What is “Slack Key Guitar”? Hawaiian music is for hula dancing and luaus, right? Makana is so far from that analogy it is difficult to describe. Talking to Makana he told me that he has played traditional slack key guitar from childhood. His first teacher was a true traditionalist, Bobbie Moderow, and he lead him to Sonny Chillington who was a master of slack key guitar. Unfortunately, Sonny died when Makana was only thirteen, but left him with a passion to play, write and perform.
Slack key guitar, in order to be consider traditional, it must accompany a vocal and sound as if three guitars are playing.
When asked what type of guitar he likes to play he said his “Baby, ‘Evening Star”, a Takamine EN 10C. According to Makana no other guitar gives him the sound he requires to make his style of music complete. Leo Kottke with some John Fahey thrown in are some of the styles he mixes with his traditional teachings creating a beautiful haunting sound that comes from that worn, scratched guitar.
Currently Makana is working in the studio on a take off of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. He is a political activist and has strong opinions when it comes to our systems in the U.S. The song he is working on is titled “Super Delegates Bullshit Blues”. Probably from the title one can gather his political leanings.
Carefully selected cover tunes are included in his live show as well as some of his recordings. Again looking back on his formative years he chooses older tunes that he heard as a child and puts his own spin on them. If they turn out well, they get played.
As we were talking it was apparent homesickness is setting in. He talked about his favorite places to play and that would be on the island anywhere outside. Being surrounded by nature inspires his playing, making it morph to new directions each time a piece is performed.
To rejuvenate and replenish his creativity, his love of gardening, reading, watching films helps rest his mind and allows the music to come more easily. When he talks about his second love after his music, it is cooking. He loves to make salads from the veggies he pulls from his garden. Then there is Hawaiian taro. I was completely unaware that chips can be made from the root along with oolu cakes and crackers.
What a interesting conversation with this complex man. I say complex as his music lets you in on some of what goes on in his mind. To listen to his music is to hear generations of traditions from the islands which is an important component to “Slack Key” playing. The beauty of the composition and the skill of the player makes for a joyful listening experience.