The Descendants: Original Soundtrack

The Descendants: Original Soundtrack

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Sony Classical

Release date: January 30th, 2012
Running time: 65:11 minutes

Composer: Various
Film Review

Ever since I was a small boy I had a fascination with Hawaiian music but I never really took the opportunity to explore it properly and find out exactly why it has such an effect on me when I listen to it, even if just in passing.

Why do I long to be sitting by a warm beach watching the sunset when I hear these beautiful instruments and voices singing these sweet melodies? Why do I drift into daydreams of long summer evenings and gentle breezes, even on these short and cold winter days? What is it about this music that has such a remarkable power to transport us to the place they came from, even if we ourselves have never been there before?

The Descendants: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Descendants is a film written and directed by Alexander Payne that’s based on a book of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Its story is set in Honolulu, Hawaii where Matt King (George Clooney) is a successful lawyer who’s been neglecting his familial duties for some time. When his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident it forces him to get back to what’s really important.

As he cares for her and tries to get to know his daughters, teenager Alex (Shailene Woodley) and younger Scottie (Amara Miller), eventually it will affect his decision on whether or not to sell 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua’I that’s been in his family for generations and which he’s the sole trustee for. There’s also mounting pressure from his cousins who want him to sell so the money can be divided among them.


  • 1. Ka Makani Ka’ili Aloha
  • 2. Kalena Kai
  • 3. Hi’ilawe
  • 4. ‘Ulili E
  • 5. Ka Loke
  • 6. Auwe
  • 7. Leahi
  • 8. Hawaiian Skies
  • 9. He’eia
  • 10. ‘Imi Au Ia ‘Oe
  • 11. Kaua’i Beauty
  • 12. Hi’ilawe
  • 13. Wai O Ke Aniani
  • 14. Paka Ua
  • 15. Hapuna Sunset
  • 16. Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest
  • 17. Mom
  • 18. Ka Mele Oku’u Pu’uwai

Apart from the films’ deeply affecting story, performances and cinematography that captures the beauty of Hawaii, the music of The Descendants is also something that doesn’t go unnoticed.

From its opening scenes to its closing credits, it transports us so wholly to where this story plays out. As the first mainstream American film to come along that’s scored entirely with Hawaiian music, it really pays off and while watching it I tried to imagine if the result would have been the same had they gone for an orchestral sound, ambient or something else entirely. The answer is no.

Combining both modern and classical to include music by Gabby Pahinui, Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, Ray Kane, Jeff Peterson, Makana, Lena Machado, Keola Beamer and one of my all-time favourite performers, George Winston, the result is a film and a sound so captivating that its carried with you long after leaving the cinema.

Songs such as Kalena Kai (Keola Beamer and George Winston), ‘Imi Au Ia ‘Oe (Keola Beamer) and Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest (Makana), like many of the songs featured in the film, come at key moments, helping to give us a sense of what these characters are feeling. They also give us a sense of Hawaii itself with the sound of the soul of an island.

The Descendants: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Lena Machado, also known as Hawaii’s Songbird, was a singer whose Hawaiian-style soprano-falsetto performances raised her to stardom in the 1930s and 1940s, a time that’s often referred to the Golden Age of Hawaiian music. Her song Mom is also included here and it adds something extra special to a collection that’s already found a permanent home next to my stereo.

The Descendants soundtrack is an emotional and captivating experience that not only serves the film really well but also as an introduction to Hawaii’s greatest musical artists both past and present. Listening to it now I think I finally know why its effect is so powerful. Deep down we all really know where we want to be and nothing takes us there as emotively as a melody in a piece of music, something that’s so distinctive in the sound of Hawaii.

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