When King David Kalakaua became the first monarch in history to travel around the world in 1881, arriving back at Honolulu Harbor, he gave a rather somber address known as “Ka Momi” (“The Pearl”), to his people.
That’s because during his travels, two world leaders had been assassinated, U.S. President James Garfield and Czar Nikolas of Russia.
“I have traveled over many lands and distant seas, to India far and China renowned,” King Kalakaua began. “I have touched the shores of Africa and the boundaries of Europe, and I have met the great ones of all the lands. As I stood at the side of heads of governments, next to leaders proud of their rule, I realized how small and weak is the power I hold.
“For mine is a throne established on a heap of lava. Where they rule, millions obey their command. Only a few thousands can I count under my care.
“Yet, one thought came to me of which I may boast. That of all the beauties locked within the embrace of these shores, one is a jewel more precious than any owned by my fellow monarchs. I have nothing in my kingdom to dread. I mingle with my people without care. My safety is of no concern, I require no bodyguards. Mine is a boast that a pearl of great price has fallen to me from above. Mine is the loyalty of my people.”
This profound speech is being quoted verbatim to me by legendary musician, Palani Vaughan.
For more than four decades, Vaughan has served as an authority on King Kalakaua. Since the release in 1973 of his first volume in the groundbreaking “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” series, Vaughan has continued to extol virtues of Hawaii’s “Merrie Monarch.”
Performing intermittently these days, the 69-year old entertainer will join Grammy and Na Hoku Hanohano award winning artists playing at the free third annual Lanai Slack Key Guitar Festival at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai’s Lodge at Koele, Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.
Vaughan has been out of the spotlight for more than a decade, he explains, because he’s devoted his life to taking care of his parents.
“Since 1999 until May of 2012, I’ve been taking care of my parents’ needs. That’s why I dropped out of music. I’ve been getting reinvolved and part of that process involves writing new music. I didn’t drop out entirely, as I’ve been involved with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.”
Before the Lanai festival, on Saturday, Vaughan will also perform at the “La Ho’iho’i Ea” ceremony in Honolulu that commemorates the day in 1843 when the British Rear Admiral Richard Thomas, on behalf of Queen Victoria, formally returned control of the Hawaiian Kingdom to King Kamehameha III.
Hoping to release a new album this year, Vaughan was in the process of remastering his four “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” albums for the Internet market when his father became ill. “So I had to put it on the side,” he reports.
During this time, he took a brief break from family duty to collaborate with Amy Hanaiali’i on her “Friends & Family of Hawai’i” album, singing the Robert Cazimero composition “E Ku’u Lei.”
“I hadn’t been active, so that was nice,” he notes. “We recorded at Jack Johnson’s home studio.”
And he spent time volunteering his services to help take care of the grounds of ‘Iolani Palace.
“Funding for security had lapsed on the palace grounds and I was finding all these homeless people camping out on sacred ground,” he explains. “I was dismayed, it was really bad. So I went around cleaning up their mess. Eventually the funding was restored.”
Growing up in a musical family, Vaughan began pursuing an interest in playing music while studying at Kamehameha Schools. Performing as a duo with a fellow classmate, Sam Kapu, Jr., it was legendary Hawaiian entertainer Don Ho who was instrumental in encouraging him to take a music career seriously.
“When we were at U.H., we became enamored with Don Ho, before he became a big name. We would go to his showroom and he would call us up to sing. I credit Don Ho with the idea that I could record. He had his own record label, Hana Ho, and one day he said, ‘I want you to form a group and you should be doing Hawaiian music and find Hawaiian songs, and let me hear a tape. I didn’t know where to begin.”
A friend told Vaughan about a U.H. student called Peter Moon who played slack key guitar and lived in Manoa Valley. After the two musicians encountered each other in an art class, the seed of the Sunday Manoa group was sown.
Moon suggested they seek out one of Gabby Pahinui’s sons, Cyril Pahinui. “Because he was under age, I had to go and ask Gabby for permission,” Vaughan explains. “Gabby was my hero, I was so nervous when I went over there. I asked permission and he was very nice. That’s the Hawaiian style, showing respect to the parents, the father particularly. And the rest is history.”
The group’s landmark debut album, “Meet Palani Vaughan and The Sunday Manoa,” was released in 1967.
Unfortunately, this was the time of the Vietnam War and Vaughan had joined the Hawaii National Guard, which derailed promotion plans for the album.
“When the recording was completed and ready for release, I was in my second week at Schofield Barracks,” he recalls. “I had to enjoy it from a long distance. I was gone for about a year and a half.”
On his return to Hawaii, Sunday Manoa had reformed with the addition of Robert and Roland Cazimero. “I then had to reemerge almost like what’s happening now,” he says. “Hula Records offered me the opportunity (to record the album) ‘Hawaiian Love Songs,’ and then I realized I really wanted to do what I’ve been doing ever since.”
Vaughan became immersed in studying the life of Hawaii’s last male monarch, wishing to remind Hawaiians at the time of the many accomplishments of the great ruler. An ardent supporter of native Hawaiian rights, King Kalakaua encouraged the revival of cultural practices and restored the art of hula to the islands after it had been banned by Queen Ka’ahumanu in 1830, when she converted to Christianity.
“Music was calling to me, and I wrote a song called ‘Voices on the Wind,’ ” he says. “I was feeling these things, like kupuna spirits, talking to us and guiding us, and we have to try and follow the direction they want us to go. Eventually that led me to King Kalakaua. All of our kupuna of the past are very conscious of preserving Hawaiian blood and the Hawaiian nation.
“I discovered that there was a predication that by 1897 all Hawaiians would be gone, and King Kalakaua was proactive in that respect. His first proclamation as king was ‘Ho’oulu Lahui,’ which means ‘increase the nation.’ I thought it was smart of him, and that’s why I was really intrigued with him. His reign from that point on was dedicated to increasing the awareness of Hawaii to the world. “
A fount of knowledge on the subject of Kalakaua, Vaughan regales the listener with tales about the monarch’s impressive feats, like how he met with Thomas Edison in New York, and thus, ‘Iolani Palace had electricity installed five years before the White House. And how, conscious of Hawaii’s precarious position in the world, Kalakaua would entertain visiting British naval officers, and knowing their penchant for alcohol, he would consume a concoction of poi and cream beforehand, which tempered his input and allowed him to remain the last man standing.
“This became a huge challenge for the British navy, but he did it in the name of diplomacy,” explains Vaughan. “It was very intelligent. He was such an inspiration to me.”
Vaughan stimulated a revival of interest in Kalakaua through recording a four-album collection devoted to the king. “I didn’t have a huge plan, it was step by step,” he says. “I just responded to these urgings, which I called, ‘voices on the wind.’ “
When the Na Hoku Hanohano awards were founded in 1978, Vaughan was honored with the first Hawaiian Album of the Year award for Volume III in his “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” series. In 1981, he won Male Vocalist of the Year for Volume IV. The revered musician was also bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Most recently he’s been thinking about spearheading a historical documentary, which will include the overthrow and the sovereignty movement, and he has been in talks with the folks at PBS Hawaii.
“I feel the general public needs to be educated about what happened here and why we are Hawaiians and why we do what we do,” he says. “I think it’s important for greater understanding and this growing population in the islands.”
As to his place in history as a musician who so significantly helped perpetuate Hawaiian culture, he humbly says, “I just do what other Hawaiians have been doing from the time immemorial. It’s our obligation. It’s something that called to me.”
* The third annual Lana’i Slack Key Guitar Festival opens on Aug. 2, with Hawaiian music under the stars on an outdoor stage at the Four Seasons Resort’s Lodge at Koele, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Music will continue in the Great Hall from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Festival events on Aug. 3 will begin with a morning slack key jam at Coffee Works in Lanai City from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. with Maui’s Kevin and Ikaika Brown. Benny Uyetake performs at the Anuenue Juice Bar & Cafe from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then from 11 a.m. to noon at the Mike Carroll Gallery. Big Island musician Sonny Lim plays at Cafe 565 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while Damon Parillo performs at Mimi’s Place from 11 a.m. to noon, as well as at The Local Gentry from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Back at the Lodge, the Slack Key Festival starts at 5 p.m. in the Great Hall, featuring a number of Grammy and Na Hoku winning musicians including Vaughan, Dennis Kamakahi, Sonny Lim, Kevin and Ikaika Brown, John Keawe, Cindy Combs, Damon Parillo, Benny Uyetake, Ernest Puaa, and Marty Wilson & The Hawaiian Lua Warriors.
Free classes on Aug. 3 include a slack key workshop with John Keawe from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lodge’s music room; a nose flute workshop with Calvin Hoe from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the resort’s front porch lanai; and a ukulele workshop with Benny Uyetake from 3 to 4 p.m. in the music room.
The festival continues on Aug. 4, with Damon Parillo at Coffee Works from 10 a.m. to noon. Sonny Lim and Benny Uyetake will perform at The Lodge’s Sunday Brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. And finally, Lim will culminate the festival during dinner in the Lodge’s Great Hall from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
All events are free. For more information, call Four Seasons Lanai at (800) 321-4666.