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Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music

John Troutman

Hardcover, 392 pp.

Since the nineteenth century, the distinct tones of kīkā kila, the Hawaiian steel guitar, have defined the island sound. Here historian and steel guitarist John W. Troutman offers the instrument’s definitive history, from its discovery by a young Hawaiian royalist named Joseph Kekuku to its revolutionary influence on American and world music. During the early twentieth century, Hawaiian musicians traveled the globe, from tent shows in the Mississippi Delta, where they shaped the new sounds of country and the blues, to regal theaters and vaudeville stages in New York, Berlin, Kolkata, and beyond. In the process, Hawaiian guitarists recast the role of the guitar in modern life. But as Troutman explains, by the 1970s the instrument’s embrace and adoption overseas also worked to challenge its cultural legitimacy in the eyes of a new generation of Hawaiian musicians. As a consequence, the indigenous instrument nearly disappeared in its homeland.

Using rich musical and historical sources, including interviews with musicians and their descendants, Troutman provides the complete story of how this Native Hawaiian instrument transformed not only American music but the sounds of modern music throughout the world.

John W. Troutman is associate professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Advance Praise:

“A model of richly detailed yet accessible narrative history, John W. Troutman’s book will force scholars and lovers of popular music in the United States to change some of their most basic and long-held assumptions.”—Karl Hagstrom Miller, University of Virginia

“Kīkā Kila is a magisterial work. John W. Troutman eloquently links the steel guitar with the arrival of white missionaries and the dispossession of indigenous Hawaiian people from their land in the nineteenth century. The instrument became a powerful voice for the Hawaiian people and inspired white, black and Indian music in North America in the twentieth century.” —William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

“John W. Troutman’s compelling and lovingly written book cements the centrality of the steel guitar, Kanaka Maoli musicians, and Hawaiian history in the evolution of American cultural history. Deeply informed by scholarship on music, expressive culture and performance, diaspora, imperialism, resistance, politics, economics, and more—all informed and reinvented through the lens of Indigenous studies—this is one of the most surprising and challenging cultural histories I’ve lately seen. Read here and learn that Kanaka Maoli people and the steel guitar are at the heart of it all.”—Rayna Green, Curator Emerita, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

“John W. Troutman's Kīkā Kila is a deeply researched, definitive history of the Hawaiian steel guitar, but more than that, it is an eloquent and convincing argument for the influence and centrality of Hawaiian music—and, in particular, Hawaiian musicians—-in the broader history of American music.”—Elijah Wald, author of Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues

“Kīkā Kila is a tour de force, documenting the steel guitar’s indigenous Hawaiian roots, while also challenging longstanding conventions in the music industry and in scholarship on American popular music. Exhaustively researched and elegantly written, Troutman’s book is a gift of insight and appreciation for the steel guitar, arguably the most endearing sonic icon of Hawaiian music.”—Amy Kuʻuleialoha Stillman, Professor of American Culture and Music, University of Michigan

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