The common notion of "soliloquy" probably involves a theatrical character revealing thoughts in the form of a monologue without necessarily addressing a listener. With the release of his latest Dancing Cat CD, Soliloquy (Ka Leo O Loko)," Keola Beamer pleasantly challenges and expands that notion.
Born in 1951 to one of Hawaii's most famous music families, Keola can trace his musical heritage back to the 15th century. Learning to play guitar, piano and traditional bamboo flute while still a youngster, he benefited from both the teachings of his musical family members, and the influences of legendary slack key guitar players Gabby Pahinui, Atta Isaacs, Leonard Kwan and Sonny Chillingworth, who were shaping Hawaiian music during the 1960s. The release of Keola's first album, Hawaiian Slack Key In The Real Old Style in 1973, signaled the renaissance of Hawaiian music in the 1970s, when many young slack key players began to seek inspiration and guidance from the legends of the tradition. Since that time, slack key has enjoyed ever increasing popularity around the world. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the albums recorded with his brother, Kapono, and mother, Nona, continued Keola's contribution to Hawaiian music popularity, but his solo albums - this being the seventh, and fifth for Dancing Cat - represent true milestones in the evolution of slack key. Of all the players in the current slack key generation, Keola has developed a style, which, in its soft and gentle simplicity, is probably the most recognizable of all. In his own words, "good slack key flows in a relaxed, smooth and connected fashion..." That is the touchstone for each piece in his Soliloquy.
The new CD presents Keola solo with just his guitar to reveal his thoughts, making Soliloquy a fairly apt title, although not fully descriptive. Unlike the theatrical soliloquy, the songs on the CD are not all "monologues" as such. Six of the tracks feature multiple "voices" - over-dubbings of two and, in one instance, three guitars, both nylon and steel-string instruments. One track (Na Hala O Naue) includes guitar accompaniment by the CD's co-producer, George Winston.
The album includes nine of Keola's original compositions and six Hawaiian standards. In the best tradition of Hawaiian music, the songs feature themes and inspiration from the Islands' tropical surroundings, ethnic history, and feeling of aloha. Keola acknowledges the beauty of Maui and its ocean features in Pailolo and Kapalua Bay, while Ka Makani' Ula'Ula is inspired by the rising of volcanic dust on the Big Island of Hawaii, known to islanders as the red wind. The traditional song, Kaulana Na Pua, was written in 1893 to protest the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani, and it remains a symbol of resistance within the Hawaiian sovereignty movement today. The queen herself wrote many of Hawaii's best-known songs. Included on the CD is Pauahi 'O Kalani, composed by the queen in 1868 for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I. It is played by Keola as a tribute to the princess, who bequeathed her estate to establish schools for Hawaiian youth. Keola overdubs two nylon-string guitars to produce a dobro effect on The Myna bird's Dobro, a piece inspired by the cacophony of birds filling the branches of an ancient banyan tree. From beginning to end, each of the CD tracks creates its own dreamy, tropical image for the listener.
According to Keola, " In our family we're taught to respect our kupuna (ancestors) and their legacy, but that it's also important to look to the future." All of the performances on the CD exemplify Keola's evocative, silky style; none more so than his rendition of the beautiful love song Wai Ulu, which reflects his progressive touch, while, at the same time, paying homage to the versions recorded by slack key masters Gabby Pahinui and Sonny Chillingworth in the 1960s. Whether he is playing solo nylon-string or steel-string guitar, or over-dubbing multiple guitars, Keola crafts each of the album songs to produce contemporary music that seems timeless.