My Introduction to Ki ho ‘alu Hawaiian Slack key Guitar,
by Bruce Lamb
This is my introduction to the art of playing Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar music and how I got started playing this sweet style of guitar music.
Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar or Ki ho ‘alu in the Hawaiian language is a sweet easy going type of music. I have found it to be one of the easiest styles of guitar playing to learn and people love hearing it. This finger style guitar music has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds over the last several years. It may be because it brings peace and calming to people who listen to it in this troublesome time we are living in at the moment.
I got involved in this alternate guitar tuning music when I moved to Hawaii in my ninth grade summer in 1963. My father who was in the military got transferred there and we packed up the family moved. I guess this was probably the most influential part of my life at the young age of 15 and I had just bought a surf board with the proceeds from my paper route in San Diego. I was stoked out of my mind when my dad came home and told us we were moving to Hawaii. I have always been an adventurous type and saw this as an adventure of a lifetime.
I spent the summer there learning about the Hawaiian culture. My dad got a night job to make ends meet as a construction supervisor for a huge remodeling project going on at the International Market Place in down town Honolulu on the Island of Oahu. He got me a job there as well. This was a huge cultural center at the time. Thousand of tourist and locals would go there each evening to watch and hear the great Hawaiian luau shows.
I was 15 years old and working steps away from the stage of one of the premier Hawaiian shows of its time each and every night. The Hawaiian Ukulele, and Slack key guitar, and the beautiful falsetto, singing was captivating. And let’s face it I was 15 and this place had about 100 hula dancers performing every night. I was soon a regular stage side fixture for each show. I knew every song and this music truly crept into my soul. I soon bought an old Stella guitar from a friend for 3 dollars and tried to learn to play this music.
Every night a group of us kids would gather on a corner under a mango tree and play music. Us “Haoles” or none Hawaiian and “locals” Hawaiians would share the love of our music. These sessions would always start off with the music of the day, “House of the Rising Sun” that kind of stuff, then the local boys would retune there guitars and leave us Haoles in the dust so to speak and begin their traditional music. That’s when I began to learn about the Slack-key thing.
Most of the Hawaiian slack key songs seem to have the same theme through out them.
The Hawaiians are a proud people and love their culture. They usually are singing about love, food, the land and ocean and the beautiful abundance of Hawaii. This music has power, depth, and passion. Although I don’t understand most of the lyrics in the songs I can quite often tear up just hearing this beautiful music because it brings me back to those beautiful islands, feeling that warm breeze, the smell of the ocean and flowers in the air and those beautiful dancers.
Read the rest of this entry »