I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend and review the South Bay concert of the Slack Key Masters a while back and, as excellent as it was and as much as I dig slack key (and certainly as much as I also dug seeing Norton Buffalo among the guests), there was an outstanding performer in the assemblage: leo ki'eki''e (falsetto) master Uncle Richard Ho'opi'i, an astounding singer whom, from what I've so far heard, should be looked upon as a man approaching the status of America and Hawaii's version of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He appears on this disc for only one cut, singing and playing ukelele, but I take every chance I can to get the word out about this phenomenal gentleman, and you're now the recipient of my latest opportunity.
Slack key is just a matter of detuning guitar strings downwards, often until a chord is formed (usually G major) on the open tuning, achieving more shimmer and luster. Detuning naturally makes everything fatter and warmer, and Hawaiians picked up the style from Mexican paniolos, developing their own mode afterwards. As Sonny Lim amply demonstrates on Pau Hana Rag, this doesn't necessarily mean that the rich, lazy, luxuriant tempo we continentals so often associate with the music is the only possibility. Lim adopts a light and jazzy approach in lithe fingerpicking yielding a breezy product of complex invention.
Others, however, indeed take up the lullabye-ish airs so commonly admired, as Kawiki Kahiapo shows on Aina Momona, accompanying himself with mellifluous sleepytime vocals. Only three of the tracks on this live presentation are instrumentals, the rest vocals, and as might be expected, the former tend to demonstrate versatility of the mode a bit more on the dexterity side, though not to the degree found in, say, Jake Shimabukoro's uke oeuvre. On the other hand, Sleepwalk is included, by Bobby Ingano, and no one could never think of it as other than one of the country's most beloved slow songs, an adagio.
Koali features a jam of four and is taken from the Hawaiian tradition of bringing a gift of song or dance when visiting from one island to another. And that's probably the best reflection of slack key and Hawaiian music in whole: warm, very human, spiritual, relaxing, and impossible to resist.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles