Alfred Apaka
Golden Voice
Of The Islands





Alfred Apaka (1919–1960) is hailed to this day as one of the most important performers of the Exotica genre, although for a different kind of reasons. I have to admit that his schmaltzy music, as groundbreaking as it was in spreading the word about Hawaiian traditions, doesn't capture my heart. However, I acknowledge his skills and stardom, and am hence keen on reviewing his posthumously released live LP Golden Voice Of The Islands, which itself is interesting for a variety of reasons I'll mention below.


Apaka performed at the Hawaiian Village Hotel from 1955 onwards until his highly unexpected death in 1960, introducing Hawaiian music throughout the United States and causing thousands of yearning glints in the eyes of the attending ladies. The then-famous radio guy Webley Edwards – who ran his show Hawaii Calls on Waikiki Beach for almost 37 years – discovered Apaka's talent and spread the word about his music via the air waves of his program. Golden Voice Of The Islands contains 12 songs of one of Apaka's various shows at the Hawaiian Village Hotel, with introductory words from Edwards or Apaka before each song and a cheering crowd who is all up for a great evening.

According to the liner notes, Edwards always promised Apaka to release "an album of songs with the relaxed and natural style, the warmth and lift and spirit, that a live audience always seemed to inspire in him." The album is therefore interesting for at least three reasons: firstly, this is a live recording, and the exciting atmosphere as well as the convivial audience are worth the existence of the LP alone. It's an important document of two men, Apaka and Edwards, who harmonized well on stage. Secondly, a few of the featured songs were never found on any release by Apaka, so these tracks add something special as well. And finally, here we have the man, Apaka, who discovered one Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman and Gene Rains, a whopping amount of three men who are considered the biggest stars in the world of Exotica. Well done, Mr. Apaka! As I have already quickly stated, I am not skilled, willed and thrilled of or about reviewing the album in depth. While I find Apaka's performance as a whole fascinating, his voice and character itself cannot enchant me in the slightest, for I don't belong to his targeted audience … for many obvious reasons, naturally. Instead of providing a deep analysis as I usually do, I will skim over a few tracks of the album.

Here (In This Enchanted Place) presents the rich trembling baritone to great effect, and the sound quality of this old record is absolutely top notch. The dreamy strings of the ukulele as well as the careful double bass accompaniment and the saccharine backing choir altogether succeed in giving a pitch-perfect impression of the yearning for Hawaii. If this performance would have been held in New York, I could imagine many sore eyes in the audience. Considering that this was recorded straight at Waikiki Beach, the people must have grinned in blissful happiness even more.


Blue Hawaii by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger provides an equally fitting setting that is further boosted by polyphonous ukuleles and the silky choir, but is otherwise strictly reduced instrument-wise in order for Apaka's voice to outshine everything else. I Want To Learn To Speak Hawaiian is a surprising predecessor of Rockabilly tunes with an upbeat rhythm, cheeky lyrics and a stronger emphasis on the unsuspectedly warped ukulele strings, while I'll Weave A Lei Of Stars For You returns to the kitschy romance with slow beats and a refreshingly mellifluous choir that finally gets rid of its function as a melodramatic echoing device by providing unique responses to Apaka's green moon lyrics. 

Of particular importance is Hiilawe that was specifically chosen by Apaka due to its interesting rhythm. It's a rather hectic song he heard several times at luaus when he was a child. The lyrics are completely in Hawaiian, and the focus on several instrumental bridges and the cheerful screams by the band are totally welcome, making this the standout track to my ears that breaks with the sugar-sweet formula. And indeed does the crowd go wild after this performance.


The same can be said about the interpretation of Eddie Brandt's There's No Place Like Hawaii which merges exuberant happiness with solemnity when the male choir is expanded by a female foil. Everyone is up for it, a frolicking Apaka is laughing, and one member of the choir is animating the crowd with "everybody" chants. The romantic majesty – or is it lethargy? – is once more broken with this addition. The final Farewell (For Just A Little While) remains in clichéd wonderlands, though. Alfred Apaka's melting voice is accompanied one last time by the soporific male backing choir. The best thing about this performance? Well, of course it's the added field recording of original Waikiki Beach waves! 

I get the aesthetic value of Golden Voice Of The Islands. This is a fine performance by one of the greatest Hawaiian singers who has ever lived. It takes us back to a care-free time when romantic performers were embraced and loved by women and men alike. The atmosphere isn't exactly bustling. And it shouldn't, since eight out of the twelve tracks are stereotypical songs of romance. However, Alfred Apaka's performance isn't just believable, it is entirely original, for he was in fact a Hawaiian and knew the island by heart. Most of the songs were specifically handpicked by him due to their special meaning.


Since Apaka remains in the limelight and enchants everyone and their mother, this live record isn't as vivid as one of the hundreds performances in of the time, for example by The Beachcomber Trio at the Kahiki Supper Club, but it's a relevant contemporary recording nonetheless. I usually prefer the instrumental side of Exotica or the mysterious chants of women, so consider my review a rarity as well. I prefer Robert Conrad singing, thank you very much, but Alfred Apaka is a close second choice, let's put it this way. The four rather upbeat songs (of which I've reviewed three) are well worth it. The romantic songs sound too much alike, but as I've stated before, I'm not part of the intended target audience. Wrong sex, wrong time, wrong taste. Ah well.

Further reading:
Brian Cooper provides valuable bits of background information on his website about this particular record and the life of Alfred Apaka.


Exotica Review 074: Alfred Apaka – Golden Voice Of The Islands (1963). Originally published on May 26, 2012 at