Makana is feeling excited. He's just been in L.A. recording tracks for a new album which will probably enhance his stature as one of our most innovative musicians.
He's especially enthused about working with a producer for the first time - Ron Nevison, whose studio credits include engineering such landmark recordings as The Who's "Quadrophenia" and Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti."
"He's a multi-platinum producer who has produced bands like Heart, Bad Company and Jefferson Starship," says Makana. "I'm also working with one of his production partners, Jeff Bover, who got a Grammy for producing Celine Dion. I've always self-produced, so it's such a blessing to have their perspective."
Lopaka, Makana and Lono
The album, which is expected to be out this spring, mixes originals with a couple of covers including Led Zep's classic "Going to California."
"I've been playing it for years," he explains. "People have said, 'you should record it,' but I've been waiting for the right time."
Taught at an early age by slack key guitar great Sonny Chillingworth, this virtuoso guitarist developed an original voice early in his career. From his memorable debut album which incorporated Indian tabla, cello and didgeridoo, 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 & the Sky Turn to Clay: The Instrumental World of Makana."
"This new album for me is like the ultimate cross-section of my music," Makana continues. "It has all the different aspects. It has slack key, it has folk, cultural music, traditional, some protest stuff, some fun, surf kind of feel music and some symphonic stuff. I think it's the kind of record my fans are going to love and it's going to expand my audience. I have a song called 'Nectarine,' which we think is going to be a hit. And I have a song called 'Tears,' which is heart-breakingly beautiful. It's played on ukulele with an orchestra behind it. It's written from the perspective of a child losing their parents. It's sparse and beautiful and I'm excited about it."
A duet on the album features him singing on the track "Home" with Rocky Brown, who performed in the original New York Broadway cast of "Miss Saigon." And then there's a collaboration with slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson on a fantastic piece he's titled "Slackmenco."
"It's a really cool duet," he says. "We made it up the other day and it's a kind of combination of Hawaiian slack key and Flamenco. It's on YouTube and I got so many messages about it, I decided to put it on the record."
Makana was one of the handful of Hawaiian musicians whose music was picked for the soundtrack of the award-winning movie "The Descendants." His sublime instrumental "Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest" was prominently featured and the DVD includes a few of his other slack key pieces.
"The music supervisor was looking for a piece of music for the key scene in the film near the end where they're going to take the mom off life support," he notes. "They wanted all Hawaiian music, specifically slack key, but everything was so happy. They found my song 'Deep in an Ancient Hawaiian Forest,' which is unlike any other slack key song I've ever heard. It's very dark and brings up a lot of deep emotions. The director loved it. People are now requesting it all the time."
Besides gaining increased exposure from his participation in the movie soundtrack, Makana made headlines last year performing a protest song at the APEC economic conference in Honolulu, hosted by President Barack Obama.
Having previously been inspired by the Occupy struggle, visiting New York's Zuccotti Park, Makana composed the powerful anthem "We Are The Many," which he played at the conference dinner.
"A Hawaiian singer named Makana displayed a T-shirt that read, 'Occupy with Aloha' and sang lyrics that criticized corporate greed, politicians and the U.S. economic system in general," reported USA Today.
"It was a big risk for me," Makana says. "It's important for me to constantly ask 'How am I contributing to society?' and that was a moment that was very serendipitous. I had come back from New York in October and the Occupy movement was gaining momentum and I read an article in The New York Times which said, if this was a movement 40 years ago there would be a huge soundtrack to it, but there's virtually nothing, no anthem. So I sat down and penned what Rolling Stone magazine called the anthem of Occupy Wall Street.
"And then I was invited to play at the world leader's dinner. I was afraid at first that it wasn't appropriate and then I decided to do it in an appropriate way, not disturb the dinner and use the media as my platform. For one moment I used the media to give voice to the little guy instead of giving voice to the corporate agenda. We have to do what we can to get our voice out there."
Having dazzled the world as a solo artist with his phenomenal slack key guitar style, Makana has lately added an exciting, new dimension to his music, teaming with acclaimed percussionist Lopaka Colon and Molokai's Lono on bass and vocals.
"Playing with Lono and Lopaka brings me more joy that any other activity in the world," he says. "I love playing with them so much. We're like the Led Zeppelin of Hawaiian music. There's an urgency in the music and it's so raw, it's like a really high energy Hawaiian-Latin fusion. There's Hawaiian and Cuban/Latin/Afro rhythms and a little Arabic and Flamenco and a Portuguese aspect in it. We can go from very traditional to all sorts of things. It's much bigger than just the three of us."
* The MACC presents Makana by Moonlight with Lono and Lopaka on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pavilion/Courtyard. Tickets are $30, $45 and $55 for VIP (plus applicable fees). Call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
In addition, Makana will play a solo show from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. The performance is a benefit for Maui Memorial Medical Center Foundation and will feature food for purchase, no-host bar, silent auction and free validated parking. Cost is $45; $1,500 for VIP tables of 10. For tickets or more information, call 667-4434.
It wouldn't be Christmas on Maui without a Willie
Kalikimaka show at the MACC. Willie will serenade us with his favorites and holiday tunes at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater.
Hawaii's most versatile entertainer now has his own ukulele named after him - the Willie K Signature Ukulele. Made by Oscar Schmidt and crafted from Hawaiian koa wood, it was designed by Willie and Avi Rohen.
Willie's star turn in the movie "Get a Job" is now available on DVD with an accompanying CD soundtrack.
Tickets are $12, $28 and $37 (plus applicable fees).
Performing with the Jerry Garcia Band for 18 years, keyboardist Melvin Seals helped pioneer what is now known as jam band music.
When the Grateful Dead's guitarist died in 1995, Seals decided to keep the iconic musician's legacy alive by fronting the JGB band.
Beginning his career playing church organ, Seals backed Chuck Berry, Buddy Miles and Elvin Bishop, before he was invited to play with Garcia.
With roots seeped in gospel soil, Seals strives for merging music with spirit, what he calls, "the church vibe." Playing a Hammond B-3 organ, his jubilant music ranges from blues to funk to rock to jazz.
* Melvin Seals and JGB play Mulligan's on the Blue at 6:30 p.m. Friday, with a pau hana party at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Tickets are available at Mulligan's on the Blue, The Wine Corner in Paia, Waterworks Sports in Napili, Island Press Coffee in Lahaina and online at www.brownpapertickets.com.
The contemporary Christian group, The Katinas, present "A Christmas Collage" show at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Castle Theater.
The family of five brothers, Joe, James, John, Sam and Jesse Katina, were born in American Samoa, and began singing in church. They later appeared nationwide opening for R. Kelly, Jasmine Grey and Amy Grant. Their second album, "Destiny," proved popular with Christian radio stations. Tracks like "You Are God," "One More Time" and "Draw Me Close" earned them seven Dove Award nominations.
Their musical influences range from the early days of praise and worship, to urban gospel and R&B-flavoured hooks. Their latest album, "Collage," features contributions by some of Christian music's biggest names.
* Tickets are $15, $20 and $30, plus applicable fees. Call 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Merv Oana will hold a CD release party and benefit for David Choy at 8 p.m. tonight at Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei. Musicians sitting in include Jay Molina, Tarvin Makia, Ron Kuala'au of HAPA, Ikaika Blackburn and Duane Feig from Kilohana, Tisha Lincoln, Gilbert Emata, Dez Antone, Dexter Tom and Mackey Cockett from the original Iao Stream Band. A donation of $10 or more includes a copy of Merv's "Encounters of the Hawaiian Heart" CD.