John W. Troutman’s new book is a history of global cultural transformation and appropriation centered on a specific musical instrument: the Hawaiian steel guitar, or kīkā kila. By employing kīkā kila as a case study, the book sheds light on the history and politics of Hawai‘i, from sovereign kingdom to fiftieth state, and the dramatic way in which an obscure, local musical tradition became fundamental to the development of popular music around the world.

After an introductory examination of the Spanish guitar’s musical and political role in nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, the story of kīkā kila begins with Joseph Kekuku (1874–1932), who modified his guitar by raising the strings higher above the frets to accommodate the novel technique of sliding a steel bar over the instrument’s neck. After Kekuku began teaching and performing in San Francisco in 1904, the steel guitar’s popularity spread with...

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