Music moves Makana's message
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
His "Koi Au" CD, released last month, has triggered vigorous new interest in his sound, his music, his message, his manner all of which he'll share in two Hawai'i Theatre concerts tonight and Saturday.
"My dream is to be a crooner," Makana said. "I think of Frank Sinatra when I dream of singing for his delivery, his presence. Only now am I really getting into this aspect of entertaining. Sure, I used to just sing but entertaining is an art. And I love that stuff."
Though schooled in guitar, Makana, whose real name is Matthew Swalinkavich, has been quietly soaking up the singing and artistry of a handful of influential musical stylists over the years. For at least half of his life, he's been a wizard of ki ho'alu, Hawaiian slack-key guitar.
"My favorite singer of all time is Tim Buckley," he said. "He's so real; when he sings, it's not all nice stuff. His form is powerful and his voice makes your body react. That's what I'd like to do; move people, get noticed."
His Hawai'i Theatre shows will include a Buckley tune. And maybe move his fans.
Makana's zeal for vocalizing has expanded his turf to include such stalwarts as Fred Neil, the late composer of a tune called "Dolphin," which Buckley also recorded. "When I sing that song, I feel it come through my body. It's really weird."
Music, he said, has to mean something to everybody. "I like my art to reflect the world. The world is limitless, boundless; there is no one absolute way of doing things. I'd like to do a lot of different types of music, a large body of work. If you feel strongly about something, you need to stand up, speak out, be counted. That's my dynamic; if that's reflected in my music, that's great."
Producing his own CD, which contains much of his own originals and some performed with instruments not customarily heard on traditional albums, Makana has been able to broaden his vision while creating challenges for his fans. His diverse song bag now includes Portuguese melodies alongside Hawaiian lyrics, Chinese gu-zheng (a koto-like instrument) side by side with his signature slack-key.
"I love to create what I call song-channeling," he said of the synergy in his works. "Taking risks, going outside of the box, is how you learn."
The weekend shows are his second in terms of "legit" concerts, where choreographic elements blend with musical and visual and aural.
"I learned so much from my first outing," Makana said. "It was like a college course. Last time, I was a chicken without a head; now, I've learned to conserve energy, avoid collateral damage, stay healthy, maintain balance in the artistic process."
His foundation in ki ho'alu has helped him immeasurably, Makana said. "I write from personal experiences, personal pain, to express feelings," he said. "But lately I've done socio-political things, reacting to something I'll see or hear in a TV press conference, or from listening to NPR. Or I might read something and respond with a lick that energetically sets up a melody."
He wrote a song called "Walking With You," in which he was able to discover new tunings. "I have close to 100 tunings and the creative process pushes you to open whole new doors. Inspirations come and go, but as I was writing one thing, I came up with another lick, and I realized that I gave up the whole other song for a new one. You have to instantly be ready for change, to move on. You know, let your fingers do the walking."
Though he's a guitarist by trade, he doesn't necessarily like all guitarists. "I like Jimmy Page, old Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons," he said. "I like music that puts you in a space and you let go. That's why I like David Bowie; he's a renaissance guy, great. I don't want my music to ever give the feeling that there are limitations or rules. I remember Gabby Pahinui; his was one of the first CDs I ever owned. He plays like he feels. I believe in that and wish I had the opportunity to meet him."
Going to bed while listening to his music often shapes his values. "If the song fills me up inside, with some emotional charge, it makes me feel good. I don't need anyone to tell me if it's good or bad; I feel it, and that's how I live my life now."