Tag Archives: slack key guitar

Artist Profiles: Ledward Ka’apana

Ledward Ka’apana

Ledward Ka’apana is a master of the art of Hawaiian slack-key guitar and widely regarded as one of its greatest innovators. He is also one of the Islands’ finest singers in the traditional falsetto style.

has recorded dozens of albums with his influential groups Hui Ohana and I Kona and with musicians ranging from Alison Krauss Ricky Skaggs and Sonny Landreth to his legendary Uncle Fred Punahoa.
One of the great ambassadors of Hawaiian music he has performed throughout the United States and Europe.

Ledward Ka’apana and Mike Kaawa joined forces to create one of the great collaborations in Hawaiian music.


Artist Profiles: Keola Beamer

Keola Beamer

Keola Beamer was born January 18, 1951 in Oahu, Honolulu County, Hawaii. Keola’s ‘ohana (family) was well equipped to nurture his musical interests. One of Hawaii’s best known musical clans the Beamers trace their roots back to the 15th century. Ancient ancestors include Big Island Queen Ahiakumai Ki’eki’e and Ho’olulu one of the kapu (sacred) twins born of Kame’eiamoku favored wife of Kamehameha Nui. More recent family members include composer and hula exponent Helen Desha Beamer (Keola’s great-grandmother) composer Pono Beamer (his grandfather) master teacher Louise LeiomAlama Beamer (his grandmother) falsetto singer and pianist Mahi Beamer (his cousin) and chanter and teacher Winona Beamer (his mother). Keola cites his family as his primary musical influence and consciously seeks to maintain its legacy.

Hawaiian society has always placed a high value on sound which has led to a strong commitment to preserving traditional musical forms and an equally powerful interest in the music of other cultures. Reflecting this duality Keola has crafted his style with elements of the ancient and the modern the indigenous and the introduced. On the one hand he actively champions Hawaiian forms that predate contact with Europeans. As illustrated by the pieces The Beauty of Mauna Kea and Pele Trilogy he loves the chant form and plays traditional instruments such as ‘ohe hano ihu (bamboo nose flute) and ‘ili’ili (lava stone castanets). Says Keola “For me as for most Hawaiians hula and chant connect the generations.”

On the other hand Keola was one of the first slack key masters to experiment with electronic effects multi-track recording complex chord progressions even innovative guitar construction. Keola attributes the controversy this sometimes causes to healthy aesthetic and generational differences. “I remember at fifteen sitting at the feet of Aunty Alice Namakelua and hearing her call Gabby Pahinui a radical,” related Keola. “Now he’s considered traditional. For me that’s the beauty of slack key. Who wants to be in an art form with no room for expression left in it?

In the 196s Keola studied at the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu a hotbed of the emerging “Hawaiian Renaissance.” He also gained valuable experience performing with his mother who remains his favorite collaborator. Their most recent project a CD of stories and slack key entitled The Golden Lehua Tree (Starscape Music 96112) brings Hawaiian folklore to children and adults around the world.

In 1973 Keola released his groundbreaking solo album Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (Music of Polynesia) and published the first slack key instruction book. In the 1970s Keola and his brother Kapono also formed The Beamer Brothers bringing slack key to the rock generation. Their mix of Hawaiiana and pop produced many Island standards including Keola’s best known original Honolulu City Lights. Through the 198s Keola continued his solo exploration of new musical territory while gaining inspiration from traditional music.

Keola’s first album on Dancing Cat Wooden Boat was released in 1994. Each of his Dancing Cat albums focuses on a different aspect of his art and is characterized by keen intelligence instrumental virtuosity and deep sensitivity to nature. “I’m pretty much a nature person,” Keola said. “Wherever we go my wife and I always pause and listen to the environment: the wind blowing through the hala leaves the water the birds. I get a lot of inspiration from those moments.” One such moment inspired Keola’s fourth album for Dancing Cat Kolonahe which centers on images of ka makani (the wind). Several songs in this recording make direct references to wind an important image in Hawaiian music while others incorporate subtle musical allusions to it.

In Hawai’i the creative impulse usually stems from a pleasurable experience. The concept for Kolonahe came to Keola one afternoon on Maui. “I was out in a distant valley sitting under some hau trees enjoying the space the quiet when all of a sudden the most beautiful refreshing breeze came through. It caressed everything in its path: the trees the grass the stones. It changed the whole complexion of that day. At a time like that how can you feel anything other than peace in your heart? Music is like that too. You can’t see the kolonahe but you can feel its presence. It brings something beautiful into our lives.”

In high school and college Beamer studied classical guitar and later when he began to teach guitar he published the first method book for his instrument. Around the same time in 1972 he recorded his first landmark solo album Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style filled with the nahenahe (soft and sweet) sound of this Hawaiian tradition. To this day this album continues to influence many guitarists.

Mutual fans of one another’s musical careers Keola Beamer and R. Carlos Nakai met when Nakai was organizing a workshop at Kalani Honua in Hawaii. Nakai wanted to include Hawaiian culture in the workshop and Beamer offered his services. Nakai who has brought the traditional Native American flute into new musical genres including jazz new age and classical constantly seeks new collaborators and new musical worlds to explore. Therefore it was natural that he would approach Beamer to see if he would be interested in doing a musical collaboration mixing disparate cultures. The result isOur Beloved Land.

Our Beloved Land features the sound of the Native American flute accompanied by the harmonies of the slack key guitar. Several songs also feature Beamer’s soulful vocal renditions of original and traditional Hawaiian songs.


Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (1972)
Keola and Kapono Beamer (1976)
Honolulu City Lights (1978)
Sweet Maui Moon (1989)
Wooden Boat (1994)
Moe’uhane Kika – Tales from the Dream Guitar (Dancing Cat Records, 1995)
The Golden Lehua Tree (narrated by Nona Beamer) (1996)
Mauna Kea – White Mountain Journal (1997)
Kolohane – From the Gentle Wind (1999)
Island Born (2001)
Ka Leo O Loko – Soliloquy (Dancing Cat Records, 2002)
Mohala Hou – Music of the Hawaiian Renaissance (2003)
Ki Ho’alu (Loosen the Key) DVD (2003)
Our Beloved Land (with R. Carlos Nakai) (2005)
Keola Beamer & Raiatea (2010)
Kahikina O Ka Hau (The Coming of the Snow) (2011)
Malama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love) (2012)


Artist Profiles: Barney Isaacs

Barney Isaacs

Alvin Kalanikau “Barney” Isaacs, Jr. was one of Hawaii’s leading steel guitarists. Barney grew up in a musical family that included his father, composer and band leader Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs, Sr., and two brothers, slack key master Leland “Atta” Isaacs and multi-instrumentalist Norman Isaacs.

Barney remembered being exposed to music from the time he was small. “We had a big house and music was there all the time. Our dad had a dance band that rehearsed on the premises. They played all kinds of music, not just Hawaiian.” Alvin, Sr. actively encouraged his ten children to play. He taught Barney, Atta and Norman the rudiments of steel guitar while they were still in elementary school. “When my dad noticed that we were always playing together, he suggested we form a trio,” Barney recalled. When the trio was formed, they had to spread out.

As the oldest, I got to pick first, so I stayed with the steel.” Atta went to the guitar and Norman played the bass. “We could sing parts and everything. At that time Hawaiian music was very danceable fox trots, waltzes. We were always trying to keep up, learn as much as we could from the older guys and each other. Pua Almeida, Jules Ah See, the Kalimas, they were all our age. Jules’ steel playing probably had the most influence on me. He could really make it sing. He had so many styles and different tunings. He was so adept at picking things up, but he never lost his own recognizable sound.”

Alvin, Sr. was a very popular band leader and composer, and in 1948 Barney accepted a position in his father’s group, the acclaimed Royal Hawaiian Serenaders. “It couldn’t have been a better place to start – in the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with that group – my father, Benny Kalama, George Kainapau. They were really terrific.” From the late 194os, Barney was one of Hawaii’s most multifaceted and active performers, and a traveling ambassador of the steel guitar. He spent 25 years with the Hawaii Calls radio show and enjoyed long collaborations with Alfred Apaka, Danny Kaleikini and his own groups at various nightspots.

Also active behind the scenes, Barney served as the musical director for Waikiki Records in the 1950s and even managed his own club, The Palm Tree Inn, turning it into one of the most important musicians’ hangout. Barney’s father was well-known for the large musical gatherings he liked to hold at his house in Kalihi. Following his father’s example, Barney loved to bring musicians together to socialize and perform for their own enjoyment. He also taught and served on the governing board of the major steel guitar societies.

Barney’s recording credits number in the hundreds, including trailblazing electric steel and slack key duets in the 1950s with Gabby Pahinui and Atta Isaacs, accompanied by a rhythm section on Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volumes 1 and 2 (Waikiki Records 319 & 320) that were the spiritual predecessors for Barney’s Dancing Cat release Hawaiian Touch. During the recording sessions, Barney said that he felt a special aloha for that project. “The acoustic steel is the instrument I started on,” he said. “Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever recorded on it.”

Barney Isaacs passed away in 1996.


Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volume 1 (Waikiki Records 319)
Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Volume 2 (Waikiki Records 320)
E’Mau (MKH Productions, 1995)
Hawaiian Touch (Dancing Cat / Windham Hill Records, 1995)