Slack Key Guitar / Kī Hō‘alu CD Anthologies & Compilations

Here is a simplistic definition of slack key guitar playing:

  1. a Hawaiian style of guitar playing
  2. that uses altered tunings–produced by “slackening” the strings
  3. and specific characteristic playing techniques
  4. that combines picking the melody on the higher-pitched strings,
  5. and simultaneously maintaining a rhythmic bass line with the thumb on the lower-pitched strings.

Slack key guitar music is for playing and listening pleasure. Historically the style had close connections to the repetitive structure of hula ku‘i songs. Each time the tune is repeated, the player has the opportunity to embellish and improvise and, in general, play with the tune. Slack key playing has been used to accompany the singing of hula ku‘i songs, but in recent decades the playing style has blossomed into a full-grown solo style with new compositions.  There is substantial evidence that slack key playing was not historically conducive to hula dancing, for two reasons: first, any instrumental stanza leaves a dancer with nothing to interpret while the song is progressing; and second, the presence of a dancer competes with the guitarist for attention.

Slack key guitar playing has deep roots in rural ranching culture. Much has been written on the origins of ranching established by Mexican vaqueros who also brought the guitar with them to Hawai‘i in the 1820s. It is not exactly clear, moreover, how slack key guitar playing is–or possibly is not–related to the entirely melodic guitar picking style marketed commercially in the 1920s and 1930s as “Hawaiian guitar.”

There are three moments in the 20th century that mark slack key guitarʻs presence in the Hawaiian music scene.

  1. Gabby Pahinuiʻs recording of the song “Hiʻilawe” in 1947 marks the emergence of this particular guitar style in commercial recording.
  2. Keola Beamerʻs 1972 recording and 1973 slack key instruction book mark the styleʻs prominence in the 1970s cultural resurgence referred to as “the Hawaiian renaissance.”
  3. The arrival of Dancing Cat Records and its launch of CDs with Ray Kaneʻs Punahele in 1994 initiates slack key guitarʻs successful transition to marketing on a national scale.

Compilation CDs bring together tracks by multiple artists. They are excellent introductions to the diversity of prominent artists and their individual playing styles.

HanaOla HOCD 24000 The History of Slack Key Guitar. HanaOla HOCD-24000, 1995. This historical anthology brings together recordings issued by the early Hawai‘i-based recording labels, in particular 49th State and Bell Records. Performers include Gabby Pahinui, Henry Kaalekahi, Abraham Kalauli, Tommy Solomon, Tommy Blaisdell, and Mike Ho‘omanawanui. The collection was curated by George Winston, who wrote the extensive liner note essay.

Dancing Cat Records

Pianist George Winston, a fan of slack key guitar, launched Dancing Cat Records as a documentation and preservation project as well as a record label. These CDs are high-quality studio recordings, with extensive descriptive liner note booklets by producer Jay Junker. All of the major figures in the slack key guitar world alive in the 1990s are represented on Dancing Cat, and many have released more than one title on the label. Two compilations offer an overview of the artists:

Dancing Cat 38032 Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters. Dancing Cat 38032, 1994. Artists include: Keola Beamer, Sonny Chillingworth, Atta Isaacs, Barney Isaacs, Ledward Kaapana, Moses Kahumoku, Ozzie Kotani, George Kuo, Leonard Kwan, Cyril Pahinui, and George Winston.

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Dancing Cat 38046 Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters volume 2. Dancing Cat 38046, 1999. Joining the artists from volume 1 are George Kahumoku, Jr., Dennis Kamakahi, David Kamakahi, James “Bla” Pahinui, and Martin Pahinui.

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Liko Records

Liko LRCD-2001 Slack-Key Tradition. Liko LR-2001,1995. Hawai‘i-based Liko Records put out this compilation in 1995, featuring Hawai‘i-island performers Gary Haleamao, Nolan Ha‘o, Robert Keli‘iho‘omalu, and Elmer Lim. The playing on this CD has a more traditional simplicity, in contrast to the commercial tendency toward “showiness” on the Dancing Cat CDs.

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Palm Records

Guitarist Charles Brotman‘s label launched initially to showcase the group Kohala, his acoustic-guitar trio. In 1998, Brotman produced a compilation featuring younger Hawai‘i-island based guitarists.

Palm PRCD 4012Slack Key Guitar. Palm PR-4012, 1998. Artists include: Charles Michael Brotman, Ken Emerson, John Keawe, Bryan Kessler, Sonny Lim, and Randy Lorenzo.

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Palm PRCD 4017Slack Key Guitar volume 2. Palm PR-40017, 2003. Joining the artists from the first volume are: John Cruz, Keoki Kahumoku, Randy Lorenzo, Jeff Peterson, and Charlie Recaido. This CD has the distinction of garnering the first Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album, presented in 2005.

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Daniel Ho Creations

The slack key guitar compilations issued on this label are remastered from live recordings from the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series on Maui. The series is curated by Uncle George Kahumoku, Jr., and co-produced by Paul Konweiser and Wayne Wong; in addition to being an invited artist in the concert series, Daniel Ho also provides the engineering, remastering and co-production on the CDs. Although the series highlights slack key guitar playing, the concerts and the CDs include vocalists, in particular renowned falsetto singer and National Heritage Fellow Richard Ho‘opi‘i.

Daniel Ho Creations DHC 80007 Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Volume 1. Daniel Ho Creations DHC-80007, 2004. Performers include: George Kahumoku, Jr., Keoki Kahumoku, Ledward Ka‘apana, Daniel Ho, Ozzie Kotani, Cyril Pahinui, and Da ‘Ukulele Boys. This CD won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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Daniel Ho Creations DHC 80008Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Daniel Ho Creations DHC-80008, 2006. Artists include: Uncle Richard Ho‘opi‘i, Bobby Ingano, Ledward Ka‘apana, George Kahumoku, Jr., Keoki Kahumoku, Dennis Kamakahi, Daniel Ho, Ozzie Kotani, Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, and Da ‘Ukulele Boys. This CD won the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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Daniel Ho Creations DHC 80052Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Daniel Ho Creations DHC-80052, 2007. Artists include: Uncle Richard Ho‘opi‘i, Bobby Ingano, Ledward Ka‘apana, George Kahumoku, Jr., Keoki Kahumoku, Dennis Kamakahi, Daniel Ho, Ozzie Kotani, Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, Owana Salazar, Sterling Seaton, and Da ‘Ukulele Boys. This CD won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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Daniel Ho Creations DHC 80062The Spirit of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Daniel Ho Creations DHC-80062, 2008. In addition to the artists on prior CDs in this series, Sonny Lim joins the roster, and Norton Buffalo joins George Kahumoku, Jr. in a rousing duet on “Hawaiian War Chant.” This CD was a nominee for the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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Daniel Ho Creations DHC 80074Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Volume 2. Daniel Ho Creations DHC-80074, 2009. Making his first appearance on this series is Kawika Kahiapo.

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Rhythm & Roots Records

This label is run by promoter Milton Lau, organizer of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival, begun in 1982 and now staged annually on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i and Maui. who organizes annual slack key guitar festivals in Hawai‘i. This label is providing a showcase for younger up-and-coming guitarists.

Rhythm & Roots RR-0310 Hawaiian Slack Key Kings. Rhythm & Roots RR-0310, 2006.  Artists include: Florent Atem, Kevin & Ikaika Brown, Jack Johnson, Albert Kaai, Michael Ka‘awa, David Kahiapo, Dennis & David Kamakahi, Dwight Kanae, Milton Lau, Makana, Bobby Moderow, Glenn Smith, and Paul Togioka. This CD was a nominee for the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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Rhythm & Roots RR-0316Hawaiian Slack Key Kings Volume 2. Rhythm & Roots RR-0316, 2008. Artists from Volume 1 appearing here include Atem, Brown, Kahiapo, Kanae, Lau, and Togioka. Joining them are Stephen Inglis, Pali Kaaihue, Ledward Ka‘apana, Donald Kaulia, Kamuela Kimokeo, and LT Smooth. This CD was a nominee for the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Album.

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2 Responses to Slack Key Guitar / Kī Hō‘alu CD Anthologies & Compilations

  1. Pingback: Acoustic Guitars – Variations On A Theme | Guitaroholic

  2. Pingback: Slack Key Guitar / Kī Hō‘alu: A Listening Guide | Hawaiian Music for Listening Pleasure

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