at 27th annual Ki Ho‘alu Festival
Heading to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Sunday for the annual slack key guitar festival, Makana recently attended the South by Southwest conference/festival in Austin, Texas, where he performed an official showcase and took time to attend a bunch of strategic lectures and panels about the future of the music industry.
Topics included streaming/play-lists, podcasting, artificial intelligence in music, banks moving into music investment and new revenue tracking technologies.
Back in Hawaii, armed with a wealth of information, he shared his findings in a lengthy blog post on his website and in this interview.
So is the CD really dead, buried by downloading and streaming services?
“The world is in transition right now and the trend is moving away from CDs,” he says. “There is a generation that is still conditioned to listening to CDs, and a generation who has possibly never even touched one.”
The hottest topic at SXSW was playlists like Spotify and Apple, he reports.
“Playlists have replaced albums and are allowing artists to get exposure.”
The problem — control is in a few hands.
“The new music industry is really a serfdom of the tech kings — Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple and Spotify.”
Artists are being held hostage by the tech giants, he says.
“Amazon, Alphabet and Apple don’t need to make streaming on their platforms profitable. They can write down their streaming losses against their immense profits from other aspects of their businesses.”
This means “music creators and their representatives, the major labels and indies are in a poor position to negotiate fair royalty rates. Artists are getting fleeced. It is a race to the bottom using the creativity — the intellectual property — of the artists.
“At the end of the day I learned at South by Southwest that it’s going to take an entrepreneurial spirit to survive in music in this transitional period.”
Another trend affecting musicians: banks and investment firms are aggressively moving into the music business, taking over the role traditionally played by major record labels. Money is being offered to artists in exchange for a percentage of their intellectual property royalty streams in scenarios where they could give up their copyrights and publishing in exchange for advances.
“They want to buy up all the intellectual property at a discount,” he says. “The waters are infested with sharks.”
And then there’s the mind-blowing trend of artificial intelligence creating new music from existing songs. One company can transform individual songs and create different versions such as jazzy, funky, hip hop or reggae, to fit different moods.
“I watched them do it, analyzing sound waves,” he says. “The big buzz word in the industry is ‘mood.’ They aren’t thinking genre, they are thinking in terms of what activities or moods the listener is engaged in while they listen. I come from the school that music has to have soul, it has to have heart, and all they are doing is math. If everything is reduced to an equation, we’ve lost what makes us special.”
Taught at an early age by Hawaiian legend Sonny Chillingworth, Makana developed an original voice early in his career. From his memorable debut album, he went on to create recordings like the homage to the masters, “Ki ho’alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key,” “Different Game,” which explored more rock- and pop-flavored territory, and the stellar solo guitar collection, “Venus, and the Sky Turns to Clay.”
One of a handful of musicians invited to contribute to the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning movie, “The Descendants,” his latest release, “Music You Heard Tonight,” showcases his remarkable versatility with traditional songs (“Ku’ulei ‘Awapuhi”), covers of contemporary gems (James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”), and original tunes (the Bernie Sanders’ anthem, “Fire is Ours”).
Currently, Makana is working on a musical, planning a Russia tour and creating a new synthesis of cultural genres.
“I’m preparing music to perform in Russia later this year, and I’ve been working on a musical for a number of years,” he explains. “It’s a story of two people from Hawaii that move away. It’s a commentary of how people can assign their identity to a toxic system.
“My focus right now is exploring the intersection of all the historical cultural music, not just Hawaiian. To me, Hawaiian represents an amalgamation of Victorian-era missionary hymns, Latin music from Brazil and Portugal, cowboy music and yodeling, and the influence of the different ethnicities on the plantations. I’m interested in breathing new life into them, and also incorporating new technologies.
“I’ve felt the responsibility of being a torchbearer, and I’ve held back a lot because of my allegiance to those who came before me. Right now, I’m freeing myself from that, and I need to have total latitude to create what’s in my heart without any limitations. I’ve been sitting on 60 to 100 songs that are unreleased. There’s a whole another [sic] Makana that nobody knows.”
Looking forward to playing the MACC, he concludes: “These festivals are a crucial and valuable expression of the host culture. The performers are donating their time to keep the spirit of Hawaii alive. It’s a blessing for the community that it’s offered at no charge.”
It’s hard to believe that New Order, one of the most popular British bands formed in the 1980s, will actually perform on Maui. They will play the MACC on Oct. 3, with tickets on sale to MACC members on Tuesday, and to the general public June 29.
Electro-dance rock music pioneers New Order became one of the most influential and acclaimed bands, following their breakthrough hit “Blue Monday” (the best-selling 12-inch single of all time, with more than a million copies sold worldwide). Their brilliant early albums included “Power, Corruption & Lies” and “Low- Life.”
Into the 21st century, they closed the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and performed at the 2017 Coachella festival with Rolling Stone magazine proclaiming: “For a glimpse into music’s future and past, Sunday night’s closing set by New Order offered an enlightening session of synth-pop devotion.” They most recently released the live album “NOMC15.”
Tickets are $49, $59, $89 and $125, with a limited number of $150 gold circle seating. For tickets or information, go to the box office, call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Jazz Maui’s 2018 East Meets West Festival will open on Wednesday with two free workshops. A “Vocal Improv and Stage Technique Clinic” with jazz and R&B artist Ginai from noon to 1:30 p.m. at King Kekaulike High School’s Band Room in Pukalani will offer an introduction to scat and developing improv skills along with performance tips and tricks from her decades of experience.
It will be followed by a “Jazz Technique” workshop with University of Hawai’i Maui College Jazz Band Director Mike Lewis from 2 to 4 p.m. with topics such as storytelling, scales, sequencing, air support, jazz history and more. Lewis has recorded and toured with leading artists like Sammy Davis Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Billy Joel, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett and Bruno Mars.
A free dance workshop with Bay Area-based performance artist SAMMAY, the artistic director of URBAN x INDIGENOUS, will take place at 1 p.m. June 28 in the MACC’s Omori Studio.
* The East Meets West Festival runs Wednesday through July 4. For more information and to register for workshops, call 283-3576 or visit www.jazzmaui.org. Next week’s Maui Beat will feature info on the festival’s concerts.
Leilani Wolfgramm returns to Maui June 29 to play Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea as part of her Live Wire tour. This singer/guitarist with Tongan roots from Orlando, Fla., began her career playing alongside her brothers in the reggae band, Hor!zen. She has shared the stage with Ziggy Marley, Incubus, Dirty Heads, Tribal Seeds and Sublime with Rome.
The show, beginning at 5:30 p.m., also includes Culture Crew Music and T-Flatz with DJ Riri Haki. Tickets are $20 and are available at www.eventbrite.com.
Multi-instrumentalist Steven Von Linne will perform with the Von Linne Express at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Wai Bar in Wailuku, with special guest Kate Griffiths of the Maui Ohana Band.