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A 10,000-piece Hawaiian music collection from Canada has a new home at the Hawaiʻi State Archives

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The largest known collection of Hawaiian music just ended up in the lap of the Hawaiʻi State Archives. Scores of boxes arrived in the building safe and sound in early December from a trip across the Canadian border.

Archivist Adam Jansen said it will take one to two years for staff and volunteers to clean, index and start digitizing the 10,000-piece collection donated by the Scott family in Canada.

"The Michael Scott Hawaiian Music Collection became available with his unfortunate passing, and his son had tracked us down and said, 'My father has spent his entire lifetime collecting Hawaiian music. And in his will, he said it has to go someplace where it can be made accessible to the public,'" Jansen said.

Jansen traveled to Canada himself to pack up the records and shepherd their safe transit back to Hawaiʻi. The Paul and Linda Kahn Foundation paid to move the collection to the archives, he said.

Jansen said the most interesting thing about the collection is how much early period music it contains.

"I'm going through and digitizing some of the versions of Aloha ‘Oe, and to find these recordings from the 19-aughts, the 1910s, 1920s, you know, we're getting to the earliest recordings of Hawaiian music so that we can understand some of the genesis of what we appreciate today," Jansen said.

"Where did it come from? How was it performed? What were the actual lyrics versus the lyrics we have today? We're just unlocking just an incredible learning opportunity for both music and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, from these manaleo speakers," he told HPR's The Conversation.

Now the Hawaiʻi State Archives is looking for volunteers to help organize the collection. Jansen said more are needed because of limited staff whose main duty is to focus on documents at the archives.

He said the goal is to make the music available to the public, develop an educational curriculum, and create a place where Kumu Hula can go to find new songs and chants.

Music historian Kilin Reece said the collection immortalizes those musicians who were at the leading edge of the recording industry.

"Thomas Edison, King Kalākaua were friends. They met up in 1881 on the king's circumnavigation of the globe. And so as early as 1899, Royal Hawaiian string bands were recording a style of music that really would herald the birth of jazz, blues, country, Western swing, rock n' roll — a half-century before any of those styles had started to take shape," Reece said. "When we talk about what's to be learned from this gathering of records, it's really limitless as to what we can unpack from this."

If you are interested in volunteering to help process this collection, please email archives@hawaii.gov. This interview aired on The Conversation on Feb. 18, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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