When our leading artists, from the Brothers Cazimero and Amy Hanaiali'i, to Willie K, Jake Shimabukuro and Raiatea Helm, need the timeless, sweet sound of a Hawaiian steel guitar to enhance their recordings, they call on Bobby Ingano.
For more than a decade, this renowned steel guitarist has performed and recorded with many of Hawaii's greatest musicians.
A frequent performer at George Kahumoku Jr.'s slack key shows, he has been featured on three Hawaiian Grammy-winning compilation albums - "Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" in 2006; "Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" in 2008; and "Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2 in 2010, playing the classic instrumental "Sleepwalk."
It was the late '50s hit by Santo & Johnny that first inspired Ingano to seek out the steel guitar.
"I always wanted to play steel guitar from when I was about 7 years old and first heard 'Sleepwalk,' " Bobby explains. "I was living in Lanai City, where I was born. All we had was a broken-down radio. You couldn't turn the dial because you would get shocked, and the dial was stuck on the rock 'n' roll station.
"I was born with polio so I couldn't play outside like other kids. I stayed home listening to the radio. One day I heard 'Sleepwalk,' and I knew it wasn't a regular guitar. I thought it was a Hawaiian song because of the sound. It became my favorite song. The original is still magic; it never gets old."
By 1968, Ingano was 16, living in Honolulu and immersed in playing the blues. It wasn't until years later that he finally settled on the steel guitar.
"I got into Jefferson Airplane, and then my older brother came home one day with a whole bunch of blues albums, and that was it," he says. "We got sidetracked by Albert King and Johnny Winter and Peter Green. It suited us because I was always full of tension because my dad was really strict. The blues made us feel life is all right."
Besides blues, he began playing Hawaiian music on electric guitar. "I was doing a gig at the Chinese Cultural Plaza in 1976, and over the PA I heard the Sons of Hawaii. Right there I thought, 'I've got to learn this stuff.' When I heard Feet play, it went straight to the heart."
And then destiny led him to door of the Sons of Hawaii's legendary steel guitarist, David "Feet" Rogers.
"His cousin came to the market where I worked, and he told me, someone had stolen his steel guitar," Bobby recalls. "Feet was really down because his father had given it to him when he was 19. I had just bought a steel guitar, so I went to his house and asked if he wanted to buy it for $600.
"He said he didn't have that kind of money. So I closed the case and as I was walking out from his house, something told me, just give it to him. So I turned around and said, 'Just take this thing.'
"He started tearing up and crying and said it was the first time anyone other than a family member had given him a steel guitar. So we became friends. You still can't match what he gave to the musical world."
Feet Rogers became Bobby's mentor and guide. "He straightened my life out because I was a rock 'n' roll guitarist," he says. "I would go to his house and get scoldings every time. He taught me the main thing is, like what Bruce Lee said, 'When you perform your art, don't think about it, just feel it.' He said, 'You can't play sweet if you're a punk who knows everything.' He said, 'You can fake a lot of things, but you can't fake sweetness, you have to be that.' It was a rude awakening. I had to really straighten out my life."
When Bobby decided to study steel guitar, he had no idea of the challenge that faced him. "I didn't know it's so hard to play," he notes. "For three years, almost every day, it was six hours of practice."
One day the teacher gave his student the ultimate blessing.
"He told me, 'Now I can die happy,' and after that he passed away. He told me he didn't want me crying when he passed away because he wanted me to carry on what he did."
A master on the vintage Rickenbacher "frying pan" lap steel guitar, Ingano is in demand to add his melodic magic to numerous recordings. Most recently he contributed to Raiatea Helm's just-released CD, "Sea of Love," which echoes a classic '50s Hawaiian sound.
For Ingano, the mesmerizing sound of the steel guitar reminds him of old Hawaii. "To me it's the most expressive of all the instruments," he says. "It's the only way I can get a message across of the feeling in my heart. I've got to thank the old timers for making the music."
* Bobby Ingano will perform at the eighth anniversary of George Kahumoku Jr.'s "Masters of Hawaiian Music" show at the Napili Kai Beach Resort at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Uncle Richard Ho'opi'i, Derick Sebastian and Da Ukulele Boyz will share the bill.
Ingano will also perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the monthly Slack Key Masters show in the McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $25 standard, $45 for VIP with artist talk-story session (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org.
It's an exceedingly rare treat to have a hot rising star from Brazil performing on Maui.
Tita Lima (her first name is pronounced Chita) crafts a totally captivating mix of bossa nova/samba with soul and tropical pop, all enhanced by her silky smooth vocals. It's like hip, funky Brazilian jazz with cream on top.
No wonder reviewers have compared her with Sade and Norah Jones.
Earlier this year she jammed with the Austin-based band the Echocentrics singing at the SXSW fest. A reviewer raved, "Tita Lima beamed at an audience caught up in a collective swoon following the intoxicatingly sultry vocals she had just laid over the band's blend of atmospheric soul and ambient funk."
Lima's latest album, "Possibilidades," embraces classic and contemporary global influences while remaining distinctly Brazilian. Rooted in the rhythms of her homeland, she journeys from the jazzy title track, the delicate samba/pop of "Smile" (sung in English) and the seductive funk groove of "Vendendo Saude e Fe," to the subtle rock of "Um Girassol da Cor do Seu Cabelo" and the leisurely psychedelic/blues of "Jardim," finally landing in the beguiling bossa nova of "Maria, To Pra Voltar."
"I have many influences from jazz to Afro-beat and bossa nova," she explains, calling from Sao Paulo, Brazil. "I have influences by Tropicalismo, which brings a lot of rock and jazz and a mix of samba. I grew up listening to a lot to artists like Caetano Velosa and Gal Costa, who is like my goddess."
Costa is a legendary Brazilian female singer who helped pioneer the late 1960s Tropicalismo movement, which fused Brazilian and American rock and psychedelic influences.
"I love jazz, and I love Nina Simone and Shirley Horn," she continues.
Born into music, Lima's father, who initially taught her bass and guitar, was a bassist and producer with the influential '70s Brazilian psychedelic rock band Os Mutantes.
"I grew up in a family of musicians," she notes. "My grandmother played classical piano and she loved Tango. My father and mother were completely rock, and my other grandmother was crazy about samba. She would have some whisky in the afternoon and put some bossa nova and Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra on the stereo. She taught me good music."
Moving to Los Angeles, Lima studied electric bass and aspects of music production at the Musician's Institute. While working at the House of Blues, she got to play bass and sing in jam sessions with artists like Steve Wonder, Etta James, Chaka Khan and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Traveling between L.A. and Brazil, she recorded her debut album "11.11," with a group of top musicians and producers. But record labels in Brazil were uninterested in her modern mix of samba, bossa nova, hip-hop and dub, calling the sound "too jazzy."
"They wanted pop," she explains. "They thought it was too sophisticated, and the Brazil public would not like it. So that's why I went to labels in Japan and the U.S. and they grabbed it right away."
And so did DJs around the world, who gladly spun enchanting tracks like "A Conta Do Samba." Fader magazine hailed the album as "one of the most inspiring international recordings of the past decade."
Lima plays a bunch of instruments but is especially fond of the bass.
"I play piano, guitar and bass to write my songs," she says. "But the bass is my favorite. Whenever I compose, first comes the bass line and then the rest."
Many have been enthralled by her sensual vocals. A rapturous review in the Seattle Post Intelligencer noted: "Hers is the kind of voice that you've known since before your time here on earth. Its lilt captures you."
She could be singing in Portuguese about cleaning toilets and you'd still be mesmerized.
"I think jazz and Portuguese really sounds good," she says. "But rock and Portuguese do not mix."
So how does she feel about comparisons with Sade and Norah Jones?
"It's flattering, but I don't really agree," she says. "I think it's the tone of the voice, maybe because I'm mellow."
* Tita Lima and her band (including special guest Jeff Peterson) perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $35 standard, $45 premium seating, plus applicable fees, available as above.
Director Cameron Crowe, whose work includes "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire," has loved rock music from his days reporting for Rolling Stone. This year he made documentaries on Elton John and Leon Russell's collaboration, and on Seattle legends' Pearl Jam, with "Pearl Jam Twenty," which screens on PBS on Friday, but hits the big screen in the MACC's Castle Theater, in its uncensored form with appropriate rocking sound, at 7 p.m. Sunday.
A Philadelphia Inquirer review proclaimed it: "A must-see for Pearl Jam fans and for folks keen on gleaning insights into the pressures that come with mega stardom. Crowe's doc has a field day with old archival recordings, videos of nascent club shows and serious sit-downs with a charmingly contemplative Eddie Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron."
Crowe and his team pored through more than 30,000 hours of Pearl Jam-related footage to create the doc, which celebrates the band's 20th anniversary.
* Tickets are $12, or $10 if bought as part of a 4-for-$40 October pass, available from the MACC box office.