This has been a great summer for Hawaiian music, as Alan Akaka kicked things off with the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival July 4 at the Waikiki Beach Plaza, Roy Sakuma presented the 40th Annual Ukulele Festival July 18 in Kapiolani Park and Cyril Pahinui celebrated the musical legacy of his father, Gabby Pahinui, last weekend in Waimanalo.
The next big event is this weekend as Milton Lau hosts the 28th Annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival Sunday afternoon at Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
Lau always includes new faces and up-and-coming guitarists alongside slack key masters such as Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and George Kuo. His interest in new talent was the first thing he mentioned when we connected for a quick Q&A session last week.
"28TH ANNUAL HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR FESTIVAL"
Featuring Ledward Kaapana, Makana, Stephen Inglis, "Uncle Bobby" Moderow Jr., Jeff Peterson, David Kahiapo, Keale, Brother Noland, Dwight Kanae, Danny Carvalho, Patrick Landeza, LT Smooth, Kamuela Kimokeo, Paul Togioka and George Kuo
Where: Kapiolani Park
When: Noon-6 p.m. Sunday
Star-Advertiser: What’s new for this year?
Lau: Having Patrick Landeza come from Berkeley, Calif., to perform. He was born and raised in Oakland and the Berkeley area, and grew to love slack key as a kid.
In the 1980s he was inspired by people like Raymond Kane, Ledward Kaapana, Cyril Pahinui, George Kuo and Dennis Kamakahi, who were touring the West Coast a lot. … He also came to the slack key festivals I was producing in California. He ended up being taught, mentored and guided by his heroes — Raymond Kane, George Kuo, Cyril Pahinui — and recently came out with his first slack key album.
Q: What were you hoping to do when you presented the first festival in 1982?
A: I wasn’t thinking of anything other than paying tribute to a great Hawaiian musician — Gabby Pahinui — who had passed in 1980. I still remember all the people who came to perform.
I guess the prime motivation was to honor all of those musicians who had dedicated their lives to the performance of the art form. Of course all of the great ones have passed, such as Atta Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth, Raymond Kane, Leonard Kwan and Gabby Pahinui. … It’s been their inspiration that keeps me going.
Q: Slack key seems to have enjoyed consistent popularity since the late 1950s and grown steadily more popular over the years. Was there a time when slack key was in danger of dying out or being neglected?
A: I’ve thought about that a lot, and my honest answer is that slack key was not in danger of vanishing. There were times when it took a back seat to other forms of music such as pop music and other more contemporary Hawaiian music … (but) slack key was always being performed at family luaus and in back yards.
Q: There have been complaints locally about the mainland perceptions of Hawaiian music. What does the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization that oversees the Grammy Awards) and/or the world at large need to learn about slack key?
A: That slack key is not a static art form. Like most art forms, the artists who are in the genre are constantly looking for ways to be more creative and compose music that is original, emotional, exciting and relevant to the times.
Many people who know a little about slack key know that there are classic songs and compositions that help to identify the genre. Those traditional songs will always be at the root of the genre. … (But) today, many artists are pushing the limits with great new compositions that could never have been imagined 40 years ago.
Q: Do you see a "next step" for Hawaii’s slack key guitarists? What can they do to increase awareness of slack key?
A: (They) have to make a total commitment to tour extensively throughout the world. In addition, many of the artists will have to find ways to collaborate with other artists in the world on diverse musical projects.
One of the best things about going to the Grammys is the networking. You get to meet so many artists who are interested in collaborating on projects. I believe that our local artists have to remain open to these possibilities.
Q: The first known commercial recording of slack key was made in the 1940s. In recent years slack key artists have become willing to share their knowledge as teachers and recording artists. Where else can the music go?
A: The Internet. The world has gotten smaller because of the Internet. I envision technology that will make it possible for musicians from around the world to create a "virtual band" with members from different countries brought together as one band through the miracle of new technology and perform for millions on the Web. That is the opportunity and challenge for the next generation. It’s exciting.