Steel guitar virtuoso Alan Akaka

at the Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival

Esteemed musician Alan Akaka will perform at the free ninth annual Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival on April 28 to 30 at the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel and the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center. For more information visit www.mauisteelguitarfestival.com. Photo courtesy the artist

“I just love what I can get out of the guitar, the lilting sound and full-body richness of the tone,” says acclaimed Hawaiian steel guitarist Alan Akaka. “It conjures up Hawaii.”

This esteemed musician will join fellow artists at the ninth annual Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival, which be held April 28 through 30 at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel and the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center.

This free event features master Hawaiian steel guitar players from around the world performing and teaching the only instrument thought to be indigenous to Hawaii. The lineup this year includes Jeff Au Hoy, Bobby Ingano, Japan’s Kiyoshi “Lion” Kobayashi, Tadashi Arakawa, Yoshiyuki Endo, Tetsuya Ishiyama, Patti Maxine, Greg Sardinha, Duke Ching and Maui steel guitarists, Joel Katz and Geri Valdriz.

“The steel guitar originated in Hawaii by Joseph Kekuku in 1885,” Akaka explains. “For decades through the 20th century the steel guitar was in records and movies and TV, and was so much part of the Hawaiian band. It’s the signature sound of Hawaiian music. It’s like going to a backyard luau and not having poi. You can live without it, but poi is part of the luau.”

The son of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, the guitarist was encouraged by his dad from a young age.

Maui’s own Grammy winner Kalani Pe‘a received nine nominations at this year’s Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Allan B. Cool photo

“In the ’70s at the time when the (Hawaiian) renaissance started, slack key emerged with Gabby Pahinui and the Sons of Hawaii,” he recalls. “My brother’s classmates would come over from Kamehameha, like Dennis Kamakahi and Aaron Mahi, and would jam. I was exposed to that and remember hearing the steel guitar. When the Sons of Hawaii came out with their red album (in 1971), I remember hearing ‘Feet’ Rogers playing the steel guitar. I grabbed my father’s Martin guitar and tuned it to slack key and grabbed a barrel from my clarinet and started to slide that across the strings. My father said, ‘do you know what you’re playing?’ I said slide guitar. He says, ‘it’s called the steel guitar.’ He kept on encouraging me over the years.”

Among his teachers, he studied with steel virtuoso Jerry Byrd, who had played on some of country great Hank Williams’ biggest hits, gave lessons to Jerry Garcia, and helped revive the Hawaiian steel guitar.

“He had moved to Hawaii and my uncle told me how great he was,” says Akaka. “He taught me a lot. The most important thing he told me was, when you’re playing it’s what’s between the notes, that’s the music. Over time I met many great artists. David ‘Feet’ Rogers told me play from your heart. Merle Kekuku, the grand nephew of Joseph Kekuku, told me, ‘you should master one tuning’.”

Akaka performed for many years with Hawaiian legend Genoa Keawe at Waikiki’s Hawaiian Regent Hotel (now a Marriott).

“Aunty Genoa’s steel guitarist would call me up,” he explains. “It started with two songs, then three, and then an entire set. Several years later I became her principle steel guitarist. I tried to emulate the sound of the steel guitar from back in the ’50s and ’60s. To me that was her sound.”

Since the late ’80s he’s played with Aunty Genoa’s son, Gary Aiko, and Kaipo Asing as Alan Akaka and the Islanders.

Inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2012, in recent years Akaka has recorded with Ra’iatea Helm, Kuana Torres Kahele and Na Palapalai. His most recent solo album is “Simply Steel — Songs of Old Hawai’i,” in 2010, which included such favorites as “Waikiki,” “Blue Hawai’i,” and “Beyond the Reef.”

Akaka will perform on April 28 and 29 at Ho’olaule’a programs featuring a different line-up of players in concert at the hotel, with emcees Kimo Kahoano and Kathy Collins. Kanikapila (jam) sessions will follow with the public welcome to participate by bringing their own instruments.

Open stage performances will take place during both days with music performed by Hawaiian steel guitar bands from Hawaii, the Mainland and Japan. “Next Generation” steel guitarists Joey Misailidis (11 years old) and Alexis Tolentino (18 years old) will also perform. Both are students of Akaka’s Ke Kula Mele Hawaii School of Hawaiian Music.

Free workshops will be presented on April 29, with topics including “Beginning Hawaiian Steel Guitar,” “Steel Guitar Tips,” “Steel Guitar Styles,” “Hawaiian Style Singing” and “Hula.”

On April 30, Hawaiian steel guitarists will entertain from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the hotel’s Sunday champagne brunch. This is the only event during the festival that has a fee.

Also on April 30, select steel guitarists from Hawaii and Japan, including Akaka and Ingano, will perform at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center from noon to 5 p.m.

“All of our festivals are free of charge to the general public,” says Akaka. “My dream is to use as many steel guitarists from Hawaii as possible and the young ones, too. That’s why we include the next generation at all my festivals, and let them listen to the old timers to get ideas and get energized.

“Promoting the steel guitar is important. Years ago the steel guitar was about to decline. We need to keep this art form alive like Hawaiian language schools keeping the language alive. The steel guitar is very much a part of our Hawaiian music culture. I won’t let it die. We must not let it die.”

Preceding the festival, on April 26 and 27, Akaka and Sardinha will conduct a Hawaiian Steel Guitar Camp. Tuition is $200.

To register, visit www.hawaiiansteelguitarcamp.com.

*****

Since winning a Grammy for his superb album “E Walea,” it was obvious that Maui’s Kalani Pe’a would be similarly honored at this year’s Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. On Monday he received nine nominations including Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Haku Mele, and Most Promising Artist.

Other Maui artists nominated include Ra’iatea Helm, who received five nominations, for Female Vocalist, Album of the Year, Hawaiian Music Album, Favorite Entertainer, and Hawaiian Language Performance. Amy Gilliom was nominated for Female Vocalist, Hawaiian Music Album, and Favorite Entertainer. George Kahumoku was nominated for Hawaiian Slack Key Album and Christmas album. Jeff Peterson is up for Instrumental Album, Instrumental Composition, and Favorite Entertainer.

Former HAPA musician Ron Kuala’au and Zanuck Lindsey, were nominated for Contemporary Album and Group of the Year. The band Matagi (featuring Marvin Tevaga) was nominated for Contemporary Album. Kanekoa was nominated for Reggae Album, and Cindy Paulos for Religious Album. Arlie-Avery Asiu and Neal Chin were both nominated for Ukulele Album, and Maoli for Anthology Album.

Maui’s Kamakakehau Fernandez and Josh Tatofi, were nominated for Song of the Year, and Peter Wing was nominated for Hawaiian Slack Key Album.

*****

Last year Carlos Santana delivered a brilliant show at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s A&B Amphitheater. Fronting a phenomenal band, including his drummer wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, and terrific new vocalist Ray Greene (from Tower of Power), the Latin rock guitar legend electrified his audience on all levels — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

Encapsulating 45 plus years of music history, the Santana band blazed through classic essentials like “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” and more recent hits like “Maria Maria” and “Smooth,” repeatedly drew the audience to their feet.

His current band consists of phenomenal players and includes longtime bassist/musical director Benny Rietveld (who toured with Miles Davis), keyboardist David Matthews (Etta James, Herbie Hancock), guitarist Tommy Anthony (Steve Winwood, Gloria Estefan), singer Andy Vargas (who has been with Santana since 2000), and percussionists Karl Perazzo (Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gilespie) and Paoli Mejias (Tito Puente, Chick Corea).

Santana returns to the MACC on May 2. Tickets are $65, $79, $89, and $129, with a limited number of premium $149 seats (plus applicable fees). Call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.

*****

Legendary Hawaiian musician/kumu hula Robert Cazimero also returns to the MACC with his annual “Cazimero Lei Day Concert” in MACC’s Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. on April 30.

In the last few years, Robert has released two wonderful solo albums that have focused on his love for hula music. Released in 2011, “Hula” won a Hoku for Hawaiian Language Performance, while “Hula 2” earned him Hoku nominations for Hawaiian Music Album and Male Vocalist of the Year. The two discs are included in a box set, along with “Destiny,” which covers his time with brother Roland Cazimero as the acclaimed Brothers Cazimero duo.

Preshow festivities will start at 5:30 p.m. in the Yokouchi Pavilion. Tickets are $12, $28, $40, and $55 plus applicable fees. Call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.

*****

Funk/soul trio Ron Artis II & The Truth head to Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia at 9 p.m. Saturday. Ron and his brother, Thunder, have wowed Maui audiences in the past as a super talented acoustic duo. With drummer Stevon Artis and bassist Riley Pa’akaula, Ron’s electric trio is smoking hot, with his Fender Stratocaster sounding somewhere between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information call 579-8085 or visit www.charleysmaui.com.

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