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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006

Slack key takes center stage in latest Hapa album

By Wayne Harada


Hapa will launch its first DVD project, "Hapa Maui," and a just-released, self-produced slack-key guitar album, "It's a Slack Key World," at 7 p.m. today and Saturday at Chai's Island Bistro, Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Each dining table will receive a DVD and a CD.

Information: 585-0011

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Hapa explores the many moods of slack key, with a few guests in tow. Makana takes flight with a worldly vision that avoids the norm. Brittni Paiva expands her repertoire and fan base with yet another winner.


  • Genre: Compilation of ki ho'alu artistry.

  • Distinguishing notes: Hapa (Barry Flanagan and Nathan Aweau) has been one of the ranking Hawaiian music groups ever since its emergence, even with change (Aweau replaced original member Keli'i Kanea-li'i). This riveting compilation, tapping Hapa's stellar resources as musicians, enables the duo to experiment alone and with guest artists, the precise and melodic chordings of the genre, with a decidedly contemporary flair. Guitarist Flanagan ("Kalena Kai," "Nani Polipoli") and bassist Aweau ("Your Smiling Face") contribute exquisite solos that reflect their spirit, their finesse, their incandescent prowess. Imua Garza's "Kaua'i Beauty" and Shawn Ishimoto's "Kamalani O Keaukaha" demonstrate additional styles, personal wizardry and shimmering grace. Ernie Cruz Jr., joined by Hapa, adds atmospheric strokes to "Ke 'Ala Hou." The session pays homage to the expansive and lingering appeal of Gabby Pahinui, and goes as far as saying "Hi'ilawe" "... may be the first slack-key Hawaiian song ever recorded." Thus, the scope of "Slack Key World" is to reflect, then advance; to acknowledge the pioneers of the genre; and to inspire future generations of strummers, not only here but abroad.

  • Our take: A splendid listen, with generous sharing by Hapa. The packaging and cover graphics seem to point to an international audience more than local. That said, what the CD lacks is liner notes that shed some light on the tunes, the tunings and the performing artists.

    "Ke 'Ala Hou" by Ernie Cruz Jr. + HAPA. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


  • Genre: World music.

  • Distinguishing notes: Makana, a prolific and accomplished singer-guitarist, goes on an idyllic, often ethereal, journey through time, offering revealing and poetic mood pieces on life, love and anything you can imagine. His voice has never sounded better; his lyrics speak of flights and uncertainty ("Away"), of war and emptiness ("Mars Declares"), about direction ("Home"), of choices ("Different Game"), of faith and inspiration ("Time of Being").

    Makana operates outside the box. Instead of a usual CD, this is a virtual album, with downloads available at iTunes, or order at makanalive.com, or purchase a CD at a live show.

    Makana's guitar work (plus electric guitar and 'ukulele) get crisp, evocative support from a corps of musicians who help him express his various moods. The liner provides lyrics, assembled in blocks of type, instead of traditional line-by-line form, another indication that Makana avoids the norm, creating his own pace and space. The concepts, the execution, the structure are evocative of a "theme" album of yesteryear's Beatles. Lots to explore, lots to admire. If I had to pick one track to spotlight, it would be "Goodnite Friend," with a catchy refrain, a mini-story, and just the kind of ditty you'd like to hear on the radio.

  • Our take: Vive la "Different." This is probably the most thought-provoking Makana CD ever.

    "Away" by Makana. Audio sample available in mp3 format.


  • Genre: 'Ukulele instrumentals, with some vocals.

  • Distinguishing notes: Brittni Paiva has emerged as a next-generation diva of the 'ukulele; she continues to impress as she widens her repertoire and audience appeal. As a songwriter, she reflects her youthful realm, with tracks like "Riding Honoli'i," about a Big Island surfing spot, and "Gazing," about skyward examinations while driving home from Kona. As an artist, she heightens her grasp of non-Island songs (Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," Carlos Santos' "Samba Pa Ti") and dares to expand her ukemanship first with a traditional interpretation, then segueing into a nimble and expressive personal rendering of the classic "Canon in D." And Melveen Leed joins her to provide vocal sizzle to Keith Haugen's "Pua Karauna," adding new fragrance to the tune about the crown flower, retaining the favored waltz tempo of Queen Lili'uokalani's time.

  • Our take: Brittni should be spearing her way to the top of the charts with this release.

    "Riding Honoli'i" by Brittni. Audio sample available in mp3 format.

    Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.