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Gregg Porter's Music Reviews

 

March 2008

 

Slack Key Ladies

This month, we get the opportunity to enjoy three of the finest female artists in Hawaiian music today, as the “Ladies of Slack Key” return for concerts and workshops (see end of the article). I recently had the opportunity to pose a set of questions to each of the performers – Owana Salazar, Cindy Combs & Brittni Paiva – and here are their responses:

What music and musicians (Hawaiian and others, from your past or the present day) touch you the most and why?

OS: My family gets first acknowledgement. My mother, Helena Kalokuokamaile, was a composer and was trained in classic piano, which later evolved in her jazzy stride-style playing. My father sang beautiful baritone like Mario Lanza. My step-father, Henry Machado, was also a composer and musician. He used to play steel guitar for Lena Machado (who was married to his brother). Everyday, he sang and composed on his 6-string Kamaka `ukulele. All four of my brothers had a wide range of musical and performance gifts. I was privileged to be so exposed and influenced by all of them. Lena Machado: Aside from the fact that she was one of our finest composers, we are `ohana. I admire her dedication to her art and to Hawai`i. I love singing her songs. Joni Mitchell: When I started learning kī hō`alu there were only a few sopranos on the music scene, Judy Collins, Melanie and Joni Mitchell. I was attracted to her music and purchased one of her songbooks. Lo and behold, I found that she used mostly open tunings! Gabby Pahinui: His voice, his style of slack key and singing, his steel guitar playing. Gabby Pahinui was in the right place at the right time. The synergy was perfect for him and we have all benefitted. Debussy and Ravel: I love the Impressionistic era of classical piano. I grew up listening to the great masters flow from the fingertips of my brother, Stephen, who received his Master’s Degree in concert piano. Then there is Rachmaninoff: dramatic, strong, gentle, poetic. Flora Purim, Genoa Keawe, `Iolani Luahine, Winona Beamer, Chick Corea, Djavan, Kainani Kahaunaele, Eddie Kamae, Dennis Kamakahi, Astrud Gilberto, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie K., John Cruz, Led Kaapana, Ozzie Kotani.

CC: I have recorded music by John K. Almeida, Lena Machado, and Alfred Alohikea. I also love Richard Kauhi, Myrtle Hilo, Myra English, Leina`ala Haili and Marlene Sai...I listened to KCCN Radio a lot “back in the day”...so much wonderful Hawaiian music that still touches me because every song reminds me of my youth and especially the ones I know by heart....how much fun it is to sing and play those Hawaiian songs, think about and know their meaning, and be inspired by their melodies. I love Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, Pauline Wilson, Lucinda Williams, Alicia Keys.

BP: I really enjoy listening to mainstream music - genres like R&B, hip-hop, pop, jazz, even some techno. I think there's always going to be some sort of emotion that you can draw out of every style of music. Some really inspirational artists, for me, have been John Mayer, Rebecca St. James, Ne-Yo, and America. Even though they're all from different genres, I'm able to pull something out of each of them, whether it be a little melody line, a rhythm section, lyrics, or a guitar riff.

Could you talk about a special event or two from your musical career to date?

OS: At the Waikīkī Shell in 1994 when I sang for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was a magical time...unforgettable. Having the privilege of performing with Genoa Keawe and Violet Pahu Liliko`i at Duke's in Waikīkī. The early days in Hale`iwa at the old Seaview Inn. I remember those Tuesday Jam nights with Malani Bilyeu, Mackey Feary, Roland Cazimero. Mother and I would go there together. Those were the days! On weekends when we were growing up in Kalihi, we were still underage, but me and my close girlfriends used to go to nightclubs where my brother Mike's band, The Laughing Kahunas, were performing.

CC: I had the privilege of opening for Olomana at the Waikīkī Shell in...I think it was 1976. I opened for Rickie Lee Jones at the Kaua`i Memorial Convention Hall in 2004 with Phil Watts (sax & flute), Pancho Graham (acoustic bass), and some friends from Hālau Hula O Ha`awihemoleleokeakawaiola. I am a big fan of Rickie Lee and I got to employ some of my piano skills, which is an unusual addition to my show. Got the “hana hou!” When “The Ladies of Slack Key” debuted at Owana's invitation in 2006 at Whittier College, I was thrilled to be amongst some of the finest wahine players ever...playing together for the first time...Lehua Kaapana Nash was there...that is a magic memory.

BP: I can't really say one or two, but for me, every event is a special event in that I get to share my music with others and touch them in a very special way. Music is a very powerful vehicle.

When you tour, we in the audience get the thrill of experiencing your music and your talent; what do you gain from touring?

OS: The joy of meeting more people who love music and who hopefully find my musical portrayal fulfilling to their lives. Seeing their smiles as we greet them and autograph CDs and programs! The magnificent satisfaction of performing in the acoustic perfection of a concert hall... working with professionals of perfection. Knowing that somewhere, a heart is lifted by a sound beautiful. But you know...one of the most memorable things that happens when I'm performing is this: sometimes, I just feel the urge to sing a certain song. It may not even be part of my plan for the concert - but nothing goes right for me until I sing that song. It has never failed...afterwards, someone will come up to me and say "...wow, that song you sang..." and they tell me why it was so special for them. I have come to understand that is why we call these talents “gifts.”

CC: We get the opportunity and privilege of representing Hawaiian music and, particularly with slack key, a genre of Hawaiian music that has not had a large representation by female players; we become/are pioneers with a certain responsibility to our listeners to do our best to engage them, reach their hearts, and entertain their sense of beauty so their souls will be pleased and enriched by this wonderful music...not only so it won't be lost, but so they will be inspired to share the soothing (and sassy!) healing sound; with the recordings and/or being inspired to play it themselves...to embrace it...to make a happier world...that I get to be part of! The equation is: me + shows = folks + music = happier world...something like that. (Long time since I took Algebra.)

BP: Well, I just really take joy in blessing people with my music. It makes me really happy and I feel blessed when people come up to me and say "Wow, your music really touched my heart!" or "I was having a bad day but your music made it so much better!" I think that blessed feeing is what I gain out of performing and touring.

Please describe your performing companions on this tour.

OS: “The Ladies of Slack Key” is a creation of mine which found its roots at my Whittier College concert in August 2006. Director David Palmer loved my idea and gave his wholehearted support. So to make it happen, I invited Cindy Combs, Lehua Kaapana Nash, and Brittni Paiva. We took the stage individually and then shared it together after the intermission. It was a great experience and was one that we wanted to take to the world of slack key listeners, because after all, wahines play slack key too! I have admired Cindy ever since I heard her song "So Free," as recorded by Olomana. I don't really remember exactly when we actually met, but I am a longtime fan. We are titas. Brittni is a wonderful talent. I remember meeting her and her mother LeAnn for the first time at the Hilo Slack Key Festival. She is young, talented and dedicated. We can all anticipate her future with her!

CC: Owana is a seasoned performer with one of the most beautiful voices God ever gifted a human being with. She is a brilliant slack key guitarist and world-class Hawaiian steel guitarist. She, like me, has been through studying, practicing, and playing music while honoring the foremost commitment of family as best as we could without losing our momentum...our passion to play and the dedication required to hone our skills. Brittni has been raised in a precious and rare family that has wholeheartedly fostered her talents. Recognizing her God-given gifts, her parents have nurtured her talents in an atmosphere of loving compassion so now, as she comes into her womanhood, she knows her heart...she plays it in her music...and lives it in her life. She is an accomplished musician at the tender age of 19. Awesome!

BP: I feel blessed to be able to be on stage performing with two great musicians, Owana and Cindy. They've embraced me as my aunties, I guess.

If there were no restrictions on you, financial or otherwise, what kinds of “dream projects” would you do?

OS: We need an accredited Conservatory for Music and Performing Arts in Hawai`i. There is so much talent in Hawai`i. Our local kids deserve an excellent place to grow and refine their musical expression without having to leave their home. It is a huge expense to families who are struggling just to survive, to come up with money and sponsorship and scholarships. We really need more support for the up-and-coming generations in the music arts. There is so much money coming into Hawai`i from the tourist industry, and none of it is dedicated or allocated to music and arts education and development. Yet the sellers of the tourist industry all want folks to go to a lu`au show or something like that. The major reason why I did not complete my college education is because I was required to take all kinds of other subjects that had nothing to do with music. In order to attend a conservatory dedicated to music, I would have to leave Hawai`i and go to live in places like Los Angeles or Boston or New York. It was in my mind back then, "we should dedicate some of the Crown Lands to make this happen." After all, the Crown Lands make up over a million acres of land - one third of all our islands...we can build this dream.

CC: I would immediately make a recording of some of my original songs coupled with a few jazz standards. Then I would organize galvanizing events to help make the physical structure and content of a Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame a reality. Maybe a yearly Tele-TV-Web-a-Thon? All the while philanthroposizing (is that a word?) and facilitating the development of Music Therapy and Healing Centers throughout the world.

BP: If I had no restrictions, it would be incredible to do a project with John Mayer! He's a really great guitarist - I sure wouldn't mind dueling up with him! A second "dream project" would be to build a race car. I love working with cars!

Slack Key Ladies

Photo by Momi

Hawai`i Radio Connection hosts Moodette Ka`apana and Gregg Porter share a moment with the Slack Key Ladies after an on-air interview between their Northwest concerts. The popular radio show airs every Saturday 12-2 PM on KBCS 91.3 FM. (Left to right): Cindy Combs, Moodette, Gregg, Owana Salazar and Brittni Paiva.

 

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