Kika Kila

How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music

By John W. Troutman

392 pp., 7 x 9, 14 color plates., 51 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5909-1
    Published: February 2020
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2793-9
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4257-2
    Published: February 2016

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Awards & distinctions

2017 Lawrence W. Levine Award, Organization of American Historians

2017 Sally and Ken Owens Award, Western History Association

2017 Best History, Best Research in Recorded Popular Music, Association for Recorded Sound Collections

2017 Music in American Culture Award, American Musicological Society

Woody Guthrie Award, International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US Branch

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.

About the Author

John W. Troutman is Curator of American Music at the National Museum of American History.
For more information about John W. Troutman, visit the Author Page.


"Well written, insightful and beautifully illustrated, Kika Kila is an excellent addition to the world music library."--Songlines

“Presents a stunning example of the nation’s cultural mélange.”--Oxford American

"If you've ever felt the lure of slide guitar, Kika Kila is a fantastic book that offers new listening material, colorful stories, and vibrant history, and exposes you to great guitarists who made history."--Acoustic Guitar

"Deeply researched. . . . Essential for anyone who wants to know more about the tremendously fertile--and horribly imperialistic--world of 19th and early-20th century Hawaii, when new ideas poured in and amazing music poured out."--Ukulele

"Superbly written, beautifully illustrated and packed with anecdotes . . . this remarkable book is a gem and should find a readership far beyond guitar obsessives."--The Blues Magazine

“[A] treasure chest of impassioned investigation [that] tracks the steel-stringed guitar’s signature ‘glissando swoop’ as it sparks a global explosion of composition and performance.”--Honolulu Magazine

Multimedia & Links

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