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Posted - 11/30/2004 :  6:00:17 PM  Show Profile  Visit Admin's Homepage  Send Admin an AOL message  Send Admin an ICQ Message  Send Admin a Yahoo! Message
Here's something new, an interview. And because it's long, it'll come in two parts.

Beacon Theater 2004
photo by Andy

On May 24th, 2004, I interviewed Makana backstage of the Beacon Theater in NYC for about an hour. I think this tour is significant because Makana is on a non-Hawaiian music bill with headliner Jason Mraz. Jason is an acoustic singer/song writer who attracts a predominantly female crowd ages 16-22. Locked in my closet listening to Hawaiian music, I have no pulse on teenage pop music but was pleasantly surprised to find a crowd of screaming girls all excited to see three very different acoustic guitarists, one slack key no less. It was back to basics, a singer backed by his own guitar, without the dance troupes, choreography or costume malfunctions that I thought dominated pop music today.

While some critics may not have liked Makana's varying styles across his 3 albums, it is this diversity, I think, that allows him to join this tour. In an effort to expose a young, non-Hawaiian music listening crowd to Hawaiian music, he chose a set list of non-Hawaiian originals interspersed with songs like "the Poi Song" where he plays with his forearm and foot! I think the strategy is to play songs that are slack key based (originals or covers including a Jimmy Page song) and then throw in traditional Hawaiian songs in here and there. As the opening act to Raul Midon and then headliner Jason Mraz, Makana's 7-8 songs were very well received.

This tour is the beginning of an attempt to break beyond the local and extended Hawaiian music scene to expose people who have never been to Hawai`i to her music. Interestingly the tide seems to be going in the right direction since acoustic guitarists are making the pop charts. Makana has youth and a big guitar sound on his side. It should be very interesting to see if the throng of screaming girls or more importantly the big wig record label execs took notice last night.

Big mahalos to Makana and Warren for setting this up and spending so much time with me.


M = Makana
A = Andy (of Taropatch.net)
W = Warren Wyatt (of WorldSound "Agent for Hawaiian musicians outside Hawaii")
Actually, it’s been quite challenging for me because I didn’t really have the support of the radio. And without that support, I really had to build a grassroots following.
M: Everything I do has slack key in it. It’s just how I infuse my own style. So a lot of my vision and what’s happening to my career is that I’m getting the opportunities to be exposed to all kinds of audiences, not just a Hawaiian music audience. And I think through that it’s going to help me get Hawaiian music out to people.

My theory is to do my own music, and I’m passionate about all kinds of music, and then whenever I can slide in a Hawaiian song or talk about Hawaii or do slack key, people will say, “Hey, what did you do? You played with your arm on that song?” The kids have been buying the Journey of Hawaian Slack Key album so it’s music that they probably never heard before. I’m excited to expand the audience for this music.

A: I was really interested when I saw that you were on Jason Mraz’s bill. It seems like one of the few times, if not the first time, a musician from Hawai`i is not on a “Hawaiian music” bill. Especially on a nationwide tour, not just hitting a specific market like California.

M: You know I thought about it. Aside from Don Ho, it’s possible. It’s exciting.

A: What are your thoughts on the local Hawaiian music scene versus what you’re doing on this tour. They’re totally different worlds.

M: It’s incomparable. Hawai`i is so good to me. I can never complain. The hardest thing is being away from Hawai`i. I’m a gemini so I want to go this way and go this way and they’re in totally opposite directions a lot of the time. Of course, my dream is to get my music out there. We’re playing in great theaters all over. This is a blessing to play in venues like this (Beacon Theater in NYC). Jason treats us like equals. We get advertising everywhere. It’s a phenomonal opportunity. He’s such an awesome guy. It’s a great first experience for me. Being in Hawai`i has been a long process of connecting with the audience. It wasn’t always easy. Actually, it’s been quite challenging for me because I didn’t really have the support of the radio. And without that support, I really had to build a grassroots following. I’m very blessed because I’ve worked so much, so hard and done things on my own just with the help of friends. I do a season show at Hawai`i Theater now. I’m the only artist who doesn’t get radio play who does that. We’ve been independent all the way in the sense of not really being supported as much. We haven’t won a Hoku.

A: Why do you think you haven’t had the radio support?

M: You know, the first album obviously is not Hawaiian centered. My whole thing with that was because slack key is such a fine art form. I think it’s one of the most complex musical art forms in the world. I put it up there with flamenco, classical and high forms of jazz because it’s not just learning the technical. It’s understanding a whole approach, a whole way of life. Guys and women from outside of Hawai`i that play slack key have their own beautiful sounds that I’ve heard, but it’s not Hawaiian slack key. There has to be almost a lifelong relationship to the islands. It’s not something that you can teach somebody. It comes out in the subtlety of the playing. That’s why Gabby’s (Pahinui) playing is so amazing. That’s why when I’m not under the pressure of playing in front of three thousand screaming kids, there is nothing I’m more proud of that playing Pu`uanahulu because I know that anyone who understands music or appreciates music will be blown away by the musicality of the songwriting, the melodies, the intricacies, the overtones that come out when you’re playing that kind of style of slack key. It’s an art form that took me a long time to bring something to. That’s why the first album wasn’t slack key or Hawaiian. I really don’t like to rehash things and say, “Hey, I’m the next generation guy... I’m playing slack key and learned from Sonny so you should buy my album.” That’s bullsh*t. I’d rather go buy Sonny or Gabby’s album. I thought I’d wait until I could actually offer something, but I was writing songs. I got really excited about that so I did that. It was very natural.

Then, the second album was conceived in Paris when I was listening to Iz, Kahauanu Lake Trio and Gabby.

A: You took a while traveling through Europe?

Beacon Theater 2004
L to R: Andy and Makana
photo by Chris Wang

M: Yeah, I did. And that second album was not so much a musical vision but more of a literary approach to an album. My vision with Ko`i Au was to create an album that conceptually represented modern Hawai`i. For example, modern Hawai`i is made up of people like me and you, not only Hawaiians. The cultures are all amalgamated and that’s what the album is. I think my fans really connected with that album but the industry didn’t really understand it, outside or in Hawai`i. That’s fine with me. That doesn’t discredit its value. I would say that it’s one of the only modern releases that speaks to the culture of diversity of Hawai`i, and I think that’s important in a historical point of view. To make art that talks about what’s real instead of just being in the past.

With Ki ho`alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key, as my career starts to move forward, I felt like it was time to find my roots. I had written a few songs like As the World Tunes and Na Po`o Ka La, these songs started to come as I worked on the album. I felt my playing was ready and I was in that mood so I did that. Because of all the choices I made based on artistic feelings rather than making money. I didn’t really get the support of the industry because I wasn’t becoming what they expected me to be as the “Ki ho`alu Kid.” It was a big sacrifice. Sometimes I sat down and got grilled by my uncles and aunties and parents and friends who said, “You’re a stupid idiot. You should have done this or that.” And my feeling was that you have to be wise and do your own thing. Some people don’t understand what it’s like to follow your heart. I think I have always looked at my career as a life long thing. I’m 25, I’m going to be 26 in five days. I’m so happy.

A: Versus doing the most commercial thing?

M: Since I was 14 years old, producers in Hawai`i have been coming to me telling me I should do this or that. I always said no because it wasn’t what I was inspired to do. I’m really thankful that I’ve made good choices and have great people around me because this is a fantasy. I’m also thankful for the relationship that I have with Hawai`i. I’m respected by other musicians, the audience and the industry people. It’s starting to come together, and I think things happen when they do. I’m just thankful for everything.
It’s not about me or what happens to me personally. It’s about what happens 100, 200, 500 years from now, did slack key make an impact in music itself?
A: Can you talk about your teachers since there is such a deeply rooted tradition in Hawaiian slack key? I know that you’ve had more than one teacher. Can you give some insights on what your roots are?

M: I started in the Honolulu Boys Choir when I was seven so I’ve been performing for eighteen years now. I started `ukulele when I was 9 and then got into slack key. We saw Portraits of Paradise with Raymond Kane and Bobby Moderow. That was cool, I was 10 or 11. We went to the festival and my mom met Bobby, pulled him by the ear, and said, “You teach my boy.” He said, “I don’t know how to teach.” He was 21. So we started learning. Bobby is so portagee so he just talk, talk, tell stories. For me, I was so young and lacking focus but Bobby made it so fun. I studied with Bobby for two and half years. I still say Bobby is one of the greatest teachers in the world, because he makes learning so much fun. That laid my foundation. During that time I was on “Super Kids” and Sonny Chillingworth saw me. I met him a couple years later at a slack key festival when I was 13 and he offered to teach me. That was such a huge honor. I was still so young, only 13. And that was a whole other style from Raymond’s style. Being around him really changed me. Going from Bobby to Sonny was awesome. Then he got really sick and couldn’t teach anymore. So I went on my own and picked up the album “Pure Gabby.”

A: How long were you studying with Sonny?

M: One year. We had a grant from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. So after that, I listened to all the Dancing Cat Records albums, old Makaha Sons of Ni`ihau, all the Gabby Band and Pure Gabby because Pure Gabby gives all the tunings.

In high school, I met David Langan who I consider my third teacher. He is a standard tuning guitar player. I didn’t know standard tuning until I was in high school even though I heard other kids playing it. I thought it sounded kind of ugly (with a chuckle) but I started to learn it. David taught me basic music theory and all of the sudden from reciting songs, I became a musician. He encouraged me to sing again and then inspired by a lot of cute girls I got into performing again. He was like a Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society kind of guy for me. He taught me to surf, philosophy, and really rounded me out as a musician and person. Those three teachers built my foundation. Since then, I just listen to everything and anything. I really got into Leo Kottke and Jimmy Page acoustic stuff. That really affected my playing. Adrienne Legg. The first guy who really blew mind away that I ever saw was Richard Thompson from Fairport Convention. He plays his own way of slack key.

For more info: http://www.makanalive.com

(To be continued... at Makana interview (Part II))


1628 Posts

Posted - 12/05/2004 :  09:46:01 AM  Show Profile  Visit Mark's Homepage
Thanks big time, Andy. This is a great insight into a terrific artist -- and I don't use that term loosely.

The first time I saw Makana was at the Maui slack key festival maybe 7 years ago, and he totally blew me away. Some old guys with me were complaining that he wasn't playing slack key -- but he had every kid in the audience totally stoked. He's very much on to where slack key is headed.

I am thrilled that he is starting to get his propers as a creative musician, and I wish him all the success.

Looking forward to the second part of the interview.



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Fran Guidry

1572 Posts

Posted - 12/05/2004 :  10:21:17 AM  Show Profile  Visit Fran Guidry's Homepage
Not to diss a young artist, but all the guys I love and respect pay tribute to their sources. Ledward, Ray Kane, Dennis, Keola, they say a word or two about the artist who inspired a particular song. When I saw Makana play his version of Ledward's show-off poi-mixing piece I never heard a word about where he learned the song or got the idea. Led on the other hand mentions his uncle Fred every time I've seen him play the piece.


E ho`okani pila kakou ma Kaleponi
Slack Key Guitar in California - www.kaleponi.com
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Kapila Kane

1051 Posts

Posted - 12/07/2004 :  9:16:23 PM  Show Profile
I feel Makana shows alot of respect for his teachers and role-models, sometimes not directly stated...but I feel it's there.
In larger venues, he keeps a pretty good pace through the material, and keeps his show moving faster than he might in a more coloquial setting...and too much story sometimes loses some of the crowd. And this is especially true when a large portion of the audience is not familiar with the idiom and/or icons.
Anyway, yes, respect is good...but it doesn't always have to be said out loud.
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