Categorized | Entertainment, Featured

18th annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival ‘Kona Style’

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

More than two dozen musicians stopped by the Keauhou Bay Sheraton Resort to share their skills Sunday, Sept. 5.

For five hours the audience were treated to some of the best slack key stylings around.

Artists included:
Donald Kaulia; Dwight Kanae; Sonny Lim; Ikaika Marzo; Brother Noland; Bolo; Danny Carvalho; Patrick Landeza; Stephen Inglis; Bobby M; Moses Kahumoku; Paul Togioka, David Kahiapo and Keale.

Moses Kahumoku tells the story behind the song he wrote for his sister. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festivals

From the website:

The history of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festivals had its early beginnings in 1982. It was grounded in aloha and for the love of the music and man that was synonymous with the music.

It was an opportunity to pay tribute to the contributions of a man who contributed so much to the music of Hawaii, and at the same time, continue his legacy and help to perpetuate and preserve a unique Hawaiian acoustic guitar art form known as “Ki-hoalu.”

In 1980, Charles Phillip Pahinui, also known as Gabby ‘Pops’ Pahinui, passed away. A giant in his own time and legendary to many around the world through his music, he was one of the few that led the way for what is now referred to as the “Hawaiian Renaissance” that had its roots in 1960s.

Through his music and style, Gabby was able to inspire and motivate young Hawaiians to be proud of their cultural heritage.

Further, through sincerity and passion for his music, he showed that Hawaii’s traditional music, and in particular, Ki-hoalu, was an art form that was special and unique to Hawaii and worthy of being played in front of a large audience and quality venues and recorded for an even larger audience. And, an art from that began nearly 160 years ago on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii and was worthy of devoting much of his time to master.

Till this day, he is recognized as the “modern day father” of the slack key guitar and its greatest master. In March of 2001, a bust of Gabby was dedicated and placed on a pedestal at the entrance of the Waikiki Shell which will forever immortalize this Hawaiian cultural icon.

Further, he has also been honored with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the annual Na Hoku Hano Hano Music Awards (Hawaii’s Grammy Award) and in February of 2002 was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame with a tribute concert in his honor at the historic Hawaii Theater in Honolulu.

In tribute to him, the festival was started as a way to honor his efforts and accomplishments in 1982 in his hometown of Waimanalo, Oahu. Beyond our wildest dreams that first festival drew several thousand people and gave us the impetus to continue producing the festival on an annual basis on the island of Oahu in Honolulu. After the first 10 years of the festival, we realize that there was a groundswell of interest and support for the festival statewide as well as overseas.

Thus, today, the festival is now produced not only in Honolulu but also on the islands of Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii.

Just about the same time when we began expanding the festival to the outer islands, there was interest from the continental United States as well. Hence, we began taking the festival to such cities as Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and numerous cities in California including Nevada City, Sacramento, Davis, Napa, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

To date, the festival has now been done in Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Chicago, Paris, France, Germany, and the UK. In 1994 the festival represented the United States in Tokyo, Japan at the “American Music Festival.”

What began as a tribute to a simple man from Waimanalo in 1982 has now taken on a larger identity. During the last seven years, the festival has also become somewhat of an economic generator for the State of Hawaii as more and more visitors to the islands are scheduling their vacations around one of the festivals.

We have established a loyal fan base of 60,000 people throughout the state. This figure is based on record sales, radio play, festival attendance, and data we have collected over the years. Demographically, the age-group that we cater to and reach is between the ages of 30 -75.

Worldwide, our fan base is nearly 3 million people. On an annual basis, approximately 1,500 (and growing) visitors plan their vacations around one of the festivals and this translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars for our economy. Each of the festivals in Hawaii draw approximately 3,000 – 5,000 people.

History of Ki-hoalu

Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (ki-hoalu) is a truly one of the greatest acoustic guitar traditions in the world. Ki-ho’alu, which literally means “loosen the key,” is the Hawaiian language name for the solo finger picked style unique to Hawaii.

In this tradition, the strings (or keys)” are “slacked” to produce major chord, or a chord with a major 7th note, or sometimes one with a 6th note in it. Each tuning produces a lingering sound behind the melody and has characteristic resonance and fingering.

Many Hawaiian songs and slack key guitar pieces reflect themes like stories of the past and present and people’s lives. But it is the tropical surroundings of Hawaii, with its oceans, volcanoes and mountains, waterfalls, forest, plants and animals, that provide the deepest source of inspiration for Hawaiian music.

These currents run deep in slack key guitar playing, as accompaniment to vocals, as instrumental composition or as interpretations of vocal pieces. Slack key guitar music is sweet and soulful, and it is said that slack key is drawn from the heart and soul out through the fingers of each player.

There is a mystique surrounding slack key guitar music-it is very personal, and can be very magical in feeling. Slack key derives its unique sound from techniques such as “hammering-on” and “pulling off.” These techniques mimic the yodels and falsettos common in Hawaiian singing.

Harmonics (“chiming”), produced by lightly touching the strings at certain points on the fretboard, and slides in which one or two treble notes are cleffed and then slid (usually up) to sound another note, are also common. All these enhance the feeling of aloha, joy or longing expressed, sometimes all in the same song.

Like blues, slack key guitar is very flexible. Often, the same guitarist will play a song differently each time, something using different tempos, and even different tunings. As each guitarist learns to play slack key, they find their own individual tunings, repertoire, tempos and ornaments. It is a very individualistic tradition and, as one can hear from different recordings, each guitarist plays quite differently from the others.

There are different theories about the beginnings of slack key guitar in the Islands. Music is one of the most mobile of cultural forms, and the six-string guitar was probably originally introduced to the Hawaiians by European sailors around the beginning of the 19th century.

Guitars were also brought to Hawaii by Mexican and Spanish vaqueros (cowboys), hired by King Kamehameha III around 1832 to teach the Hawaiians how to handle an overpopulation of cattle. Many of them worked on the Big Island, especially around the Waimea region.

In the evenings around the camp fire, the vaqueros probably played their guitars, often two together, with one playing lead melody and other bass and chords. This new instrument would have intrigued the Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo, as they came to be called, who had their own strong, deep rooted music traditions. However, given the strenuous work, the Hawaiians possibly didn’t have time to learn a lot about this new music.

When the hired cowboys returned to the mainland a few years later, some of them gave their guitars to the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians incorporated what they had learned form the Mexican and Spanish music into their traditional chants, songs, and rhythms, and thus created a new form of guitar music.

Hawaii’s own unique musical traditions tended to dominate, as they did with the other musical influences that came their way from the rest of the world, and over time, it blended into a sound that became completely the Hawaiians’ own.

At first, there possibly weren’t a lot of guitars, or people who knew how to play, so the Hawaiian developed a way to get a full sound on one guitar by picking the bass and rhythm chords on the lower three or four pitched strings with the thumb, while playing the melody or improvised melodic fills on the upper two or three pitched strings.

The gut string guitar (the precursor to modern nylon string guitar) brought by the cowboys has a very different sound than the steel guitar, which came to the Islands later, probably brought in by the Portuguese around the 1860s. The steel string sound caught on with the Hawaiians, and became very popular by the late 1880s, by which time slack key had spread to all the Hawaiian Islands.

The slack key tradition was given an important boost during the reign of King David Kalakaua, who was responsible for the Hawaiian cultural resurgence of the 1880s and 1890s. He supported the preservation of ancient music, while encouraging the addition of imported instruments like the ukulele and guitar.

His coronation in 1883 featured the guitar combination with the ipu (gourd drum) pahu (skin drum) in a new form called hula kui, and at his Jubilee (celebration) in 1886, there were performances of ancient chants and hula. This mixing of the old and new contributed to the popularity of both the guitar and ukulele.

King Kalakaua’s conviction that the revitalization of traditional culture was at the root of the survival of the Hawaiian Kingdom became a major factor in the continuity of traditional music and dance. His influence still shows.

This was a great period of Hawaiian music and compositions, when traditional music was actively supported by the monarch. Kalakaua, along with his siblings W.P. Leleiohoku II, Miriam Likelike and especially Liliuokalani, composed superb songs that are still well-known today.

After King Kalakaua passed away in 1891, he was succeeded by his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, who was Hawaii’s last monarch. Among her classic pieces are Aloha Oe, Sanoe, Kuu Pua I Paoakalani, Pauahi O Kalani, Ahe Lau Makani, He Onoa No Kaiulani, Manu Kapalulu, Queen’s Jubilee, Queen’s Prayer, Ka Hanu O Ka Hana Keoki, Ninipo (Hoonipo) Tutu, He Ai No Kalani, Ka Oiwa Nani and many other beautiful songs. These compositions are still deeply part of Hawaii’s music today.

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(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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