the veteran most known for his slack-key guitar playing. [Led stopped by our studio to play a few tracks for our cameras. See him play here.]

A compilation of artists who play Kamaka ukuleles was released last year as part of the company’s celebration of making ukuleles for 100 years. That album, Kamaka Ukulele Presents: Keep Strumming! Celebrating 100 Years,  won anthology of the year and includes many of the islands’ top musicians.


Singer and ukulele player Raiatea Helm earned a best female vocalist award for her album He Leo Huali. Reggae is huge in Hawaii and the ukulele-powered group Kanekoa won reggae album of the year for Tales of the Fruit Stand Mystic. The organization also gives out an award for non-Hawaiian musicians who are playing Hawaiian music and this year, the winner is the Ukulele Swing Trio for its album My Favorite Things.

Having lent his virtuosity to three of this year’s winners, in a behind the scenes sort of way, Bryan Tolentino was also a big winner this year. The active studio musician played on Raiatea Helm’s He Leo Hulali, Hoku Zuttermeister’s Pua Sakura, and appears on the Kamaka centennial album.

The event’s big winners were Keauhou, which picked up nine awards for the group’s debut album. For the trio’s self-titled album, they take home awards for: album of the year, song of the year (“Hanohano Ha’iku”), favorite entertainer of the year, group of the year, Hawaiian album of the year, Hawaiian language performance, best new composition in Hawaiian (Haku Mele Award), most promising artist of the year, and liner notes (Zachary Lum).

For a full list of the winners, visit here.