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Famous Music

Keali'i Reichel. Ninth Annual Kukahi Concert, ...
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Hawaii’s cultural background has become apparent in its music. A combination of various cultures, Hawaiian music sounds like no other genre in the world because of its unique attributes and distinctive tone. The type of music has become so celebrated that famous music spews out of the speakers of homes in Hawaii across the island chain. Originally, Hawaiian music consisted only of beats and chants accompanied by simple drums, rocks, sticks, and gourds. However, today, the sounds of several different instruments have been intertwined. Things like the guitar and bass have been brought into Hawaiian music from western civilization while the ukulele, a four-stringed instrument, is locally-produced.

Hawaiian music has become so popular around the world that there is even a Grammy award for the best Hawaiian artist. Israel Kamakawiwoole is one of Hawaii’s prominent musical artists whose music is heard around the world. The late artist recorded almost a dozen albums that included both remakes of popular songs as well as original songs and beats. The Makaha Sons and Kealii Reichel are also staples of the famous music scene in the state. And who can forget Don Ho, who was once the all-star performer who brought Hawaiian music to the world stage

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Hawaiian Music Venues and Events

Genoa Keawe
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If you’re in search of some of the best places to find great Hawaiian music performances, one of the best areas to go to is Waikiki. There are many places in Waikiki where visitors can find great traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music. What’s better is that many of Waikiki’s bars, grills, and restaurants are popular venues for performances, so visitors can sit back and enjoy the music, along with some tasty pupus and a beautiful view of the beach. Every Sunday the Moana Terrace at the Waikiki Marriott Hotel offers “Slack Key Sunday,” where popular local slack key guitarists such as George Kuo, Martin Pahinui, Aaron Mahi, and Bobby Ingano perform. Although Hawaii’s legendary falsetto singer Genoa Keawe passed away in 2008, her family continues her legend by performing traditional Hawaiian music at the Moana Terrace every week. The Kani Ka Pila Grille is another popular music venue, which has featured many talented musicians such as Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Kawika Kahiapo, and Weldon Kekauoha.

Aside from Waikiki’s excellent Hawaiian music venues, Hawaii also hosts numerous music festivals throughout the year. One of these popular festivals is the Slack Key Guitar Festivals, which is comprised of four different events that take place of the islands of Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, and Kauai throughout the year. Ukuleles are also featured at several of Hawaii’s music festivals including the Ukulele Festival Hawaii, Aloha Tower Ukulele Contest, and Japan-Hawaii Ukulele Picnic. Two other popular festivals are the Big Island Music Festival and Kauai Mokihana Festival.

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The University of Hawaii of Hawaii at Manoa

KAILUA, HI - DECEMBER 23: (AFP - OUT) United S...
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The University of Hawaii of Hawaii at Manoa is a public, co-educational university in the low-key neighborhood of Manoa in Honolulu.  As the flagship campus for the entire University of Hawaii system, the campus is involved in several high profile research projects for the United States military and federal government.  The school consists of four Colleges of Arts and Sciences (Arts and Humanities, Languages Literatures and Linguistics, Natural Sciencs, and Social Sciences), the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Center for Hawaiian Studies, School of Architecture, School of Earth Science and Technology, the College of Education, the College of Engineering, and the Shidler College of Business Administration.  The state’s only law and medical schools are also part of the UH-Manoa system: the William S. Richardson School of Law on the Manoa campus and the John A. Burns School of Medicine, part of UH- Manoa but located a few miles away in Kakaako.  As a result of the over 30,000 students enrolled at the university, real estate for sale Oahu Hawaii in Manoa usually goes at a premium, not only because of its proximity to the UH but also because of its convenient location relative to downtown Honolulu and several other local hotspots, eateries, beaches, night life, and attractions.

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Ukulele Solos

Jake Shimabukuro performing in Joshua Tree, Ca...
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When the world ukulele comes up, gentle string music comes to mind accompanied by soothing and slow singing. Most people don’t know that the ukulele is can be a stand alone instrument as some players have expertly demonstrated. While playing melody and chords on an ukulele is basic, the following pieces validate the ukulele’s stance as a stand alone instrument.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Jake Shimabukuro
Midnight Ukulele Disco hosted the rendition of The Beatles’ While my Guitar Gently Weeps of then-unknown Jake Shimabukuro. This rendition quickly became a viral sensation, as it spread through YouTube. From Hawaii, this ukulele player has become the most well known ukulele player in the world, and has played on the shows of Conan O’Brian and Carson Daily. Conan O’Brian enjoyed his performance so much, calling it his favorite performance ever.
Down Rideau Canal – James Hill
Without doubt, James Hill of Canada is the best ukulele player in the world. Many are unaware that Canada has a large ukulele following, rivaled only by Hawaii. Down Rideau Canal is a song Hill wrote about skating in the eponymous canal, and it is a brilliant show of ukulele strumming and unique and difficult techniques.
William Tell Overture – Andy Eastwood
Andy Eastwood is not the traditional ukulele player. His playing is part of the British tradition of ukulele playing, including George Formby. The instrument he uses is a banjolele, an ukulele and banjo hybrid. His solo ukulele version of Rossini’s William Tell Overture is a breathtaking journey through the tune with one of the most embellished outros ever created.

Stars and Stripes Forever – Jesse Kalima
In the mid-30s, while Hawaii was bidding to become part of the United States of America, Jesse Kalima began performing Stars and Stripes Forever. Using this tuen, Kalima won the Hawaii Amateur Ukulele Championship in 1935 and became an innovator of solo ukulele playing. He was one of the first to demonstrate the amazing power of the solo ukulele.

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Slack Key Guitar Playing

Slack key guitar is a playing style that involves plucking the strings however; its techniques are hidden very well by its masters. Finding ways to learn about this unique playing style is almost impossible, as there are no books or tutorials available. Many players who utilize this very unique style would much rather play at family gatherings than publicizing their art .
While guitars and ukuleles are practically staples of the local culture, they are fairly new additions. The story of the guitar’s introduction varies on who you ask. Some believe that the American and Spanish cowboys were invited to Hawaii in the mid-1830s to help with the cattle may have introduced the instrument. Others believe that the Hawaiians picked it up by assisting the Argentine navy in Monterey, California. Whatever the case, the string instruments became a hit with the Hawaiian people, who quickly adapted these instruments into their culture.
“Slack key” guitar refers to the adjustment of the tuning keys so that the instrument’s strings are loose, or “slack.” Doing this is called an “open tuning,” which means the open strings sound a chord. Sometimes, however, slack key guitarists play in standard tuning. Other than the finger playing style, the repertoire distinguishes this particular genre. This style’s songs focus on the Hawaiian country, such as the mountains, trees and ocean.
A popular open tuning set up is the G major chord. From lowest to highest, the set up is D G D G B D, also called Taro Patch tuning. Wahine tuning is another type, which includes a major seventh, for example, D G D F# B D. Named after the famous guitarist is “Gabby’s C,” which sets up as C G E G A E.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this music style is the use of standard finger picking techniques, such as hammer-ones, pull-offs, slides and harmonics. These techniques often personalize songs, as they can be added any time during a piece, and it all depends on what the player feels. Slack key playing has no set rules on how to play. Some players choose to play the melody with little variations, while others are constantly improvising.
If interested in listening to some great slack key guitarists, look for Sonny Chillingworth, Leonard Kwan, Moses Kahumoke, George Kuo or Ray Kane, as they are the most prominent composers and performers of slack key guitar. YouTube is also a great place to look for performances by dedicated guitarists eager to spread their beautiful art.

Famous Hawaiian Musicians

Hawaiian music is fairly distinct, and this is attributed to the unique guitars used in many pieces of music. The three different guitar styles used in Hawaiian music are ukulele, slack key guitar and steel guitar. Famous Hawaiian guitarists did more than play their guitar excellently. These guitarists also altered guitar playing styles or introduced Hawaiian music to a broader audience through their adept use of their instruments. Because of these experts, Hawaiian music has crossed the waters to many faraway places. Following are some of the most famous guitarists.
Tau Moe Family
Tau Moe moved to Hawaii with his family when he was 11. M.K. Moke taught him how to play steel guitar, and Tau Moe eventually married Rose, another steel guitarist. This duo eventually joined a traveling show and performed to international audiences. The couple’s two children Lani and Dorian also learned how to play steel guitar, later joining their parents’ act. The family lived everywhere from Japan to Lebanon. It has been said that the family performed for Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. The performances of Tau Moe and his family spread Hawaiian and hapa haole music around the world.
Gabby Pahinui
Charles Philip “Gabby” Pahinui was born in 1921, and through him, slack key guitar was transferred from the back porch of Hawaiian homes to a larger audience. Dubbed the “folk hero of Hawaiian music,” Gabby was a driving force in stimulating the popularity of this music form.
Melding American jazz and traditional Hawaiian music became his specialty. While he had no formal musical education, Gabby was a wiz. For more than 40 years, he played in various clubs, cafes, and restaurants and produced albums and had concerts for 10. He recorded his first song in the early 40s, called Hi’ilawe, which quickly became a hit.
The Sons of Hawaii
The group entitled The Sons of Hawaii is comprised of four famous Hawaiian guitar players. Founded by Gabby Pahinui and Eddie Kamae (see below), it also included David Rogers (steel guitars) and Joe Marshall (bass). During 1960, The Sons of Hawaii was noted as the highest paid Hawaiian group in the state. In 1962, this unique quartet released their first album.
Eddie Kamae
Eddie Kamae was an ukulele prodigy, and is known for promoting the “Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance.” Prior to establishing The Sons of Hawaii, he was in other groups such as the Ukulele Rascals and Ray Kinney’s Orchestra. He was one of the first to pluck the ukulele strings, revolutionizing traditional playing styles. KAmae has also produced films promoting the music and culture of Hawaii.
Don Ho
Made famous by Tiny Bubbles and Pearly Shell is Don Ho, singer and slack guitarist. This former member of the United States Air Force is one of Hawaii’s most recognized slack key guitarists. He has made appearances in shows such as I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch, and eventually his own television show, The Don Ho Show.
Sol Ho’opi
The most famous steel guitarist of the 20th century is Sol Ho’opi. He has appeared in many movies, including Waikiki Wedding and a couple Charlie Chan Films.

A Weekend with the Masters


To preserve and perpetuate the music of Hawai‘i—from indigenous Hawaiian music and dance to contemporary music of all genres.
To provide a venue for the teaching and appreciation of music across generations and in all its varied forms.
To help aspiring musicians achieve their personal and professional goals.

HMI was conceived by members of Windward Community College’s advisory board, including Mike McCartney, the CEO of PBS Hawai‘i, and William Meyer, a prominent entertainment industry attorney. In the eyes of its founders, the Institute would help to nurture and inspire Hawai‘i’s musical talent, offer instruction about both the making and the business of music, and provide a showcase for sharing talent and information.

Now in its second year of operation, HMI is receiving enthusiastic support from members of Hawai‘i’s music industry who share their time and talent by acting as instructors and mentors.

People and Programs

HMI offers non-credit courses in fall, spring and summer, covering everything from hula and slack key guitar to advice on performance and copyright law. The instructors include some of the best in the music business: Melveen Leed, Peter Moon, Brother Noland, Rich Crandall, Ku‘uipo Kumukahi, Van Diamond, Byron Yasui, Mike Kato, Ron Loo, Pamai Tenn, and attorney William Meyer.

Last summer’s “‘Ukulele 2002: A Weekend with the Masters” featured a stellar line-up of music industry notables—from Aunty Genoa Keawe, Bill Kaiwa and Sonny Kamahele to Kelly Boy DeLima, Gordon Mark, Bruce Shimabukuro and Bryan Tolentino. The weekend also provided instruction in ‘ukulele making by industry leaders such as Casey Kamaka, Derek Shimizu, Michael Chock and Alan Okami.

Promise for the Future

As interest and support for HMI grows, the College hopes to continue to work with community partners such as PBS Hawai‘i to provide more concerts showcasing Hawai‘i’s musical treasures and merging talent and an expanded series of courses and special programs.

Windward Community College is uniquely postioned to house an institute dedicated to teaching, learning, and preserving the music of Hawai‘i for future generations. It recently opened a state-of-the-art visual and performing arts center with the 300-seat Paliku Theatre, music, and dance studios.

HMI fills a void in Hawai‘i’s music industry by bridging the gap between performer, student and business professional.

For details on HMI classes,

call 235-7433
contact coordinator Ron Loo through e-mail or at 236-9144, or
visit us on the web at

‘Ukulele 2004—learn from the Masters

Join us this July 10 – 11 for ‘Ukulele 2004, a weekend of teaching and learning the art and history of ‘ukulele music . Click here for information on ‘Ukulele 2004.