Harry Kaapuni & His Royal Polynesians
Blue Hawaiian Waters






Blue Hawaiian Waters is the second and last official album by Harry Kaapuni & His Royal Polynesians. Released in 1960 on Coronet Records, it relies heavily on the established Hawaiian moods of their debut Aloha Hawaii without leaving the shallow waters of the nearby coast. The listener is strongly advised to be a fan of the so-called Hapa Haole music in order to fully enjoy the twelve sugar-sweet sun-soaked beach panoramas. In precise and carefully arranged doses, Blue Hawaiian Waters offers a nice change to the otherwise tropical majority of vintage Exotica material.


The expert and lover of Hawaiian music, mind you, will spot many nuances and microstylistic surprises. Even though you are probably not all too intrigued about the given prospect, I nonetheless invite you to speed-read through the review. As it is usual with the releases of Coronet Records, only the bandleader is mentioned – in this case, it is obviously Mr. Kaapuni – in-between piles of prosaic descriptions that lure the potential listener to buy this album. I cannot tell how many people were involved in the process of creation, i.e. whether Kaapuni’s Polynesians consist of two or three islanders. I do know, however, that the album breaks the tight boundaries exactly one single time in a similar fashion than Aloha Hawaii did, and this happens right at the opening spot.


The album launches with the greatly unexpected surprise I have hinted at. Yep, it is just the thousandth incarnation of Charles E. King’s 1926 love ballad Hawaiian Wedding Song, and the way Harry Kaapuni interprets it is swallowed by the flood of similar renditions. And yet is there one particular element that was curiously missing on Kaapuni’s debut Aloha Hawaii and is now unleashed during the first chords already: his voice. There is only one other vocal track on his first album, and it is a decidedly Surf Rock-infused version of Hawaiian Holiday. Here, however, his voice resembles the timbre of Alfred Apaka or Bing Crosby to the point. There is even a Hula girl backing choir in-between the manifold piano chords of which a lead voice steps forward for a duet with the bandleader. Acoustic guitar accents, gentle percussion and a typically warped Hawaiian twang round the short tune off. It is the high-budget production by him and the band, if you will, as the remaining tunes resurrect the mellifluous Surf Rock feeling of the early 60’s to great success: Luau, for instance, is a sun-dried Hapa Haole instrumental par excellence with crunchy steel guitars, careful double bass accents and ukulele strings that let the temperature rise even further.


While Mood Hawaiian drifts into dreamier – and thankfully non-schmaltzy – realms with a decreased tempo, a languorous lead steel guitar to die for and a carved out backing ukulele that is surprisingly upfront, the tasty Pineapples, White Sails And Cocoanuts keeps the hammock-friendly reverie intact but shifts the focus ever so slightly to a cooler breeze at the beach. The steel guitar infusion is more uplifting, but again, we’re talking about nuances here, especially so in comparison to the largely different opener. Island Mood, however, is eminently eupeptic with an uplifting rhythm thanks to the shallow drums, and a quicker succession of rather complex notes on the steel guitar. The variety of jumpy tones and the dreamy final lick at the end make this my favorite tune of side A which is otherwise closed with the downbeat Hawaiian Promenade and its almost piercing – but welcome! – guitar riffs that even manage to transport the tiniest molecules of bile and larger particles of a Speedy West-like coolness with it.


Side B launches with High Tide, but as with the majority of the material, I cannot point my finger to the exact origin. It doesn’t resemble the title of the same name by the Surf Rock band The Lively Ones, but is a much silkier track with especially dopey riffs and sunny soundscapes. This is actually a great achievement in the given narrow context, as the song may sound syrupy to the untrained ear, but is truly far out thanks to the tonality as delivered by Kaapuni on his steel guitar. The following tune is called Stars Over Hawaii, and despite its night-evoking title, the band delivers the same sunburst scheme as usual. The most interesting change of the formula, however, is indeed the quieter, alcove-filled aural beachscape that lets the ukulele accentuations shimmer more prominently than on the majority of the delivered material. Despite this observation, sunshine is all over this piece.


The next offering is better known and has been interpreted many times by Alfred Apaka, the Ames Brothers and even Bing Crosby: the classic Hawaiian Serenade – also known as Sing Me A Song Of The Islands – is presented in an instrumental version here, with the vocals being unsurprisingly replaced by Harry Kaapuni’s steel guitar. It is an all too kitschy version, I think, and does not succeed without the vocals. A good piece is delivered with Beautiful Girls And Sunshine, as the spiraling main melody at the beginning is perfectly memorable. Soon enough, the song drifts into negligible less carved out steel guitar notes, but the introductory phase is truly great on its own. While the penultimate Hawaiian Mood consists of a surprisingly high-range melody and an uplifting ukulele rhythm, the outro Lost Love is remarkable for its hung-over steel guitar twangs. Even in terms of the obvious task of delivering a melancholic, doleful setting, this endeavor is undermined by the particularly sunny guitar, and luckily so, for the Space-Age tonality is nearer than ever and is only topped by the moony euphony, the final note of Harry Kaapuni’s & His Royal Polynesians’ career.


Sure, Harry Kaapuni’s Blue Hawaiian Waters is an ephemeral album that is never played simultaneously by even ten people all over the world, I imagine, and yet is it an interesting Hapa Haole artifact of the 60’s, if only due to its status as the second and last official album by the band. I am sure that the unnamed players or Harry Kaapuni himself appeared in different productions and on several Hawaiian albums afterwards, but alas, this is easy to presume but hard to prove. This blue album continues the path of the green debut, and if there is one assertion to remember them by, it is the highly monotonous output that makes the standout tracks or short segues shine all the more.


On Blue Hawaiian Waters, it is undoubtedly the opener Hawaiian Wedding Song that features Kaapuni singing with – gasp! – a beautiful island girl. Both are supported by a hula girl choir and a classic piano. It is exciting and sad at the same time to notice or worship such tiny changes of the well-established and beaten-to-death formula, but that’s the way it is. Apart from this more or less successful opener, the blandness ensues, with only microscopic changes deemed tasty by the connoisseur, for instance the complexity of the main melody in Island Mood or the Space-Age breeze in the nostalgic Lost Love, which is truly funny on its own given the fact that sadness and heartache are to be depicted with the help of a steel guitar and a ukulele only. A dog doesn’t sound like a cat, and likewise is it impossible to maintain or nurture an even distantly sad mood with ukuleles.


Blue Hawaiian Waters is a non-essential piece in any Exotica afficionado’s collection. It is interesting for contrastive reasons: once you own one of Kaapuni’s albums, you can as well get the other. But it doesn’t reach the surprisingly varied dioramas and broader scope of Johnny Pineapple’s Hapa Haole gemstone Hawaiian Holiday of 1965 which, despite its lackluster jejune title, has much bigger surprises in store. Speaking of store: the album has never been re-issued as far as I know, and a digital download version on iTunes or Amazon is as likely as a Heavy Metal album by the Royal Polynesians. 


Update August 5, 2013: 
Reader Robert Bowman from Florida has sent me an email in which he points me to an enlightening thread at SteelGuitarForum.com. There, a steel guitarist named Eddie Cunningham claims to be responsible for playing his signature instrument on both of Harry Kaapuni's records. This is entirely possible and further proof of the session musician-heavy 50's and 60's. Either Cunningham is playing next to Harry Kaapuni on a second steel guitar, or Harry Kaapuni is a marketing-related moniker and in fact Eddie Cunningham himself! Whatever the truth may be, my thanks and gratitude go out to Robert Bowman for enlightening me… while causing further questions and contemplations. 


Exotica Review 145: Harry Kaapuni & His Royal Polynesians – Blue Hawaiian Waters (1960). Originally published on Nov. 17, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.