The Real Top Five List

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Another day, another list of the top fifty Hawaiian music albums, or the ten best Hawaiian songs or top five essential ukulele albums. While these lists are valuable in exposing outside audiences to Hawaiian music artists and albums they may have otherwise not heard about, they still are far from comprehensive in my humble opinion. As Hawaiian music, and the ukulele in particular, continues to be pushed into the limelight outside of the islands, the more people without the proper knowledge of Hawaiian music history are trying to define what is the “best” most “important” and most “significant”. And while I usually ignore these lists, two in particular I came across this week really drew my attention, so I felt it was time for a little clarification and education from my own perspective. The two lists I am speaking of are the following: The All-Time Best Hawaiian Playlist and Ukulele Magazine Five Essential Ukulele Albums.

The first list I can ignore because it say it was reader generated, so looking at that lit I would assume they no nothing about Hawaiian music or its historical significance. While there are some nice songs on there, any list without a song by the Sons of Hawaii, Hui Ohana or Kahauanu Lake Trio is meaningless.

The second list I would like to ignore as well, but this one I feel needs a rebuttal, and here’s why. That list was published by a reputable ukulele magazine. By attaching the word “essential” to their article, people doing basic internet searches will probably come across this list and think they have found the true answer to the question of what are the top five Hawaiian ukulele albums. But I am sorry to say they have missed the mark. I do want to give kudos to them for attempting to make a list that is presented as a “those other than Jake Shimabukuro” list. And looking at the list they were going somewhat in the right direction with the inclusion of the Sons of Hawaii, Kahauanu Lake Trio and The Sunday Manoa. But if you want to talk about essential UKULELE albums, there are some glaring omissions. (author note: after posting this on their discussion board the writer of the Ukulele Magazine article responded by clarifying as such “I have to say, this piece is not a ranking —- it’s only five (out of dozens? A hundred?) of great Hawaiian ukulele-driven records — and one that makes no claim, anywhere, that it’s the ‘Top 5.'” I would like to note I appreciate and acknowledge this clarification and feel it is important to point out this distinction by the author).

But before I start, I think it is important that I qualify myself if I am going to make such broad judgements about lists made by such “reputable” sources as Ukulele Magazine concerning the historically complex and comprehensive body of work that is Hawaiian music, and the recordings of ukulele music. First off you can refer to my detailed blog post here where I discuss the history of the ukulele as part 4 of an eight part series of the history of Hawaiian music. From there I would recommend that you link to the other parts in my eight part series on the history of Hawaiian music. For your convenience they are as follows part 1, part 2, part 3, part 5, part 6, part 7 and part 8. In referencing those posts I think you can see that I have familiarized myself with the history of Hawaiian music and I am not sharing my thoughts simply as a matter of providing further uninformed chatter, but rather as an interested contributor to the proper documentation and perspective of Hawaiian music in the realm of world folk musics.

So I would like to present to you in a very particular order, the most significant, important, essential, monumental, ukulele albums in the history of all time. I hope to include those words throughout this blog post in hopes that I will catch some internet or google search algorithm along the way and introduce people to these oh so essential, important, monumental and historically significant ukulele albums.

1. Eddie Kamae “Heart of the Ukulele”

I have written extensively about this album in two separate blog posts here and here. I would highly recommend you refer to them for my comprehensive analysis of this important album. To summarize, no ukulele album has done such a thorough job of redefining the instrument in terms of technique, song selection and tonal delivery. Here Eddie Kamae is firing on all cylinders, presenting the ukulele as diverse instrument that can shine in a variety of genres and moods. Not only does Kamae solidify himself among the greatest ever through those elements, but it is all done in a tasteful musicality that should tickle the year of the most discriminating musical critics. And I still believe to this day that no one has still yet been able to top this album. Much like Wilt Chamberlin’s 100 point game in the NBA in 1962, it is possible the apex of individual performance was reached some 50 years ago, the rest of the world still vying to catch up to this masterful performance.

2. Jesse Kalima “Jess Uke”

Around the same time as “Heart of the Ukulele” came this almost equally as impressive and complex album. And in terms of breathe and scope this album is every bit as close to being on par and an equal to the Kamae’s ukulele album. So while this album does have the advantage of a clearer and higher fidelity recorded sound compared to that of Kamae’s album, and in addition is does feature many of the same techniques that Eddie showcase in the “Heart of the Ukulele” album, Kalima just falls short in terms of song selection and emotional depth. The clarity of his picking lines and well as the precision of his tremelo picking is there, right along side Kamae’s, but Eddie had that unmistakeable ability to find a song typically found outside of the traditional voicing structure of the ukulele, and get it to sing a new way under his deft and careful ukulele manipulation. Kalima’s album is chalk full of complex, careful and exact technique in the realm of traditional Hawaiian tunes, but it is not able to find that other gear in the environment of an American standard or Latin ballad. For those reasons I have to place this very significant and compelling album right behind Kamae’s.

3. Herb Ohta Sr. (Ohta-San) “Pacific Potpourri”

Time after time I am amazed that people who should be in the know are not familiar with this album. Some ten years after Kamae’s and Kalima’s albums were released, Ohta-San comes back with the album that borrows upon the forward thinking application of the ukulele demonstrated by those two masters and updates it with the additional orchestration of electric piano, guitar, electric and standup bass, congas, steel guitar and drums. This creates a very modern yet vintage sound. Here the ukulele finds its new found place as the true solo lead instrument. Rather than being a “solo” instrument in the sense that it is performing a solo piece with rhythmic accompaniment, the ukulele is now the feature, developing a distinct and separate voice within the environment of a full band. Like the lead saxophone or trumpet of a jazz quartet or quintet, Ohta-San shows the ukulele is the true star. The techniques put forth to vinyl by Kalima and Kamae are now refined and carefully placed within the melodic framework of a specific song so it can be showcased and enjoyed for what they are, true revolutionary presentations of never before heard instrumental technique much like Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy did with what Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins had done with the saxophone previously.

4. Gabby Pahinui and the Sons of Hawaii “Music of Old Hawaii” 

While it may seem repetitive to include another album with Eddie Kamae’s playing, it is important that this album’s significance be recognized in the development of the ukulele. While Ohta-San and Jesse Kalima and Eddie Bush (more on him later) took what Kame laid down and continued to develop and refine it, Kamae moved in a new direction. With a renewed love for Hawaiian music, Kamae abandoned the Latin ballads and American standards and instead focused on redefining not only the ukulele in the realm of Hawaiian music, but string instrumentation in Hawaiian music in general. The fact that he used the ukulele to accomplish this, makes for a very very important album indeed. What you will hear on this album is the ukulele not only taking the instrumental lead solos, but also providing sonically interesting musical interludes and vamps in the beginning, middle and ends of songs. Here the ukulele finds a third life, now not only as rhythm and solo instrument, but important member of a string ensemble. Without this important realization and application, the music of Peter Moon and Moe Keale in later recordings in the later 60s into the early 70s is not possible. Here the ukulele finds a way to supplement and compliment the slack key and steel guitars. Now the ukulele has become not only the quarterback that throws for numerous touchdowns a la Bret Favre and wins Super Bowls a la Joe Montana, but can run out side the pocket and use his feet to scramble and gain yards as well a la John Elway. Finally the ukulele has reached its fullest potential and has now expanded itself to its farthest reaches. What Eddie Kamae has done with this album in addition to “The Heart of the Ukulele” is put to record the blueprint for all to follow.

5. Eddie Bush “A Man and His Ukulele” (I can’t link to this album as it is out of print, does pop up on ebay in vinyl)

This was probably the hardest place to decide on. And here I would like to praise Ukulele Magazine for attempting to pay proper homage to some fantastic and historically important albums. Yes it is true Kahauanu Lake Trio was extremely significant in creating a sound and role for the ukulele that places it as an important musical element of a Hawaiian group much like Eddie Kamae did with the Sons of Hawaii. And yes it is true as well that Eddie Kamae and Moe Keale do a lot of this as well on the “Folk Songs of Hawaii” album. And thirdly yes it is almost blasphemy not to include Peter Moon’s work on “Guava Jam” as what he does on “Kawika” should be recognized for what it is, an extremely high level of ukulele instrumentation. And if “Pua Lilia” was on the “Guava Jam” album rather than “Cracked Seed” I’d be very tempted to put that album on this list, but it isn’t, so I just don’t think as a whole “Guava Jam” can make the cut. Many of you might be thinking Eddie Bush? Really? Yes really. While this album is out of print and hard to find, it is important that we recognize what was done on this record. Along the same vein as Kalima’s and Kamae’s two ukulele albums of 1962, this album from 1969 has all the same ukulele techniques found on those records. Sometimes it is in an environment that is more hapa-haole or pop orientated, but it is none the less the same equally complex and precise. Where Kamae succeeded in his variety in song selection, and Kalima succeeded in presenting versions of traditional Hawaiian numbers, Bush’s work on this album lies somewhere in between. Other than for the lack of cohesion maybe between the numbers, Bush proves himself to be every bit the ukulele master as anyone else to have ever picked up the instrument, he just fails to get the recognition. To me he is a Harmon Killebrew or Jimmy Foxx of the ukulele. He may not have the name recognition of a Babe Ruth, Willie Mays or Hank Aaron, he can still slug with the best of them on any given day of the week.

So there you have my definitive top five greatest, best, most significant and important ukulele albums ever recorded. And I could keep going and still not make it to Jake. Obviously Jake is an amazing talent, but until he can present the complexity and depth of innovation and inventiveness shown by these players, as well as by Lyle Ritz, Gordon Marks, Byron Yasui or Benny Chong, he will just be searching for his sound. But when he finds it watch out. And who knows, maybe on this upcoming album he does find it, I hope so, otherwise we will be pigeon holed by various internet top ten lists about the best this and the best that and never really get the full picture.

As always, my theme for these posts is “Ho`analu; To Go Beyond Known Boundaries”. Unfortunately with some of these lists, because they often have to pander to outside audiences with a limited view and scope of Hawaiian music, they present stock lists that don’t think beyond the normal confines of how we can define music and present the components of a specific genre or category of musical expression. I feel it is my job as a teacher and writer to present a differing view point to better help in painting a fuller picture. As always, HO`ANALU: GO BEYOND THE KNOWN BOUNDARIES!

I Ulu No Ka Lālā I Ke Kumu

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As the tourist economy continued to grow and the realities of statehood began to take hold with the people of Hawaii, a realization unfolded that the musical culture of Hawaii had moved significantly far away from its roots. While the Hawaiian language remained relatively strong in comparison with other colonized nations, musically, profound changes had occurred from the humble chant based beginnings of the pre-contact Hawaiian. As covered in detail in my previous post “The World Cup That Is Hawaiian Music Part 7: This Is Getting Big” by the 1960s Hawaiian music had been deeply mixed and intertwined with the developments in American popular music and along with the concurrent commodification of the Hawaiian culture resulted in a watered down musical identity. So here I will be discontinuing my “World Cup” series of blog posts on outside cultural influences on modern Hawaiian music. By the 1960s the music of Hawaii had become some inundated with outside changes that it no longer contained its own unique musical identity. It was time to go back to the source of where Hawaiian music grew from.

And thus I chose the proverb “i ulu no ka lālā i ke kumu” for the title of this post. Translated as “the branches grow because of the trunk” this proverb refers to the branches that continued to grow during the commodification of Hawaiian music. While the music found in the lounges of Waikiki, the Hollywood movies of Elvis and the barrooms of the cruise ships may have been the systemized pop music of the Don Ho stage show, many Hawaiians were still playing a style of music that was a continuation of the music that was created from the influences of Mexican ranchera ballads, Madeiran folk songs and the jazzy steel guitar that laid the foundation of the modern Hawaiian sound. The difference being, these musicians were playing this music in their backyards and beach parties, rather than in the bars along Kalakaua Boulevard or lounges of the Moana Hotel.

There were two individuals that were very conscientious of this reality and dedicated themselves to changing what type of music was being played at the popular bars and restaurants of Honolulu; Eddie Kamae and Gabby Pahinui. If you haven’t done so, I would recommend that you read Eddie Kamae’s account of this shift of consciousness in his biography Hawaiian Son.” In this stirring recollection about his meetings with Gabby during a weeklong recovery from near fatal sickness, Eddie recounts his discussions with Gabby about their frustrations with the type of musical demands put on them by the restaurant and showroom owners in Waikiki. At this point Gabby was in high demand as a steel guitar player in the resort music scene and Eddie had been recognized as the number one ukulele performer in all of Hawaii, even having toured the mainland. But they had become restless performing a style of music that had drifted too far from their idea of a true Hawaiian sound. Performing steel guitar in Andy Cummings backup band, Gabby was now playing the jazz and pop styles favored by the Hawaii Calls radio program. Eddie had become well known for his ukulele arrangements of Latin numbers and American standards he performed during Ray Kinney’s luau shows. Something had to give.

As Eddie tells it, it was through these discussions that Gabby began to feel alive. He got so excited that he began to eat and was finally able to regain enough strength to pick up his guitar again. Armed with his ukulele, Eddie began to play the music with Gabby that they remembered from their childhood. The rapid strumming of the ukulele and the finger picking of the slack key guitar along with the traditional ballads and place songs of the early 1900s reaffirmed the original joy that they got from playing music. Calling upon close friend Joe Marshall to bring his stand up bass, they knew they had tapped into something new that was based on the sound they had been missing. The final piece was the steel guitar of the elusive David “Feet” Rodgers who had maintained the traditional steel guitar style of his father, rather than the new pedal steel style that had emerged as the dominant sound.

For the next four months they met regularly honing this new sound. Rather than trying to replicate the sound of the past, they were looking to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. They took the songs of previous generations, but by applying a fresh new musicality to it, developed over their years and years of performing, created something that had never been heard of before. Eddie began to research the archives of the Bishop Museum incessantly, looking for the original vocal and musical arrangements and the original unadulterated verses of long lost Hawaiian compositions.

After these months of long jam sessions, this group, now dubbed the “Sons of Hawaii” debuted their new music at the Sandbox in Honolulu to raucous crowds. People would travel from all over Oahu island to see this new group who had a sound that was distinctly different from what was being played on the “Hawaii Calls” radio show. Gone were the jazzed up chord vamping of the electric guitar, the repetitive downbeat root notes of the bass, the chang-a-langy open chord rhythms of the ukulele and the long drawn out reverb laden notes of the steel guitar. These were replaced by the rapid melodic fingerpicking of the open tuned steel string acoustic guitar, the complex closed chordal voicing and intricate lead lines of the ukulele, syncopated dulcet tones of the stand up bass and the tight staccato flourishes of the steel guitar. On top of this were Hawaiian vocals that, through the guidance of cultural elder Mary Kawena Pukui, were sung with proper intonation and pronunciation with conscientiousness adherence to the original intentions of the composer.

Soon they were one of the highest paid and most in demand Hawaiian music groups in all of Hawaii, as people eagerly attended their shows to soak up this “new” music that so strongly tapped into their ancestral consciousness with clearly an ear and eye on the future. With the release of their debut album “Gabby Pahinui and the Sons of Hawaii” (so named as Eddie Kamae was still under contract with another label and couldn’t legally identify himself with this recording) and the subsequent album “Music of Old Hawaii” The Sons set down onto vinyl their new sound. 30 seconds into the debut track “Na Ono Na Ia Na Kupuna” you can tell you are listening to something that sounds uniquely fresh, yet is firmly growing from the foundational trunk of the past. This is the moment of HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries!

These well attended performances and popular first two albums, along with the recordings of slack key guitarists Leonard Kwan and Raymond Kane set the ground work for what would later became known as the “Hawaiian Renaissance” in Hawaiian music. They were perpetuating a style that was soon to be actively absorbed into the younger generation that grew up hearing these recordings. Groups starting with The Sunday Manoa, Hui Ohana and later, Olomana, The Makaha Sons of Niihau, Keola and Kapono Beamer, were branches along this tree whose trunk grew from the Polynesian chants of the original Hawaiians.

And through it all The Sons of Hawaii continued to perform and record. Over the years, Gabby Pahinui left, Moe Keale joined, as did Atta Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth and a formidable who’s who of Hawaiian musicians. One of the most influential being the late Dennis Kamakahi, whose original compositions jump started the Sons back into the limelight during the musically dense 1970s when every bar and restaurant in Honolulu were hiring “traditional” Hawaiian music groups. Later avoiding the ever growing reggae infused island music of the 1980s, Eddie Kamae and The Sons of Hawaii trudged on with new members Braddah Smitty, Goerge Kuo, Gary Haleamau and Paul Kim. With the passing of Joe Marshall, Ocean Kaowili joined and later Mike Kaawa. Always with their ever present palaka shirts, The Sons of Hawaii held high the candle of this new Hawaiian music sound with over 10 albums of music to draw from.

As a “Spiritus Mundi” took hold on the consciousness of the world with an emphasis on where we came from and the cultural identifiers of our past, so it did in Hawaii in well. Led by Eddie Kamae and Gabby Pahinui, a concise musical language was developed to reflect this changing consciousness. This became the framework of the type of music being produced in the backyards and barrooms across Hawaii.

A parellel could then be drawn to the growing folk music scene of the 1960s in America. Much like The Sunday Manoa and the like were drawing from The Sons of Hawaii, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Cosby, Stills Nash and Young, Peter, Paul and Mary and The Byrds were the new groups drawing from the foundation laid by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, The Weavers, Lead Belly and Big Bill Broozny.

Today as American musicians are looking back to these folk music traditions to create a new sound rooted in the past to oppose the electronic and pop laden music of today, will Hawaiian music do the same? Well that is a complex question and one I would like to address in more detail in a future post. Mostly because almost the opposite thing has happened here in Hawaii. Even though the popular music in the islands today is a watered down rhythm and blues reggae style called “Jawaiian”, “traditional” Hawaiian music has remained strong.  But again through the demands of the tourist industry to create a standardized form of Hawaiian music, the original intentions of Eddie Kamae, Gabby Pahinui and other members of the Sons of Hawaii have been misconstrued. The idea as I see it is to coninue to grow. To continue to be the branches growing from the trunk. And this is the idea of HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. But unfortunately this has not happened. Instead the branches have ceased to broaden. The same branch has continued to grow in one direction, never having expanded into new territory. Unfortunately this will cause the branch to collapse under its own weight. So today I ask my fellow musicians and lovers of Hawaiian music to HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. This is what I strive to do. Use different instrumentation, compose new mele with variations in tempo, key and rhythm. Experiment, try new things. Adapt and incorporate new sounds from music you enjoy. But always remember the trunk you grow from. Never forget that “i ulu no ka lālā i ke kumu”, “the branches grow because of the trunk.”

 

Hana Hou Dat Bass!!!

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Hands down, next to the Sons of Hawai`i, my favorite Hawaiian group of all time is Hui `Ohana. Coming from the remote area of Kalapana on Hawai`i Island, they came onto the Hawaiian music scene in the 1970s with a purpose. By mixing their old school traditional arrangements with very forward thinking musical composition they had a sound that was like no other. I like to think of them as a Hawaiian music power trio. Each member on their own was a force; Dennis Pavao’s soaring falsetto, Ledward Ka`apana’s innovative reverbed electric guitar and Nedward Ka`apana’s thundering bass combined to create something that was true to the roots of Hawaiian music and yet so modern and cutting edge as well. Talk about HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries!

What I would like to focus on is Nedward’s bass playing. To this day, after no matter how many listenings, I am still fascinated with how he approached his instrument. Historically the bass player in Hawaiian music plays a solid backing for the rest of the band to build off of. Usually the bass player focuses on the root notes, leaving wide open spacing for the other instruments like `ukulele, steel guitar and slack key guitar, to embellish over. What was unique about Nedward’s playing was he seems to take the opposite approach. It sounds as if he is constantly soloing over the chord progressions, never settling in one region of the neck and never repeating the same pattern more than once.

This approach to bass playing reminds me quite a bit of legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown. Ray was well known for his combination of a walking bass line that is melodic and inventive, supplemented by unsurpassed tone and rhythm. Here is an example. That is Nedward’s playing in a nutshell. I will point to the song Kaimana Hila as an example. Make sure you are listening on headphones or external speakers, as built-in computer speakers won’t properly capture the bouncy rhythms of the bass.

Stay with me on this myspace page as I site examples from other tunes on this amazing album. It should let you play them without an account, if not, you should be able to login using your facebook information if you have one. You are probably saying, “wow, myspace that still exists?!” Well it does, and I have found it to be a nice resource for streaming music. If this doesn’t work, try spotify as these songs are available for streaming there as well.

Really this entire album is full of extremely inventive bass lines that explore the melodic potential of this often over looked and undervalued instrument in Hawaiian music. On Ka Makani Ka `iIi Aloha”  the slow ballad is built on a bass at steady tempo that is accentuated with subtle flourishes in the upper registers. Also listen how he intersperses the steadiness of the bass with short walking phrases during the chorus. By the guitar solo Nedward has already introduced three different techniques of bass playing within one song. During Ledward’s spacey lead parts, Nedward is almost soloing in his own right. Again the flourishes in the upper registers are there, but notice how he quickly jumps back to the lower end of the bass creating a sound that is full and balanced. At times it sounds as if it is Nedward himself who is doing the soloing!

“Punalu`u” is another song that features a jazzy walking type bass line during the verses. Listen to the alterations he adds to the end of the first verse starting at the 22 second mark. He enters into some sort of improvised free wheeling section that is all over the place yet still firmly situated in the root notes. You never feel like he is veering too far off course, but on close examination what he is doing is truly revolutionary. There is no other bass playing I have found that had explored this type of approach to the bass. Again during the solo he employs what is sort of a signature Nedward technique, a low note on the root and then a jump to the relative high tone with quick embellishments. During the end ha`ina section he settles back in to a “normal” bass line, taking you full circle back to something familiar after the world wind tour of notes the song takes you on.

Another section I would like to point out is on the song “Kealohalani” at the 1:18 mark. I am not sure I can put into words what he is doing here. Take a listen for yourself. He builds a phrase that ends in a crescendo of notes at the 1:31 point in which I believe he is doing note sliding that one would associate with Jaco Pastorius. I am firmly convinced by playing such as this that Nedward must have been familiar with jazz playing from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew sessions. Otherwise Nedward independently conceived of bass playing techniques that are considered at the forefront of the capabilities of this instrument.

Finally listen to what Nedward is able to accomplish on the instrumental tunes at the end of the album. The sliding techniques are featured somewhat again early on in “Ku`uipo Onaona” but also of note is the slight syncopation he uses right at the end. On “Maunaloa” what I find interesting are the sections in which he complements Ledward’s fast picking with some forward thinking use of right hand techniques. Not only are the quick slides there, but he seems to be using some quick fluttering of the index and middle fingers interspersing with the walking bass lines.

What this all adds up to is an approach to his instrument that is HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries. My question is where did it come from? Was he mimicking techniques from the jazz realm that he adapted to Hawaiian music? Is this something he heard another bass player from Kalapana doing? Or was this completely invented on his own? What I do know is I haven’t been able to find another bass player in Hawaiian music approaching the bass in this manner and I have yet to hear someone consistently play this way. I do hear inflections of some of these techniques played during isolated sections in some bass players, but I have yet to hear someone apply this approach to every song one plays.

I hope you listen to and appreciate the musicality of Hui `Ohana in a new light. Often Dennis Pavao’s falsetto and Ledward Ka`apana’a guitar playing get mentioned as being the notable aspects of the group’s sound, but for me, what Nedward is doing in the back ground is equally important. What is does for me as a musician is inspire HO`ANALU….to go beyond known boundaries in how I approach my playing. I hope it does for you too.

Jus’ Cruzin’ With Uncle Led

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One of the most innovative and accomplished musicians in Hawaiian music history is Ledward Ka`apana.  Starting with the group Hui Ohana in 1972, Uncle Led set a new standard for what sounds were possible within the realm of Hawaiian music.  His electric guitar playing with added reverb was new and exciting.  He was never afraid to push the boundaries, or HO`ANALU, of what was being done with slack key guitar.  He was by no means the first to play an electric guitar in a slack key tuning, but his extensive use of it and explorations of the outer realms of creative possibility was revolutionary.  Along with his twin brother Nedward on bass (another post solely about his bass playing is due) and falsetto vocalist Dennis Pavao, Hui Ohana was a Hawaiian power trio.  Exploding on the scene in Waikiki in the 70s these Big Island boys from Kalapana set a standard of musicianship and execution unmatched by anyone other than the all time greats the Sons of Hawai`i.  The group disbanded in 1978 when Dennis Pavao decided to pursue a solo career.  Led continued on, forming the group I Kona.  The group did reunite in 1987 to record the album “Hui Ohana”

Over the next 30 or so years Ledward has established himself as THE master of slack key.  Comfortable in any tuning, including standard, and with his emotional and well crafted falsetto voice, Uncle Led is a master musician in any culture, any musical environment, any where, any time.  Chet Atkins himself called him the greatest guitarist he ever saw or heard.  Go take a listen for yourself.  His albums are numerous and readily available.  While some of his work from Hui Ohana and I Kona are out of print, much is available on iTunes, as are his solo albums.  Especially notable is “Waltz of the Wind” which he recorded in Nashville.  It’s Hawaiian music with a bit of country, featuring guest artists like Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs and Bob Brozman to name a few.

Which brings me to his most recent piece of work “Jus’ Cruzin'”  Always willing to innovate, and go beyond what is known, ready to take risks, to push what we know of Hawaiian music, Uncle Led embodies the concept of HO`ANALU.  Which makes sense as the Hawaiian teacher who brought the term HO`ANALU to light for me also worked with Led to come up with his phrase “Jus Press.”  This album is a collection of traditional Hawaiian tunes recorded on the autoharp.  The autoharp is a stringed instrument with 36 strings that is played by strumming the strings with one hand and pressing a series of buttons with the other that depress and mute certain strings to create chords.  It is a fascinating instrument that is most often played in folk and bluegrass music.  It was used extensively by the Carter Family and can be heard in many of their recordings.  To say it is rarely heard in the world of Hawaiian music would be an understatement.

The fact that Led decided to record an album with this instrument is in line with who he is.  He is not afraid to play what he feels, to let the sounds come out of him as they may, unabashed by fear or prejudice.  He has one foot so firmly placed in the past that he can stretch it forward as he may.  When he plays “Sanoe” it sounds like it was composed on the autoharp.  When you hear “Kanaka Waiwai” you think “how did this song exist before the autoharp?”  No matter who or how Hawaiian music is recorded or with what instrument, anyone could tell you the only true requirement is how it FEELS.  It has to feel right.  It doesn’t matter the tuning, the microphone, who produced it, what custom koa guitar you use or how many Grammys it was nominated for, it has to feel right.  And that is something that can’t be taught or transferred without time and conscience understanding.  It comes from within.  There has to be that something inside your heart that you want to transfer through your music.  Without that it is just notes on a guitar or an ukulele or an autoharp for that matter.

I went to see Led play once at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.  Between songs I went up to put some money in the jar.  He said mahalo and asked me where I am from.  I told him I am from Waimea.  He immediately says, “Oh, you one paniolo then eh.  You play music?”  I said “Sure I play a little.”  He asked if I would like to play something on his ukulele and he would back me up.  It was a transcendent moment.  Uncle Ledward Ka`apana the great slack key guitarist asking me, a little haole boy from Waimea by way of Honaunau to play a song with him.  To say I jumped at the opportunity would be an understatement.  I decided to play “Kaula `Ili” to pay homage to my Waimea roots.  I asked him to sing the added O`ahu verse to create a connection between my journey from the Big Island to O`ahu.

It was so magical.  This was early in my development as a musician and player of Hawaiian music.  To be able to stand on stage with the great master and share and play told me I was blessed with something special from Ke Akua.  That I must nurture and share this great gift the world.  I was grateful and humbled to have the experience.  The moment was HO`ANALU in action.  I was lifted beyond the boundaries of what I thought I was capable of and blasted into a new dimension of what was possible.  And to this day, whenever I see Uncle Led he always says to me, “Eh, the paniolo from Waimea!”

I love that man.  Take a listen.  Get to know his music.  Listen to his playing of the autoharp and imagine.  How can I HO`ANALU?  What can I do in my life to go beyond the boundaries of what is known?