Sound & Style of the Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival

One of the world’s leading steel guitarists, Alan Akaka is among the musicians who will perform at the sixth annual Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival offered for free Friday through Sunday at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.

“The sound of the steel guitar sounds to me like Hawaii,” Akaka says. “Many people over the years have told me it’s not Hawaiian music without the sound of the steel guitar.”

Presented by the nonprofit Arts Education for Children Group and produced by the Ke Kula Mele Hawaiian School of Music, the three-day event brings together master steel guitar players and aficionados from around the world for a celebration of the music created on the Hawaiian steel guitar. The festival features performances, presentations, workshops and kanikapila (jam sessions) focused on the steel guitar and its importance in Hawaiian music.

Other steel guitarists appearing at the festival include Jeff Au Hoy, Ross Ka’a’a, Lion Kobayashi, Joel Katz, Tony Locke, Patti Maxine, Ed Punua, Owana Salazar, Greg Sardinha and Geronimo Valdriz.

For many years, the signature sound of the steel guitar was synonymous with Hawaiian music. Popularized by pioneering musicians like Joseph Kekuku and Sol Ho’opi’i, the art and technique of playing Hawaiian steel was almost lost by the 1960s.

“There was less interest in the steel guitar with the coming of rock ‘n’ roll,” Akaka notes. “There weren’t many people around like me who were interested in learning the steel guitar. When you look at the masters today, there are only a handful of us.”

The acclaimed guitarist credits his father, former U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, with encouraging his love for Hawaiian music during his teenage years.

“At the beginning of the Hawaiian music renaissance, in 1970, my brother was learning the slack key guitar, and I wanted to learn a Hawaiian instrument,” Akaka explains. “I grabbed my father’s Martin guitar and started sliding the barrel of my clarinet across the strings, trying to figure out a melody. My dad asked me, ‘Do you know what you’re playing? It’s called the steel guitar.’ He encouraged me along the way. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I loved the sound. I started listening to recordings by the Sons of Hawaii and Aunty Genoa Keawe, and eventually Jerry Byrd became my mentor.”

Developing his own sound and style, incorporating influences from steel masters like David Rogers, Jules Ah See, David Keli’i, and his teacher, Byrd, Akaka went on to record with a number of artists, including Aunty Genoa, Benny Kalama and Sonny Kamahele.

A member of Keawe ‘Ohana, which performs weekly at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort, he heads his own group, Alan Akaka and The Islanders, and has founded his own school, the Ke Kula Mele School of Hawaiian Music, where students of all ages learn to play the ukulele, guitar and Hawaiian steel guitar.

“I set up the school to train the young ones,” he says. “My youngest is 9, and I have students from elementary to adults. It’s a mission of mine. I have my work cut out for me.”

Some of his “Next Generation” students will perform at the festival, including Alexis Tolentino, Keen Ching and Malie Lyman, a great-granddaughter of Aunty Genoa.

The festival will feature two different ho’olaule’a programs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with radio personality Kathy Collins emceeing both evenings. The finale will feature all that evening’s guitarists playing together as a group. The performances will be followed by jam sessions hosted by the master players who will provide an opportunity for guest musicians and students (who need to bring their own instruments) to share their talent.

Open-stage entertainment will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and feature steel guitarists from all over the world.

Free workshops will be offered between 9:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Saturday, with topics including beginning Hawaiian steel guitar; recording tips; playing Hawaiian steel guitar in the “nahenahe” style; jazz techniques; hula with Leimomi Bacalso-Murray; and ukulele with Mele Fong.

Throughout the weekend, a variety of arts and craft booths, cultural demonstrations and exhibits will be presented, such as a display of vintage Hawaiian steel guitars and a booth featuring historical artwork associated with the instrument.

The festival will conclude Sunday with the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel’s brunch featuring entertainment by some of the festival performers. This is the only event during the festival that is not free.

“I’m glad we can help perpetuate the Hawaiian steel guitar,” Akaka concludes. “And expand it by going into schools with presentations to plant seeds.”

* For information and reservations, visit


Henry Kapono returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for a special “Moonlight Series” concert in the Yokouchi Pavilion.

The popular entertainer and his band will perform a variety of classic C&K favorites and hit songs from Kapono’s solo career. Some of his best-known songs include “Friends,” “Sailing,” “Lifetime Party,” “Here With You,” “Good Times Together” and “Home In The Islands.”

* Tickets for “Henry Kapono – Dancin’ in the Moonlight” are available for $30, $45 and $65 VIP (plus applicable fees). Call the MACC box office at 242-7469.


A backing vocalist and sole female member of Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s spin-off band, Furthur, Sunshine Becker will be featured as a special guest with our local Dead cover band, The Maui Pranksters, on Friday evening at Stella Blues Cafe.

Furthur is currently on hiatus for the rest of 2014. Becker will join The Maui Pranksters on lead vocals and flute. She currently resides in Northern California and this is her only scheduled Maui performance.

* Doors open at 9 p.m.; tickets are $15 for the 21-and-older show. Call 874-3779.


Maui’s Soul Kitchen will present a new monthly dinner show starting on Friday at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea. The “History of Women in Jazz, Blues and Soul” will feature music by several of the most influential females in the various genres including Billie Holiday, Etta James, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.

Soul Kitchen is fronted by Tempa Singer Nave, who has presented this show to rave reviews from Denver audiences. “Belting out the blues, tossing her red mane, Tempa dominates the stage with distinct animal energy,” praised the Colorado Springs Independent.

* Cost is $45 for dinner and show; $20 for show only. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. Call Mulligans at 874-1131 for reservations.


Also heading to Mulligans, New Zealand’s popular reggae band House of Shem performs Saturday evening.

The band’s 2010 release, “Island Vibration,” debuted at No. 1 on New Zealand’s Top 40 album chart. Their latest recording, “Harmony,” features a cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” A video for their single, “Take You There,” was filmed on Oahu.

Interviewed by New Zealand’s Rip It Up, House of Shem’s Te Omeka Perkins cited their performance opening for UB40’s former lead singer Ali Campbell on Oahu as their favorite gig of 2013. “It was awesome to be back in Hawaii and to see that we still have a big following there,” Perkins enthused.

* Doors open at 5, with show at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance from Mulligans and $25 at the door. House of Shem will also play the Lanai City Social Hall on Friday night.


California musician Curt Yagi performs Upcountry and in Lahaina this weekend. called the longtime San Francisco resident and fourth generation Japanese-American a “must see entertainer,” describing his music as “filled with percussive guitar licks, breathy vocals, rhythmic beats and driving bass lines, (that) will keep you going the entire day.” Yagi has been compared with Jack Johnson and Kenny Loggins.

* He will play in Makawao for its Third Friday at 5; and later at 8 p.m. at Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli. On Saturday, he plays the Outlets of Maui in Lahaina at noon and 5:30 p.m.