History of the
Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festivals
The history of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festivals had its early beginnings in 1982. It was grounded in aloha and for the love of the music and man that was synonymous with the music. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to the contributions of a man who contributed so much to the music of Hawaii, and at the same time, continue his legacy and help to perpetuate and preserve a unique Hawaiian acoustic guitar art form known as "Ki-ho'alu". Joining us in this effort have been dozens of individuals and corporate citizens in the community who have shared our vision and commitment to preserving and perpetuating a distinctive part of the Hawaiian culture.
In 1980 Charles Phillip Pahinui, also known as Gabby 'Pops' Pahinui, passed away. A giant in his own time and legendary to many around the world through his music, he was one of the few that led the way for what is now referred to as the "Hawaiian Renaissance" that had its roots in 1960's. Through his music and style, Gabby was able to inspire and motivate young Hawaiians to be proud of their cultural heritage. Further, through sincerity and passion for his music, he showed that Hawaii's traditional music, and in particular, Ki-ho'alu, was an art form that was special and unique to Hawaii and worthy of being played in front of a large audience and quality venues. He believed that the art form that began 180 years ago on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii and was worthy of his time and devotion. Till this day, he is recognized as the "Modern Day Father" of the slack key guitar and its greatest master. In March of 2001, a bust of Gabby was dedicated and placed on a pedestal at the entrance of the Waikiki Shell which will forever immortalize this Hawaiian cultural icon. Further, he has also been honored with the "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the annual Na Hoku Hano Hano Music Awards (Hawaii's Grammy Award) and in February of 2002 was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame with a tribute concert in his honor at the historic Hawaii Theater in Honolulu.
In tribute to him and other giants of the genre including Sonny Chillingworth, Atta Isaacs, Leonard Kwan, and Raymond Kane the festival was started as a way to honor all of their efforts and accomplishments. Thus, in 1982 in his hometown of Waimanalo on the island of Oahu, the Waimanalo Pavilion was named in his honor and the first Ki-ho'alu Festival was born. It was a joint effort of Mayor Frank F. Fasi, The Department of Parks & Recreation, the Waimanlo Community, and the Pahinui Family. Gabby was a long time City & County of Honolulu employee and retired from the Department of Parks & Recreation. Beyond everyone's expectations, that first festival drew several thousand people and gave us the impetus to continue producing the festival on an annual basis on the island of Oahu in Honolulu. After the first 10 years of the festival, we realize that there was a groundswell of interest and support for the music and festival statewide as well as overseas. Thus, today, the festival is now produced not only in Honolulu but also on the islands of Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii. Our goal is to establish 25 festivals on an annual basis. In 1994 the festival represented Hawaii at the Smithsonian Music Festival in Washington D.C. and later the United States in Tokyo, Japan at the "American Music Festival". What began as a tribute to a simple man from Waimanalo in 1982 has now taken on a larger identity. Further, over the last 15 years, the festival has also become somewhat of an economic generator for the State of Hawaii as more and more visitors to the islands are scheduling their vacations around one of the festivals (we have found that some of the visitors attend all of them and rotate the islands according to what festival they want to attend in any given year).
Coupled with these developments over the last 30 years, has been an explosion of recordings of individuals that have devoted their lives to the performance, preservation, and perpetuation of this indigenous art form. In conjunction with these developments has also been the distribution of these recordings by Dancing Cat Records of Santa Cruz, CA worldwide through BMG Music. Thus, there has been a convergence of sorts with the festivals and recordings both complementing each other and reinforcing our commitment to the perpetuation o1f this unique and special art form. An art form made popular by the man we honor………Gabby 'Pops' Pahinui. Today, other record labels have put enormous resources to record as many slack key performers as well. Rhythm & Roots Records have led the way and has concentrated much of their energy and resources in this area. As a result Rhythm & Roots Records have had 5 albums nominated for a "Grammy Award".
2012 will mark the 30th anniversary of the festival in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, the 20th anniversary on Kauai and Hawaii and the 21st anniversary on the island of Maui. We continue to be focus and enthusiastic about the music and where we have been and where we are headed. The music is now part of genre known as "World Music" and someday we hope that through the efforts of all of the musicians that perform it, the producers, record companies, the many festivals produced throughout Hawaii and overseas and our loyal Hawaii based corporate sponsors as well as those on the mainland such as Taylor Guitars and Dancing Cat Productions that Ki-ho'alu will be recognized throughout the world as truly a great guitar tradition. Since 2005, a category for Hawaiian Music was created by NARAS or better known as the "Grammy Awards" and Slack Key Guitar has won the coveted award for 4 years straight over some of the best artists from Hawaii. In 2012, the category was changed to the "Regional Roots" category. 2012 is also a pivitol year for the Foundation as we begin to establish the festival in 15-20 cities on the continent over the next year and half. To this end festivals have been done in Berkeley, Santa, Cruz, and Roseville, CA. Over the ensuing months we are looking to do the festivals in 3 more cities in the State of California, 3 cities in the State of Washington, 3 cities in the State of Oregon, Las Vegas, NV., Phoenix, Arizona and possibly Denver, Colorado.
Over the last 30 years, we have established a loyal fan base of 100,000 people throughout the State of Hawaii. This figure is based on record sales, radio play, festival attendance, and data that we have collected over the years. Demographically, the age-group that we cater to and reach is between the ages of 35 -75. Those people who are more cultural based in their musical taste and enthusiastic about the music. Worldwide our fan base is nearly 6 million people. On an annual basis, approximately 3000 (and growing) visitors plan their vacations around one of the festivals in Hawaii and this translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars for our economy. Each of the festivals in Hawaii draw approximately 2500-5000 people depending on the size of the venue. Further to augment and enhance interest in the art form, acoustic guitar workshops on the art of playing Slack Key Guitar are being held throughout the Hawaiian Islands and various part of the mainland USA. We understand that the future for the festival is to go national and international and that is where our time and resources will be concentrated.
In early 2002, to draw more attention to the art form and generate interest nationally, we have setup a non-profit entity (The Ki-ho'alu Foundation, Inc.) that will allow us to solicit art grants nationally from other foundations and government institutions and be a vehicle for us to offer scholarships to interested young people to learn slack key guitar, produce videos, books, audio cds and continue the festivals statewide and perhaps overseas. To those goals we are committed for the next 20 years. We have yet to realize our potential for the genre. The future is very bright for those looking to get involved in the music. Climb on board and be a fan.
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