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May 25, 2009

Vintage Hawaiian Treasures, Vol. 7: The History Of Slack Key Guitar

It's past time I posted some Hawaiian music. I love this stuff, though I know very little about it so I'll leave the writing to the better-informed. I'll just add a note about its particular magic. It would be impossible for this music to have been born on the continent. The landscape of Hawaii permeates the moods and rhythms, the tones and wails. If you listen, you can hear waves carressing the sand, palms dancing to the breeze and the curves of semi-clad women making loops around the conversation. The music lopes and turns in upon itself, only to give way under its own lofty billowing gait. It takes your tensions and rings them out like plantains through a pestle. Unbutton your mind and float upon the salty drones.

Reviews from

I love this album! Here we have all 20 of the first commercial recordings of ki ho'alu (slack key) guitar, pressed between 1946 and 1950 by small local Hawaiian labels-- Bell Records of Hawai'i, 49th State Hawai'i, and Aloha Records. Especially noteworthy is the 78 rpm record that started it all back in 1946 -- Gabby Pahinui's HI'ILAWE. Ray Kane, the late Sonny Chillingworth and many of the other older slack key masters point to this Bell Records release as the one that
got them interested in seriously pursuing the ki ho'alu style. In fact, the C Wahine tuning that Gabby used for this piece has since become known in the slack key world as "Gabby's C" or "HI'ILAWE" tuning. Prior to HI'ILAWE's release, ki ho'alu was considered "home" music. You heard it at family gatherings and neighborhood parties, but hardly ever in context of Hawaiian pop. Professional Hawaiian musicians, who played for the tourists at hotels and night clubs and
recorded commercially, stuck to the more recognizable (and, therefore, marketable) sound of the steel guitar, ukulele and the standard-tuned, strummed guitar. Gabby's HI'ILAWE was a revelation to the young Hawaiian guitarists of the day; not only did it legitimate ki ho'alu but it also served as a model for the creative revitalization of this important element of Hawai'i's musical heritage.

The legendary HI'ILAWE aside, each cut on this album is a rare treasure-- from Gabby's 1947 HULA MEDLEY, the first commercial recording of a slack key guitar solo instrumental, to PUNALU'U, which features the lovely traditional singing of Mama Tina Kaapana, the mother of today's current slack-key great, Ledward Kaapana. Unfortunately, most of these 78's were originally recorded in small, poorly equipped studios and some of the master discs used here have suffered from the wear 'n' tear of age. Still, you can hear and appreciate the incredible care and skill that went into the near- impossible task of restoring and remastering these precious time capsules.

It's great that this album was the product of the combined efforts and resources of the leading labels documenting traditional Hawai'ian music: Michael Cord's Hana Ola Records and George Winston's Dancing Cat Records. Mahalo to Jay Junker, Harry B. Soria and George Winston
for the very informative liner notes, complete with the slack key tunings for each cut.

THE HISTORY OF SLACK KEY GUITAR is a keeper and "must-have" for every fan of ki ho'alu and Hawaiiana. Better yet, it belongs in the music library of all those who love finger-style acoustic guitar... regardless of musical persuasion.
- Schlomo Pestcoe

This is roots music. Granted, the guitar is not native to Hawaii, and so the slack key genre had non-native influences at its very beginning (Mexican cowboys from the 1830's, to be exact.) But the guitar is also not native to, say, the Mississippi Delta, and I think few would say that the rich treasure trove of guitar music that came out of that region was not genuinely reflective of the culture that spawned it. This record, containing pieces recorded mostly in the 1940's and 1950's, showcases the Mississippi John Hurts, Blind Blakes and Robert Johnsons of the slack key tradition. These were the first artists of the genre to be recorded (this record contains the first ever recorded slack key piece, recorded by the legendary Gabbie Pahinui), and the ones who later became the idols of a new generation of Hawaiians in the 1960's and 1970's wanting to discover their musical roots. Pahinui, Henry Kaalekaahi, Tina Kaapana, Tommy Blaisdell and many others, some of whom later recorded prolifically, but most of whom did not, are featured here.

Every tune on this record is a complete gem. If you have never heard slack key guitar, imagine stumbling for the first time on a compilation of Hurt, Blake, Johnson, and perhaps Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and others of that genre, and you may get the idea. The playing, all finger-picked on unique (slack key) open tunings whose mysterious fingerings and overtone qualities are still the closely-guarded secrets of the family musical dynasties that developed them, is every bit as virtuosic and thrilling as that of the Delta and country blues masters of the American South. And every bit as evocative of the culture it grew out of. It somehow embodies the slow rhythms of the ocean waves and a slower, more open and generous culture than the one in which we now find ourselves.

A must have for anyone who treasures pure,uncommercialized roots music that still allows us a glimpse of a vanishing culture.
- David K. Bell

Vintage Hawaiian Treasures, Vol. 7: The History Of Slack Key Guitar

Year: 1995 (comp)
Label: Hoc

1. Hi' ilawe - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 3:14
2. Hula Medley - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:56
3. Wai O Ke Aniani - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 3:11
4. Ki Ho' alu - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:53
5. Slack Key Hula - George Keoki Davis - 2:46
6. Wahine Slack Key - George Keoki Davis - 2:40
7. The Kanaka Hula - George Keoki Davis - 2:53
8. Holau Medley - Henry Kaalekaahi - 2:20
9. The Strolling Troubadour - Henry Kaalekaahi - 3:03
10. Ho' okipa Paka / Maunawili Medley - Henry Kaalekaahi - 2:55
11. Hawaiian Melody - Abraham Kalauli Konanui - 2:40
12. Maui Serenade - Abraham Kalauli Konanui - 2:56
13. Punalu'u - Mama Tina Kaapana - 2:53
14. Music for Dreaming - William Namahoe - 2:59
15. Midnight Hawaiian Serenade - Tommy Solomon - 2:23
16. Old Timer's Hula - Tommy Solomon - 2:18
17. Hula Medley - Mike Ho' omanawanui - 2:56
18. Mokihana Slack Key - Tommy Blaisdell - 2:31
19. The Rocking Chair Hula - Tommy Blaisdell - 2:24
20. Hi'ilawe - Philip Gabby Pahinui - 2:45

increase your slack! [new link 5-28-09]
mp3 128kbps | w/ full scans | 78mb


Anonymous said...

Thanx lots for the great post.
BUT, encountered CRC error on trk#7...
Others are ok.
Would U check it out?


The Irate Pirate said...

the track plays fine on my end; if you dl again and still get the same problem, or if others mention the problem, i'll re-up.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I have the same problem with track 7, but the rest are ok

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply.
Acutually, I dl 2 times and got same errors.
Maybe all files in a archive are OK but a archive itself is corrupt?

I would like to try another archive, would U?

Best Regards.

Anonymous said...

Hello there Mr. Irate. First time I've had the pleasure to write. Great Blog you have. Love that folk. Just got exposed to hawaiian a few months back on 'Diablo.' Those island guys know how to shred. Great set here but like the others track 7 isn't working.

P.S. Too bad about your eye.

The Irate Pirate said...

k. i'll re-archive and re-up asap.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, I've seen mentions of Slack Key, and now I've got an idea of what they mean. Sounds a bit West African to my ears. Thanks again.

The Irate Pirate said...

re-archived and re-upped. Here.Flodanian: what does a pirate on Wheel of Fortune say?

Anonymous said...

All files are FINE, no-any-errors!

I like to play slack key and like Pahini family most.

Thanx again Irate!

Unknown said...

porcupine141 said;

Slack-key came from instruments left behind by the paniolo - the Portuguese, Mexican and Spanish cowboys who worked the first cattle herds imported to the then Kingdom Of Hawaii in the 1830's. The last two strings were loosened a tad (slacked) so that the sounds produced better matched the guttural singing of the Hawaiian language. The bass is played with the thumb and the other fingers play the melody. Hammers and pulls are major stylistic elements of this style. George Winston's Dancing Cat Records has a fine series of Kiho'alu performances that spotlight the solo guitar. In that series, one can hear slack-key performed by today's masters - including the sons of Gabby Pahinui. This disc is an excellent overview of classic slack-key. Sharing music is a major component of the spirit of aloha. Thank you for it.

Anonymous said...


Another question.
There are songs with same title but different playing time.

10 - Philip Gabby Pahini - Hi'I Lawe.mp3
20 - Philip Gabby Pahini - Hi'Ilawe.mp3

Which is a correct file for this archive?


The Irate Pirate said...

Anon: track 01, 10 and 20, are all correct. They're different recordings of the same song, by Gabby Pahinui. It was the first Slack Key song recorded.

porcupine: thanks for the info! i love learning new things from my readers

Anonymous said...

This is really good. Love the old recordings as compared to newer slack key that I have heard. Fantastic blog. Many thanks.