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The Day the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Became A Crime To Play On Waikīkī Beach

October 26, 2023 • Daniel TremblayNews

Ed. Note: Daniel has been demonstrating the Hawaiian steel guitar on Waikīkī beach for many years. However, he received a citation from the Honolulu Police Department for creating "prohibited noise" because he was using amplified sound for his steel guitar. Daniel chose to take his case to the court system and was convinced he would be vindicated. Here is his account of that proceeding.

As most of you that have read my blogs in the past know I have been playing the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar in Waikiki at Queens Beach for more than 7 years, well no more. Last May 12th at 1:23 PM two Honolulu Police Department officers gave me a criminal citation for playing "Aloha ‘Oe," and stated I would have to appear at the 7D court for arraignment and pay a $100 fine because I was creating "prohibited noise." They took pictures of me to be presented to the prosecution. I told them they were making a big mistake and couldn't they just give me a warning. Their answer was I was breaking the law and they were doing their duty. I tried to explain that this instrument was invented in Hawai‘i and is part of the Aloha Spirit and the Hawaiian culture. They didn't care, didn't know anything about it all and were not interested.

Daniel with his Rogue steel guitar
Daniel Conducting Demonstrations

Then the saga began. Getting back to the "Alice's Restaurant" song, when I got to the Honolulu District Court I was told to sit on the 7D bench and wait for my case to be called. I was there with robbers, drug dealers, trespassers, car stealers, mother rapers and well you know.

"They took seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs…One was used as evidence against us…and he stopped me right there and said, 'Kid did you ever go to court?'…Kid I want you to sit down on the bench that says Group W." Where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the Army after committing your special crime, there all kinds of mean nasty ugly looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father rapers sitting right there on the bench next to me! They was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys sitting on the bench next to me…they were talkin about crime, mother stabbing, Father rapping and all kinds of groovy things…
Alice's Restaurant

Well I listened to all the guys talkin about their crimes and how many times they have been to court, I really felt out of my element, didn't want to be there. When my case was called they stated I would have to go to a pre-trial and state my case. I sent the following letter to the judge:

17 May, 2023

Subject: Criminal Citation 6585007 Prohibited Noise

Aloha, Your Honor Courtroom, 7D,

My name is Daniel Tremblay and I am a volunteer for HIMELE, the non-profit Hawaii Institute for Music Enrichment And Learning Experiences ( HIMELE.org) run by Alan Akaka. I entertain, educate and promote the Hawaiian culture, history, Hawaiian mele by playing the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar on Queen's Beach (Kapiolani Park) and have done so for the last 7 years with verbal permission from the Park Ranger (a written permit has been applied for). I am not paid and any donations received go to Alan Akaka for the non-profit HIMELE organization to educate keiki and put on free Steel Guitar Festivals throughout the islands such as the upcoming Waikiki Steel Guitar Week at the Royal Hawaiian (July 10-15). The Park Ranger (Benjamin Bass) and everyone who hears me play Hawaiian Mele and hear my history of the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar (Kika Kila) is very happy I am there. I can provide character witnesses from my Kumu Alan Akaka and other great players such as Bobby Ingano if needed.

Last Friday I got a criminal citation for playing with an amplifier. It is not possible for me to play the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar without one (the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar is the first instrument to be electrically amplified because of this need) and Benjamin said "my amplifier is small and does not disturb anyone but provides wonderful Hawaiian music", I do not use a microphone all my music is instrumental with no backup. I usually play between 10am and 3pm at least 900 feet from any habitats or hotels and in the park and not the sidewalk.

A warning was asked for but denied.

My request is to have this criminal citation dismissed and permission to continue playing to further the Aloha spirit on the beach of Waikiki (written permission applied for at the park). A copy of the citation is attached. I will be leaving the Island for the Mainland to visit family June 2, 2023 and be back mid September, 2023. We own a condo here and have been visitors to the islands for more than 20 years. If this citation cannot be dismissed outright I request a bench trial in October 2023 when I return where I can demonstrate the "disturbing noise" I provide to visitors and guests to Hawaii.

Mahalo,

Daniel M. Tremblay
Public Relations at himelepr@gmail.com
HIMELE - Hawaiian Institute for Music Enrichment and Learning Experiences
http://www.himele.org/hmevents.html

Neither the Judge nor the Prosecution was swayed and at pre-trial I was told to appear on October 12 at 1:30 for trial. I had many members of the Hawaiian community that were very upset to hear the Hawaiian Steel Guitar is "prohibited noise" especially playing Aloha ‘Oe on the beach of Waikīkī. Many wanted to be witnesses to give testimony and support me. When I learned that I would not be allowed the time it would take to present all the witnesses I decided to just defend myself with help from the experience of Geri Valdriz1. He wrote me a very comprehensive closing argument:

May it please the court, after a determination of the facts and the law in this case, it is clear that the case should be dismissed "In the Interest of Justice" and in consideration of the "Aloha Spirit Law."

There are Hawaii Revised Statutes that allow judges to dismiss the case in the "interest of justice" by using its reason and common sense.

The music I, Daniel Tremblay was playing is not "Noise" as intended by the Ordinance before the Court. The steel guitar (Kika Kila) is a historical and cultural Hawaiian instrument and its sound is pure Hawaiian soul.

In addition, we have a unique Hawaii Revised Statute in Hawaii called the Aloha Spirit Law (HRS 5-7.5) This allows the District Courts to embody the Aloha Spirit in its decision making and to closely consider the intent and actions of individuals who behave in the Aloha Spirit. The testimony and the evidence at trial today clearly shows that Daniel Tremblay acted in the Aloha Spirit, that Kika Kila is a unique Hawaiian instrument, and that it is historically and culturally important to the Hawaiian people.

Argument for Dismissal of the case.

  1. Daniel Tremblay's playing of the steel guitar is an act of the Spirit of Aloha as embodied in HRS 5-7.5 (see Exhibit "A");

  2. His actions and intent are expressed with tenderness, harmony, pleasantness, modesty, and perseverance;

  3. His sharing of Hawaiian music expresses the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It is with a mutual regard and affection for others and extends warmth and caring with no obligation in return;

  4. Through Kika Kila, Daniel builds relationships with others in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence and continuance of cultural heritage;

  5. Kika Kila (Steel guitar) is an indigenous art form originating in Hawaii in the 1800's by Hawaiian guitar players. It has since been adopted around the world by Country Music, Bluegrass, Americana, Hindustani slide, and the Delta Blues. It is a historical and cultural Hawaiian art form and its playing should be encouraged and protected. It is not Noise.;

  6. Merriam - Webster's Dictionary clearly defines noise as "sound especially: one that lacks an agreeable quality or is noticeably unpleasant or loud" (see Exhibit "B");

  7. On December 12, 1998, then Honolulu County Mayor Frank Fasi signed a Proclamation marking the centennial anniversary of the invention of the Hawaiian steel guitar by Joseph Kekuku, proclaiming 1989 as the year of the Steel Guitar. (see Exhibit "C");

  8. Similarly, on May 5, 1989, the Hawaii Governor John Waihe`e signed a Proclamation proclaiming 1989 as the Year of the Steel Guitar in Hawaii. (see Exhibit "D");

  9. In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, judges of the district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the "Aloha Spirit." (HRS 5-7.5);

Therefore, In the Interest of Justice and using its reason and common sense, this Court should dismiss the charge of Prohibited Noise against Daniel Tremblay.

So when the court date came and I appeared, the Prosecutor approached me and said he read my letter to the court and didn't like prosecuting these cases and asked if I would accept a plea deal to a civil misdemeanor and $25 fine. I said no sir, there are at least 300 people that know about this case and would be very upset if I pleaded out, I want my day in court.

The police officers were there as witnesses against me. They were questioned by the prosecutor and I learned they were both new cops just out of the academy and both did not know what a Hawaiian Steel Guitar was and anything about Hawaiian Mele. The Prosecution did bring out the 8X10 color photo of me and my steel guitar sitting at the beach, and asked the officers if that was the guy they saw playing "prohibited noise" at the park. They both said that it was. These were both inexperienced cops looking to make a mark for themselves and didn't know when to turn a blind eye. This seemed to be their first time testifying in court and they were very nervous. Both had been born and raised here. I asked them on cross examination whether they knew anything about the Hawaiian culture and the Aloha Spirit, many objections were brought up by the prosecution but the Judge gave me a great deal of latitude.

When I was about to testify I stated I objected to Aloha ‘Oe written by Queen Liliuokalani being called prohibited noise, I'm sure if she were her today she would be very upset, especially being played by the Hawaiian Steel guitar, an Hawaiian invention.

The Judge stopped me from going any further, she stated she must dismiss this case since the Prosecutor left out an element of the crime in the pleading so she must dismiss. I said I object your Honor, I haven't been able to make my case and have a very important closing argument that I believe is important to get into the record. She stated she had dismissed this case so we are done here. The Judge said that while she sympathized, the law was the law until amended through proper channels so it remains a crime to play a Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar which requires amplification on any public property, parks, beaches etc. in Waikīkī. So sad.

1 Geronimo "Geri" Valdirz is a professional steel guitarist, a retired judge of the Maui Second Circuit Family Court of Hawai‘i and a member of HIMELE's board of directors.

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