Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

Hawaiian Steel Guitar From Indonesia to the Netherlands

June 1, 2024 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kīkā Kila.

This month we look at Hawaiian Steel guitar from Indonesia to the Netherlands.

In 1919 the Royal Hawaiian Troubadors led by Ernest Ka‘ai left Hawai‘i for a world tour of Australia, New Zealand, India, and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). In 1922 two musicians, Alexander Lono Munson and Herbert Pahupu Byrnes left the tour at Surabaya, Java.

Both men married Javanese women, had children, and began a new life with their family. They also continued to play Hawaiian music and taught the local people how to play the steel guitar. Lono Munson and Pahupu Byrnes are now largely credited for first popularizing Hawaiian music and the steel guitar in Indonesia.

Aside from Hawaiian music, Kika Kila also made its way into "Krontjong" a traditional folk music blending Portuguese and Indonesian songs. During the WWII Japanese Occupation of Indonesia, Hawaiian music was banned. Many Hawaiian groups changed their names and played Krontjong folk music. After the war Hawaiian music returned and the steel guitar remained in Krontjong music.

Indonesian independence from the Dutch came in 1945 and many Dutch-Indonesian musicians repatriated to the Netherlands. They brought Hawaiian music and the steel guitar with them.

Three of Indonesia's legendary steel guitar players who moved to the Netherlands were George de Fretes, Rudy Wairata, and Coy Pereira. During the 1950s and 1960s these three players were at the forefront of the steel guitar being played throughout Europe.

George de Fretes, Rudy Wairata, and Coy Pereira

George de Fretes was born on December 23, 1921 in Bandung, Maluku Islands. As a child he enjoyed Hawaiian music and his favorite steel guitarist was Sol Ho‘opi‘i. At age 16 he started the Royal Hawaiian Minstrels and composed the song "Royal Hawaiian Hula." The Royal Hawaiian Minstrels soon became the most wanted and best paid band in the whole of Indonesia.

In the 1950s de Fretes moved to the Netherlands and re-formed his band. The Minstrels played Hawaiian music throughout the Netherlands and Europe appearing on television, the radio, and live hula shows. De Fretes also played the guitar, trumpet and saxophone and in the 1960s he played Indo-Rock music with The Tielman Brothers band.

George de Fretes played an old Rickenbacher 7 string steel guitar in the D6 tuning, and recorded over a dozen LP's with the Royal Hawaiian Minstrels and other bands. The steel guitar accompanied the band and was also featured as a solo instrument.

On November 19, 1981 George de Fretes died in Los Angeles at age 59. He is buried next to his idol, steel guitarist Sol Ho‘opi‘i.

Rudy Wairata was born on Ternate, North Moluccas, Dutch East Indies on December 29, 1919. He learned to play the steel guitar by listening to Sol Ho‘opi‘i and Andy Iona records. He also took lessons from steel guitarist George de Fretes and played in a Hawaiian quartet.

In 1950 he obtained a music scholarship for the Royal Conservatory of the Hague and moved to the Netherlands. In 1951, Wairata founded the group Mena Moeria Minstrels. With the addition of a vibro-phone player the group was renamed the Amboina Serenaders. In 1958 Wairata joined Bill Buijsman and his group the Kilima Hawaiians.

Wairata's many recordings include Rock'n Roll Breezes, Whistling Guitar, and Tickling the Strings. He recorded over 20 Hawaiian LPs and released dozens of singles featuring the steel guitar. Wairata played a Fender Stringmaster 8 string steel guitar and his favorite tuning was D6. Wairata toured throughout the Netherlands and Europe in the 1950s to 1970s. He died in the Netherlands on July 15, 1981 at age 51.

Coy Pereira was born on October 22, 1919 at Batavia, Dutch East Indies. As a young man he played the steel guitar in bands such as the Hawaiian Big Boys, the Aloha Players, and the Hula Players. He also played in a Krontjong music band called Rame DenDang.

In 1960 he moved to the Netherlands and played the steel guitar with the Kilima Hawaiians, replacing Rudy Wairata who had left the band. Although he had a long career with the Kilima Hawaiians, he also played with the Mena Moeria Minstrels.

Coy Pereira also toured throughout the Netherlands and Europe, and recorded over a dozen Hawaiian LPs and numerous singles with the Kilima Hawaiians, the Mena Moeria Minstrels, and many others. He died on April 12, 2005 at Rotterdam, Netherlands at age 86.

Fans today often compare these three legendary Dutch-Indo players. Some prefer Coy Pereira's "smooth" Hawaiian style, others prefer Rudy Wairata's "aggressive and dynamic" right hand technique playing, while still others prefer the old style and beautiful tone of George de Fretes.

Today, these pioneering Dutch-Indonesian players live on through YouTube and other internet websites. And Grass Shack records of England have made their recordings readily available on newly released CD's.

Theo Ehrlicherand Henk Braaksma

Finally, many Dutch born Hawaiian steel guitarist from the Netherlands learned directly from and were influenced by the Indonesian players. They include Jo De Gast, Theo Ehrlicher, Vic Spangenberg, Henk Braaksma, Ed "Ekualo" Mayer, and many more.

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kīkā kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at www.manaoradio.com. Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.

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