Track #4 To Stay You Gotta Leave

I know it’s been a few months now between posts, but I have been really wanting to finish off what I had originally set out to do which is give a track by track summary of my recently released EP “Change Something.” So let’s just move right into track #4 on the album “To Stay You Gotta Leave”.

A majority of my music is autobiographical and are stories of my life and experiences I’ve had and this song is no exception. I am not going to dwell too deeply on the meaning of this song as it is pretty self-explanatory and if you listen to the track (which you can do here for free!). Essentially it boils down to the realization that sometimes in life you are able to stay somewhere by first leaving. While this sounds paradoxical, hear me out.

Now this can be a metaphor for a lot of things in life, but in this case is applied to loving someone. Sometimes being apart, or separation can be good for love. Sometimes by “leaving” the love behind, you realize you want to “stay” in that love. If the love is meant to be God will find a way to bring you back together. And often times God does this with an even better plan for you than you even thought was possible. This was the case in my life and I am ever grateful for that!

One other note about this song as it was composed in a very intentional way. If you listen to the chord structure and the sections of the song, they all move into a new section with no repeats until the very end. If I were to chart this song there is a Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D. Only Part D actually gets repeated in the song. This approach to composing the sections was done to symbolize the movement of the people in the song who are taking steps to separate and move apart until the very end until they reunite and realize that they are to be with each other.

Complemented by a tremeloed and reverby backing guitar track played on a Fender Jaguar the song is a nod to the swashy ballads of Roy Orbison and other artists of the 60s country-pop sound. While often musicians take a double take when performing this song with me as it has an odd structure and asks the listener and performer to jump along for the ride, I am very happy with how this song came out. It was a personal challenge to not only compose the song structurally but to direct the emotions of this trying time in my life. But for me as an artist, that’s what songwriting is about, synthesizing your feelings into words, music, and form.

Track #3 Always Down For Love

While most of the tracks on this album stray a little bit away from my “typical” traditional country sound, I still love a good foot stomper built around “three chords and the truth” as it’s said. So, of course I had to have a little finger pickin’ country tune on this record. I do have to give a little shout out to my friend Kozy on this one who gave me the idea about living “upcountry” but always being “down for love”. I thought it was a catchy word play so I kept it in my back pocket for the right time.

A catchy play on words a good song it does not make, and as someone who writes from personal experience I needed an event or something to inspire an entire song. And it came to me while I was driving to Kona to deliver a pair of headphone to my (not at the time yet) wife. You see at the time Betsy was doing a yoga certification training in Kona. This required her to stay at an ashram for about 4 to 5 days at a time. So for her yoga training she would be home for the weekend and then go back down to Kona, and if you are not familiar with the geography of the Big Island is not close to Waimea. Well one time on her way down she forgot a few important items, one being her headphones the other being her protein powder, which having to eat a strictly vegetarian diet at the ashram was a crucial component of her weekly packing.

So that night after she had gotten to Kona and settled in after a long day of bending and stretching she called to say she’d forgotten her headphones and her protein powder. And I am happy to say that without hesitation I got in my truck and drove the almost 100 miles round trip to deliver the things she forgot. And it was in that moment (among many, in case she’s reading) that I realized that I am truly “down for love”. That I would really do anything that my woman asks for and to be her support in her times of need.

And I am glad I had that trusty little phrase that Kozy had shared with me some months being about living up country but always being down for love. And so a song was born! The chords came together pretty easily, so from there it was just a matter of putting all the parts together.

When I set out to record the song I though about what kind of instrumentation I wanted added to it. I thought about some traditional country instruments like maybe adding some banjo, fiddle or slide guitar, but knowing my man Colin John would be visiting the island with his recently acquired vintage Fender Esquire guitar I knew that’s what I needed. When he runs that trough his Swart amplifier, it’s country twang at its finest.

Combine all that with the fine mixing magic of Michael Landolt and you have your self a true foot stompin’, twanger of a country song. Trust me this was not an easy song to mix. Colin had added a plethora of twangy fills and trills when recording so there was lot to sort through to see what we wanted to do with all the guitar goodness at our disposal. Michael must have sent me 5 or 6 different mixes of all different styles before we settled on one. And when you listen to the track you’ll hear all types of fun little musical add ons to the main song that makes it a fun one to relisten to. You will always discover something new!

On top of all that Colin adds in a ripping and I must add tasty little guitar solo in the middle. All in all it is a fun up beat country tune about doing anything for the one you love, enjoy! Link to the song here.

Track #2 Why Wait For Tomorrow (When the Sun It Shines Today)

The songwriting style on this song was definitely influenced by country singer Kacey Musgraves. At the time I was listening quite religiously to her album “Pageant Material” and I was consistently impressed by her use of quirky metaphor and double entendre. But actually the origins of this song are much older. Looking through some old journals I came across the bare bones of a song I had started but never really got too deep with that I had titled “Why Wait For Tomorrow (When the Sun It shines Today)”. The theme being centered around not procrastinating and getting out and doing the things that you have always wanted to do.

Some years later looking at this unfinished song I couldn’t but help and laugh at the irony here of having an unfinished song about procrastination, pretty funny! But no biggie, I think all songwriters start lots of songs and don’t necessarily get around to finishing them. Songwriting can be a fickle endeavor. Sometimes things will come quickly, other times ideas come and go, float in the air, and don’t get captured until months, or years later. In this case it was definitely years. And the way I see it I just needed the appropriate life experiences for the song to come to life.

I had fun writing this song and I had a bunch of different ideas on how to express the idea of procrastination. The two strongest ones for me were the ideas of doing homework on Sunday nights and not getting the dreaded spring cleaning done until the following fall. There was something about these two universal burdens that seemed to really sum up the act of procrastination by the temporal identifiers. I mean who hasn’t done their homework late on a Sunday night!

The chorus was the one hold out from the original conception of the song. I do recall when I was first attempting to compose this song I was working a lot in the dirt as I was managing a friend’s small farm and helping to start a home nursery business with them. The idea of getting out and doing the things that needed to get done regardless of the weather seemed to really fit in with the idea of avoiding procrastination. I always look at farmers and the like as being ones who never succumb to the pull of delaying things. It’s one of those jobs where if something has to get done, it just HAS to get done, there’s no way around it.

The final piece to this song was finding a good bridge. When I looked back on my last album I felt I was a little too stuck in the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. There’s nothing wring with that, some of my favorite songs follow this clean and simple structure. And I’m not one who is overly impressed with fancy songwriting structures just for the sake of it. A good song is just a good song no matter what form it comes in. Shoot Bo Diddley write songs that were one chord that blows most songs out of the water!

The reason I really felt this song needed a bridge was I wanted to break the circular repetition of the verse-chorus pattern to symbolize the breaking through the procrastination and getting out a doing something for the sake of breaking through the monotony of life. And so I added a simple little bridge section that also has the function of adding some depth to the character’s experience. Primarily when the person in the song admits that they’d rather end a relationship than work at it to make it better. I use the third person loosely here because this song is definitely all written from my own experiences!

The final element that really made this song complete for me was a new addition I used throughout this album and that is my Farmer Foot Drums. You can link to their website here, and I highly suggest you do. I used four different percussive effects on this album, a bass drum, a seed shaker, a tambourine, and an egg shaker. The percussion really works well for this song. The upbeat and playful nature of the tune really calls for some back beat and the foot drums fit the bill well. The nice mixing job by my man Michael Landolt really made for a full sound on this one. And if you listen really close you’ll hear some nice ‘ukulele frills interspersed in this track too.

Along with the first track of the record, the EP starts off with two upbeat tunes that really represented the overall feel of my current musical expression. Soulful, relaxed, expressive and hopeful was how I was feeling and I think it really came through on this track as well as the title track as well. So don’t wait for tomorrow, go out and do something, make it happen, and live your life! Check out the song here.

Track #1 “Change Something”

“There’s only one thing you need to change, everything”, “Cease the fighting”, “Change starts from within”, “Surrender control”…. these are just some of the concepts found in the title song “Change Something”. If you’re just joining me, these blog posts are covering the stories behind the songs on my recently released EP.

The title track has deep significance for me and came about at a deeply transformative time in my life. I was at a point in which I was admittedly lost and not sure of what direction I was to take. I felt sick and tired and in feeling this way and I found myself out of answers. So I just gave up, gave in, and left it all up to God.

The lyrics speak pretty directly to this experience. I transitioned from living life in fear towards stopping to fight everything in my life and surrendering to a greater good. It was through admitting defeat that I was finally able to win, a true paradox!

It’s a simple song built around a repetitive four chord progression. I wanted something that was easy to groove to in order to allow the lyrics to take center stage and tell the story of this important point in my life. I added some catchy ‘ukulele picks to give the song an upbeat feel to it as the song really speaks of the hope and positive effects of moving forward from negative experiences and developing tools to live a life that can inspire and have a positive influence on others.

Overall the song was a big departure from my previous song writing and most definitely my most recent album. My last album was thematically focused on lost love and the trials of difficult relationships. The sound on that project was more yearning with the lonesome wails of a wandering loner. But here on “Change Something” the ‘ukulele and guitar present a confident look towards the future with endless possibilities and hope for new horizons and experiences.

This first track was very liberating to write and record. In listening to this song I feel I got to a point where I was writing honestly from my heart and not trying to create something to please other people. I always wrote from personal experience and about my own individual point of view, but there was something about this song that was just different. Mainly the result of the self-reflection that preceded the writing of the song and the hard work that I had to do to get to a place where I no longer lived in regret about the past, but in a self-assured acceptance that all happens according to God’s plan. That I am just a worker among workers, that my true ambition is to live usefully and humbly.

I hope everyone enjoys the song, you can hear it streaming by clicking here.

 

Change Something

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The second half of 2016 closed with not one post from me! Auwe! Well it is not without good reason, I have been busy cranking away at completing a new recording project and I am happy to say it is completed and available for streaming on Spotify, Bandcamp, for download on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or as a CD through my website. Now that the album is out for everyone to hear I want to just take some time to share about the meaning behind the songs and the album project as a whole. This will be a multi-part blog post in which I will write about the cover art for the album, each track, and a little about the production of the album. So let’s start with the cover art. Thanks for stopping by to read!

In working on this album I knew that I wanted to have a bird of some sort on the cover as the album art. Birds sing, I sing, it’s a perfect match! Really though, I just was really feeling the imagery of a bird throughout the writing and recording process. I was drawn to the idea of flying free, of jumping from tree to tree, singing to the air, floating through the sky and being lifted up by the lightness of the air. I had been messing around with some different designs but it wasn’t until I came across a beautifully written article in the Hana Hou magazine on a Hawaiian Airlines flight that I came across some photographs that spoke to me in a deep and personal way. The article was about the restoration of the native habitat for the Hawaiian ‘elepaio bird. The story about the survival of the ‘elepaio through all the changes to its environment and its ability to endure through these changes fit so well with the themes found in the music on the album. And one photograph in particular was so powerful with the ‘elepaio looking directly at you its tail in the air. simultaneously relaxing on a branch yet ready to spring into the air at any moment, this bird was so full of personality and movement. The picture jumped off the page looking surreal and animated but at the same time clearly and authentic.

I felt I just had to use this photograph, so I wrote the photographer and asked his permission to use this photograph. After inquiring through email with my request and respectfully asking for permission to use his photograph, the photographer Hayataro Sakitsu quickly responded with a yes and I was on my way! I found a font that felt poetic, classic and had movement and the cover was born. I’d really suggest you go to his Flikr page to see more of his amazing bird photography.

I wanted to keep the design simple as the music of the album is no frills acoustic folk and I wanted the design to match the feel of the album. Cropping the photo down to focus on the powerful image of this ‘elepaio bird allowed for the perfect amount of room on top for my name and the album title and the design came together seamlessly. I am really happy with how it came out and the coloring of the soft yellows and light sky blues really feel like a good aesthetic match to the relaxed feel of the songs.

Finally some other things about the ‘elepaio bird. In addition to being drawn to its strong personality and its character trait of resilience, I also found some other interesting things about it in doing some research. One was in this blog by the American Birding Association in which bird researcher Eric VanderWerf talks about their bold and curious nature as well as their role as the main song birds of the native forests. But also from this Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions website about the ‘elepaio being an incarnation of Lea, the Goddess of the canoe builders. All these factors together really helped secure the choice of using the ‘elepaio as the “mascot” for this album.

Hawaiians On the Chitlin Circuit

One important question that is addressed head on in John Troutman’s book “Kika Kila” is what is what level of influence can we ascribe to the Hawaiians in terms of the development of the slide guitar in southern blues music? Did southerners independently come up with the slide guitar or did they adapt and refine something they learned by watching and listening to Hawaiian slide players? What I really appreciate about Troutman’s book is he tackles these questions in a scholarly manner with definitive sources and veritable texts and quotes. By addressing this question outside the scope of folk tales, legend, and myth I feel like we are able to develop a clearer understanding of the interaction between Hawaiian and southern musicians.

What’s really fascinating is that in reading Troutman’s description it appears that the source of the narrative pointing towards a southern origin is really an ignorance of the influence and large scale presence of Hawaiian steel guitar players in the early 1900s. It would make sense if there was a lack of understanding about the existence of Hawaiian touring Musician’s in the south during this time period that myths not based on fact would be developed to explain the use of the slide in the south. And it would also make sense that I order for a linear narrative to be written connecting the African continent to the development of delta blues slide guitar to ignore the Hawaiian influence and focus on the diddley bow.

In his chapter titled “Disappearing of ‘Hawaiian’ from American Music” Troutman is able to lay out evidence that puts into question the possibility of a southern origin of the slide guitar as played by the early delta bluesmen. While he admits it is certainly not conclusive in terms of the introduction of the steel guitar in the south being from the Hawaiians, he does say “It is tantalizing, however, and more supported by the documentary record than any other explanation.”

More importantly than whether or not we can arrive at a definitive conclusion about whether or not southern musicians came up with the slide guitar independent of the Hawaiians is that Troutman’s inquiry provides a platform for extended investigation of the people and places Hawaiian musicians were in contact with during their musical tours of the early 20th century.  While much has been written about the presence of Hawaiian musicians at various world fairs and expositions in the major cities from 1900 to 1930, this book sheds light on the lesser documented excursions it to the small southern cities and the performance by Hawaiian musicians on the chitlin circuit. In doing so we develop a much broader understanding of the relationship between Hawaiian steel guitar and early delta and southern blues.

Where Did It Come From: Guitar Origins In the Islands

As I digest the opening chapter of John Troutman’s book “Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music” I am intrigued by the possibility of two other sources for the guitar in Hawai’i. While the common narrative holds that cowboys of California brought here by Kamehameha III in the 1830s were the source of the first guitars in the islands, Troutman presents two other possibilities. At this point in our study of the steel string guitar I don’t think it’s a question of what is the true source, but what research needs to be done to add some factual evidence to support the possibility of the other origins of the guitar in Hawai’i.

One possible theory is that the guitar was discovered during a visit to Monterey, California by about 80 Hawaiians during the reign of Kamehameha I (Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music pg. 14). And another one is that New England missionaries brought them in 1820s when they first arrived. What we do know is that there is documentation of an advertisement for guitar strings in an island newspaper in 1840 (Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music pg. 14). This at least gives evidence to the reality that the guitar was here and in use by the 1840s.

I am not trying to disprove the Hawaiian cowboy narrative, as it does fit well with my own personal upbringing in the rolling hills of Waimea, but rather suggest that more research is needed in this area in order to ensure the narrative being presented is accurate. What we also have documentation of is the use of open tunings in Hawaiian guitar playing tradition. Troutman provides a quote from Daily Bulletin that preferences a guitar player at a Honolulu Symphony Club performing on the guitar “with steel strings tuned to an open E chord” (Kika Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music pg. 20).

So while the origin of the guitar is still up in the air, the use of open tunings and other techniques associated with Ki Ho’alu playing was alive an well by the 1880s. I look forward to other documented tidbits like this one as I move through this fascinating book.

The Killer Kika Kila

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Very excited about a recent book by John Troutman that came out covering the relatively undocumented history of the Hawaiian steel guitar. This book was released about a month ago and I eagerly picked up a copy, but the business of work hasn’t enabled me to get past the introduction! None the less it is definitely at the top of my summer reading list, once school gets out!

I am primarily interested in this book not only because it is the first comprehensive book to document the history of the steel guitar from its origins in Hawai‘i, but also the role of the steel guitar in influencing southern blues guitar, as well as country and blues slide guitar. Hense the subtitle “How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music”. Mr. Troutman has touched on this before which I mentioned in this blog post. And I myself touched on this topic in my blog post here.

I’ve come across a few interviews with author John Troutman in which he talks about the contents of his book which are great to check out if you are thinking of buying the book or interested in the history of this instrument. Here’s a print interview with UNC Press the publisher and here is an audio interview with a radio station.

I am looking forward to reading this book and I would suggest reading it if you are a fan of American music whether it be blues, jazz, folk, or any other regional roots music styles.

Ke Kali Nei Au and the Hawaiian Opera

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Having just entered into the sacred union of marriage I decided to commit some time into researching the history of one of the finest Hawaiian songs ever composed, the insurmountable “Ke Kali Nei Au” also known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song”. It was hard to dig up too much information other than this very interesting aspect of this song’s history. Mainly that according to this very informative article published in Hana Hou! magazine it was originally written by Charles King for a Hawaiian operetta titled “The Prince of Hawai`i”. This article got me thinking about the opera in Hawai`i and based on the fine history of singers in Hawai`i if anyone from here has gone out to perform on the operatic stage.

Well as you can read if you go to the above link to the article is that yes, there is certainly a pretty big history of opera in Hawai`i and opera singers from Hawai `i. Digging further I came across this very informative paper published in the Hawai`i Journal of History. I strongly suggest you read both as they are full of information and historical antidotes. One tidbit I found really interesting was the discovery of Tandy MacKenzie who is considered the greatest opera singer to come out of Hawai`i. The story goes that as a member of a glee club in Massachusetts where he was studying pre-med, he was heard by famous Irish tenor John McCormack who made the suggestion to MacKenzie that he pursue singing as a professional vocation.

Another interesting anecdote found in the Hana Hou! article concerned Kamehameha IV working as a stage manager in Verdi’s Il Trovatore with Queen Emma singing in the chorus. Or the royal princesses Likelike and Pauahi Bishop singing in Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. All of these performances took place at the little Irwin Music Hall across from `Iolani palace whose picture is found at the beginning of this post. You can read more about this opera house’s history by clicking on this link.

All very fascinating and under documented historical incidences. But when you look at history and the context that Hawaiian music plays in the cultural context of the Hawaiian, a historical relationship with opera it makes sense. As famed musician and Director of the Royal Hawaiian Band Aaron Mahi says “In Hawaiian music, the most important aspect is the mele [text]. The mythology of Hawaii lends itself to storytelling, and the folklore is full of deep, dramatic settings. That’s very much a part of opera.”

But just to bring it all back to Hawaiian music, there are recordings of the fine opera singer Tandy MacKenzie singing traditional Hawaiian tunes. Listen to his rendition of “Mai Poina `Oe Ia`u” in particular.

And as for that little wedding song that started this whole investigation. Well I am particular to the version sung by The Makaha Sons and Nina Keali`iwahamana.

Unfortunately I couldn’t dig up much more than the fact that it was originally written for this unrecorded operetta in the 1920s. I guess all we can do then is just sit back and listen to this beautiful mele.

Defining the Undefinable

Each time the issue of defining slack key is addressed by either a specific artist or some governing body of musical societies, I find the divisiveness of these definitions and categories on the one hand interesting, but also unfortunate on the other. I do see it as a basic human trait to try and classify things into specific groupings, it is something we have been doing since the advent of language after all. But when it comes to the arts I struggle to see the need or inherent necessity of doing this other than to create differentiation and separation among people all trying to achieve the same thing, a desire to express their inner most emotions and feelings into a tangible form.

This issue as it relates to slack key guitar playing recently came to mind while reading an essay by Makana titled “What Is Slack Key Guitar”. Now right off the bat I was a little skeptical as he is clearly stating that he will attempt to define something that to me as an art form is undefinable. Please read his essay yourself to get an idea about his view point directly from the source, but I will clarify some of the main points here.

What I really struggled with when reading his essay is that in defining slack key guitar he actually makes the definition more muddled and convoluted. In the process of defining what slack key is, he mentions so many exceptions to its components that I was left scratching my head as to how you can decisively define such a varied and ever evolving style of guitar playing. For example he says “The strings are tuned relative to each other so that when strummed open (without fretting) the final result is a CHORD. Doing so emancipates the fretting hand from having to hold chords- the guitar is already holding a chord for it (there are exceptions, of course)” (emphasis mine). Also “Often (again, there are exceptions) some of the strings are “slacked” or loosened, hence the name “kī hō’alu” (“to slacken or relax”) (emphasis again mine).

So according to this the strings can or cannot be tuned to result in an open chord and the strings can or cannot be loosened. Basically in one fell swoop he covered every possible guitar tuning known in the history of the instrument, amazing!

He then moves on to the technique aspect of playing slack key. The first technique he addresses is an alternating bass line using the thumb. He goes to state that “Uncle Ray Kane as well as Uncle Sonny Chillingworth were VERY STRICT about this.” (emphasis his in this case). But then he follows that up that “when you listen to Peter Moon (Sr), and the Gabby BAND (not solo) recordings, the two of them aren’t playing the bass a lot of the time.” (emphasis on BAND his). So again a major contradiction is being presented here.

According to Makana an alternating bass pattern is a fundamental aspect of slack key guitar playing, in fact it may be the most important as it is the first one he lists. Also it was emphasized by two leading masters he mentions Sonny Chillingworth and Ray Kane, but two other leading masters of slack key didn’t play in an alternating bass style? He does qualify this statements saying “that is because they had multiple instruments accompanying them..this is still often considered “slack key” as they used the tunings and the melodies of Hawaiian mele”. All in all these are confusing and contradictory statements.

So again, if I tune my guitar in a slack key manner (which according to his opening section on tuning can mean anything really) I am still playing slack key if I play the melodies of Hawaiian mele?

For the second component of slack key playing Makana says “Fingers of picking hand execute the primary melody of the piece. This usually occurs on the two or three highest pitched strings, but of course varies broadly”. Again, I use the highest two strings to execute the melody, but it “varies broadly”. Here he seems to be even more inclusive of all variations of how the melody is played on the instrument. It can be played with the bass strings then I assume, or any of the middle strings as well.

Then for the final third component he says “Both thumb and pointer finger occasionally impart what I call a faux rhythm, to infer the illusion of an accompanying background strumming rhythm guitar. This is more apparent in styles like Gabby’s solo work as well as that of Atta Isaacs. It is a technique that is very difficult to articulate/ teach, therefore it is rarely incorporated, but it is witnessed in the playing styles of the legends.” What does this even mean? There is some sort of fake rhythm that is generating as an illusion, but it can’t be taught or explained and it is rarely incorporated? That makes absolutely no sense. Something exists, I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain it  and it is rarely ever incorporated…but it’s there! My response would be, well then why are you even bothering writing an essay titled “what is slack key”.

Actually for me this component three seems to best summarize the entire definition of slack key. The whole thing is an illusion. Why even bother defining it. It just is. I do like the quote that Makana includes that Led Ka`apana uses to describe slack key, “slack key is the way we love each other, the way we share our Aloha with each other.” That to me is more tangible and more easily accessible than Makana’s definition full of contradictions and fuzzy logic. Because if I were to summarize Makana’s definition in my own words I would say “Slack key involves tuning your guitar in some manner that may or may not include slacking or loosening the strings and it may or may not result in an open chord. The guitar should be played with an alternating bass rhythm as it is an integral component as taught by the original masters, but often other master players ignore this component and don’t play with an alternating bass rhythm especially when playing in a group setting. The melody can be played on any string and there is great variations to what strings play the melody. And finally there is an unexplainable background fake illusionary rhythm that exists in the playing but it is very scarcely ever heard or seen and I can’t be taught.” How does that sound? Again, he is basically just explaining finger picked guitar, other than the esoteric “faux rhythm” part.

And I’m gonna stop there with referencing Makana’s essay as I can’t really accept much of anything of his conclusion based on the contradictions found in the entire body of his essay. What I can say is he goes on to explain in a whole host of lengthy justifications about what is and isn’t slack key and who can and can’t play it. You can read the essay for yourself to hear his explanations and justifications for these viewpoints.

But all kidding aside I think my points have strong validity and good reason to be brought up, and here’s why. A few years ago there was a big uproar in the Hawaiian music community over who was and wasn’t getting a very prestigious music award for best Hawaiian music album. The winners were consistently playing in what they called a slack key style and for the most part either resided outside of Hawaii or were produced by people not born or raised in Hawaii. The arguments and name calling that resulted ended with the particular awards committee dropping the category for best Hawaiian music album all together. We got so caught up in trying to define who we are that the broader music community said, you know what, since you guys can’t figure it our, we’ll just shut you out all together and just make your recordings available for the “American Roots music” category. Now this is fine by me, but I think has resulted in a vast void of self identification of what Hawaiian music is or does.

But for me as a musician living and working in Hawaii is a pretty apt summarization of where the industry as a whole is. So what am I trying to say? Well, that for Makana to try and define what slack key is he is doing himself and slack music as a whole a great disservice. As we say in Hawaii “just let the kids play”. Is there a deep and long history of a specific style of finger picked acoustic guitar playing in Hawaii? Yes or course! Does it matter what we call it, no I think not. It is a traditional folk style, that at this point is dead and has evolved past any specific labels or definitive components that can be easily establish, defined and categorized. Just get over it!

What I would like to see, and what I have tried to do in my capacity as a music teacher and educator is to do what I can to show and teach kids about his style of playing so it can hopefully live on in what ever capacity that it can. And good for Makana that he brings this up “we must encourage the keiki to learn Kī Hō’alu at a young age”. Now what he is doing to accomplish this I don’t know. I have not seen or be heard about what he is doing to actively engage and facilitate the learning of slack key guitar playing in the next generation. I really feel like he blowing some hot air here and just saying something that he thinks sounds and looks good. And in the context of his statement he was trying to justify his point that unless the very first guitar style you learned how to play was slack key you’re not playing real slack key. So if you were really breaking it down he is using the veil of the need to teach kids slack key as a way of proving his points about how he thinks slack key should be defined, pretty offensive if you ask me.

I have seen Makana in concert multiple times and if I were to make a general analysis of his demographic I would say they tend to be in the 50-65 year old category. I will say that judging by some recent promotional materials he has put together that it appears to be his desire to change this. You can see this particular you tube video that attempts to market his upcoming mainland shows to a new audience with the goal of changing the perception of what Hawaiian music is. In addition, his recent composition showing political support of Bernie Sanders may open up new audiences to his playing, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I would challenge Makana to really use his connections, resources and musical influence to get kids playing, learning and performing slack key music. If he values this deep cultural heritage and if he is so adamant about the fact that “Kī Hō’alu’s PURITY must be understood, valued, and considered, always.” He better get on it because it is disappearing and it is disappearing fast. I can see it and hear it in how the guitar is played by many of the next generation of guitar players in Hawaii, Makana included.