Slack Key Show

Masters of Hawaiian Music
by Nancy Kahumoku

Hawaiian slack key guitar is music inspired by the beauty and spirit of the Islands.


The tuning peg, or key, is tuned down, or slackened, to produce any one of a large variety of open chords when the guitar is strummed without fretting (pressing the strings). This means the fretboard is relearned for each new tuning used. The advantage of the open tuning is it lends a fuller sound and a unique feel to the melody.
 Open tunings are not unique to Hawai‘i. Blues players, rock and roll musicians, and many world musicians use them. What is distinctive about Slack Key is the finger picking of the alternating bass, rhythm, and melody all on one instrument. Chimes and harmonics are often used and traditional Hawaiian songs usually include the “turn around” or vamp needed by hula dancers to separate the verses. Slack Key can be instrumental or used as accompaniment to vocals or a band.
 Slack Key music is also about family tradition passed from generation to generation, personal and family tunings (only shared openly since the 1990s), and treasured memories of places and events. Artists often present the songs with a story that reveals local culture, or describes the beauty of the land, sometimes as a metaphor for something deeper.
 The tradition of Slack Key began in the 1830s when a few cattle that were given as a gift to King Kamehameha grew into an unruly herd of thousands. Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) were hired from Mexico to teach the Hawaiians how to manage cattle. When their two-year contract ended, the vaqueros returned home but left behind their guitars as gifts. The Hawaiians then developed their own open tunings.
 Since 2003, Maui has been the home of Slack Key Guitar in Hawai‘i: George Kahumoku Jr’s Slack Key Show—Masters of Hawaiian Music presents concerts every Wednesday evening at the Napili Kai Beach Resort’s Pavilion. Each week, George Kahumoku Jr, otherwise known as Hawai‘i’s Renaissance Man, and his charismatic nephews, Da Ukulele Boyz, host a special guest artist selected from Hawai‘i’s music legends. Guest musicians include the great Slack Key guitarist Ledward Ka‘apana; Slack Key guitarist and composer Dennis Kamakahi; Steel guitarists Bobby Ingano and Ken Emerson; ‘ukulele virtuoso, Herb Ohta Jr; vocal greats Richard Ho‘opi‘i and Nathan Aweau, and contemporary Slack Key innovators Brother Noland and Sean Na‘auao.
 CDs produced from recordings of each live show have been nationally recognized by Grammy Awards for Best Hawaiian Album in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. The show also has two Hawaiian Music Awards—The People’s Choice for CDs in 2010 and 2011 as well as a “Keep It Hawai‘i” Award for demonstrating the spirit of aloha and perpetuating the essence of Hawai‘i.
 For schedule of featured artists or reservations for this weekly Wednesday night show, call 808-669-3858 or go online to

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