Celebrating his 20th anniversary as a slack key guitarist, Makana's latest CD, "Venus & the Sky Turn to Clay: The Instrumental World of Makana," marks his first all-instrumental, solo guitar collection.
"In 20 years of playing slack key, I've both perpetuated old family styles as well as innovated my own voice in the genre," he explains. "I'd already done albums featuring the more traditional side of slack key, so I chose to release a comprehensive collection of all original works, spanning a variety of my personal approaches to the self-accompaniment, open-tuned style."
An innovative, virtuoso guitarist, Makana features nine new songs on the album along with six re-recorded compositions from his past repertoire.
'My intention with ‘Venus’ is to inspire, uplift, invoke emotions, a sense of harmony, and in relation to the guitar itself, to expand the perception of what is possible on a single instrument.'
JAMES WILDER HANCOCK photo
Pink Martini, coming to Castle Theater March 4
"I realized my style had organically evolved over so many records, and that it was important for me to compile everything into a single presentation for my audience to digest," he continues.
Adept with traditional slack key, he continues to expand his palette flavoring songs with folk, country, bluegrass, jazz and even flamenco influences. Playing solo throughout, he adds effective electronic effects to the track "A Touch of Deviance," all created live in the studio.
"That piece incorporates wah and delay effects with a lot of tapping and sliding on an electric guitar, all in a proprietary slack key tuning," he notes. "The entire performance is singular, meaning there are no overdubs, everything heard, in fact on the entire record, is a single recording."
Generally soothingly pastoral in tone, the album brims with sublime moments.
"My intention with 'Venus' is to inspire, uplift, invoke emotions, a sense of harmony, and in relation to the guitar itself, to expand the perception of what is possible on a single instrument," he says.
And there's a more robust composition, "Dance of The Red Poppies," embellished with rock flourishes that echo the work of Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend.
"The roots of that one come from Dick Gaughin and Bert Jansch, via Jimmy Page," he explains. "It's a blend of Irish jig, raga, bluegrass, slack key and blues, inspired by a vision of a field of red poppies swaying in the wind."
Taught at an early age by slack key guitar great Sonny Chillingworth, Makana soon developed an original voice, employing a Hawaiian foundation to embrace culturally diverse music. His memorable debut album incorporated Indian tabla, cello and didgeridoo, while the follow-up, "Koi Au," opened with a beautiful instrumental that combined traditional slack key guitar with an ancient Chinese harp.
For his third album, "Ki ho'alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key," he focused on his roots, paying homage to some of the masters interpreting songs by Gabby Pahinui, Raymond Kane and Sonny Chillingworth. Then with "Different Game" he explored more rock- and pop-flavored territory, with songs like the Celtic-raga flavored "Necksnap Blues" echoing Led Zep's folk-rock classics.
A Hawaii Music Awards winner for Best World Music Album, Makana played on the Grammy-nominated CDs, "Hawaiian Slack Key Kings" volume 1 and 2.
Entering Guitar Player magazine's Annual Guitar Superstar Competition in 2008, the guitarist from Hawaii was one of 10 musicians chosen from thousands around the world to compete, live at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, in front of guitar legends Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Elliot Easton of the Cars.
Placing third he elicited glowing praise from the judges with Satriani proclaiming him, "absolutely amazing."
"I was up against full rock bands too," he recalls. "It was a great opportunity to showcase slack key to a whole new audience. Last month Guitar Player did another feature on me, this time about slack key, and I was able to get Gabby, Sonny and a few other masters' names in print in a primarily rock guitar magazine."
Last summer, Makana was chosen to reopen the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's legendary Monarch Room, inaugurating the hotel's "Curators of Hawaiian Music" series.
"The legendary showroom had been dark for 14 years," he notes. "We mounted a full Hawaiian show similar to that of the Alfred Apaka/ Don Ho era, but with some modern twists and theatrical moments. It was one of the most touching experiences of my life, to bring back the feeling of 'old Waikiki' and for audiences, both locals and visitors, to be transported to that magical era of romance. It went so well, the last night they had to open the doors onto the lawn to fit everyone in."
And then in early December, he had the honor of performing at the White House during a holiday reception that included President Obama, the first lady and various diplomats.
Playing for more than two hours he was thrilled to have a photo taken with the president and Michelle Obama.
"We were taking official photos together when they saw me throwing shaka, and they stopped and said, 'Hey, hold on now, we gotta get one like that, too,' and the three of us all threw shaka," he reports. "It was a classic moment. It was very fun to meet them and hear them speak pidgin."
* Makana plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $32.
American reggae star Matisyahu recently had a major career boost when his uplifting song "One Day" was chosen as NBC's official theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The eminently catchy peace anthem, a single from his latest album, "Light," has brought him national attention, and a cool remix with Akon has just added to his appeal.
" 'One Day' is the song I've been wanting to make since I started my career," Matisyahu told Spinner.com. "It is an anthem of hope with a big beat, the kind of song that makes you bob your head and open your heart at the same time."
With help from members of Sublime and Fishbone and reggae's elite rhythm section, Sly and Robbie, Matisyahu crafted his most adventurous, versatile work with "Light," concocting radio-friendly hip-hop tracks, memorable alt-rockers, and smooth ballads.
A Hasidic Jewish reggae-rapper, Matisyahu is quite a phenomenon. With an engaging style that borrows from the vintage roots of Bob Marley, dancehall reggae stars like Barrington Levy, and the spiritual messages of singers like Luciano, the New York-based artist blends 18th-century Hasidic melodies with a beatbox technique, and sings ancient Hebrew psalms in a Caribbean lilt over dancehall rhythms, extolling a message of peace, unity and personal redemption.
Since starting to make waves a few years back, Matisyahu's sophomore CD, "Live at Stubb's," attained No. 1 on Billboard's reggae chart (with sales of more than 500,000 copies), while his Grammy-nominated third album, "Youth," released last year, sold 120,000 copies in its first week, making it the highest-selling reggae debut in 15 years.
Talking about his love for reggae in a Slant Magazine interview, Matisyahu explained: "Some of those old, classical reggae performers, Bob Marley most of all, just wrote incredibly powerful music that so many people connect with and can influence so many generations of artists. When I first began listening to music, it was Marley that I liked most of all. And from there I was constantly listening to reggae. Since I've begun writing my own music, I have broadened my musical tastes. I also listen to a lot more rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. But reggae will always be important to me."
* Matisyahu performs on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Lahaina Civic Center. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom have been packing them in at Stella Blues with their exceptional "supper club" show. They play again Friday and Saturday evening, with bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson onboard, then Barry sets off to tour with Hapa, and Hutch heads to the Mainland for some studio work.
The success of the shows has prompted the trio to plan some dates beyond the islands, to Bali and the Mainland.
"We're looking at touring together," says Eric. "The last few shows we did were really powerful. Hutch has been blowing our mind on solos."
With Barry and Hutch out of town, Eric will continue at the Kihei restaurant joined by sister Amy Hanaiali'i, backed by a jazz band on March 5 and 6, and 26 and 27. "We have a great band behind us, and we'll have some jazz and Hawaiian and funk," he says. "We don't often do brother-sister shows, and we'll have some fun with it."
Grammy nominated pianist Peter Kater will present a free concert at the Makawao Union Church at 7 p.m. Saturday. Kater has been nominated six times for the New Age Grammy Award including his latest release, "In a Dream," a collaboration with Sting's guitarist, Dominic Miller.
"I'll be playing many of my favorite songs from my Grammy-nominated CD's, and doing a fair amount of improvisation, keeping it in the moment," says Peter. "I'm giving the concert, meaning it's an offering from me to whoever wishes to partake."
Lots of hot shows rolling in soon with the dazzling, genre-blending, multilingual Pink Martini playing the MACC on March 4; blue-eyed soul legends Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs on March 12; the Lima Wela trio, featuring Willie K, Joe Cano and Avi Ronen, playing two nights on March 13 and 14; and Spanish legend Julio Iglesias on March 16. According to Billboard Magazine, Iglesias has amassed an astonishing 2,600 platinum and gold record awards internationally, more than any other artist.
Boz and Michael arrive in the islands after touring Australia and New Zealand, where they are being joined on some dates by the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band. A DVD companion to the band's Grammy-nominated "Blue Again" album was just released. Shot in the U.K. it includes our Maui musicians Mark Johnstone and Lenny Castellanos.