A little over three years ago, Joshua Lanakila Mangauil started a multicultural, multigenerational community center known as Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hāmākua in Honoka’a (HCCOH). The passionate Hawaiian studies teacher was encouraged by the local community to set up a Kickstarter campaign with a funding goal of $20,000, and by November 2015, the center opened its doors with its first hula and language classes in the tiny space formally known as “the closet.” Today, the community owned and operated center engages youth through after-school programs, home school programs, summer intensives, displays and community gatherings.
At last Sunday’s HCCOH fundraiser concert at the Honoka’a People’s Theatre, Lanakila noted, “It’s a challenge to be self-sustainable, especially in a small community like ours, so we’re constantly being creative with events like this.” Lanakila put the call out a few weeks ago for some support. Singer/composer/activist Makana answered the request and offered to do a benefit concert with singer Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole also on the bill. Local Āhualoa musician Brad Bordessa played ukulele as the crowd entered the theatre.
Lanakila opened the afternoon concert with a deep-throated chant as he pounded on the traditional Pahu drum. Local hula dancers and members of the HCCOH came on stage and followed his lead.
Makana then took the stage and opened with a beautiful slack key instrumental on his six-string Takamine guitar. With icy precision, his left hand and fingers tapped the strings. Explosive complex notes resonated throughout the 500-seat venue.
During the two-hour concert, Makana shared the origins and various styles of slack key and demonstrated how to play both melody and bass lines (with the thumb) at the same time. “It goes through the song, like a clock, it’s always there,” said the internationally acclaimed guitarist. He also talked about his musical teachers like Gabby Pahinui, Raymond Kane, and Sonny Chillingworth, and how they differed in their styles of playing.
Makana called up Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole to the stage about halfway through the show for several duets. Kanaka’ole is the great-grandchild of Edith Kanaka‘ole, who was one of the seminal figures of the Hawaiian Renaissance, which helped bring Hawaiian culture back into the central life of the Islands. She is also a five-time Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award-winner with 3 solo CDs to her name. She has a great sense of humor and provided wry commentary and stories to give context to her songs. Her “skinny Asian girl voice” was a hit with the audience. “Her name is Naomi Sushi,” joked Kanaka’ole.
In a more serious moment, Kanaka’ole talked about why, for generations, Hawaiian culture is so important and necessary: “Music and dance are integral and critical to the human condition because they are the only natural resource that the human body is capable of producing, from a spirit of purely creative energy, without diminishing or destroying another resource.”
Sunday’s show was Makana’s last concert in Hawaii for 2019, as he’s hitting the road for a couple of months of touring. He’ll be playing his first Bluegrass festival called “Pickin’ in the Pines” in Flagstaff, Arizona, on September 14. “I’m looking forward to sharing slack key guitar with Del McCoury & David Grisman,” said Makana before playing “Napo’o Ka La.” Makana’s latest single release is called “See You on the Mauna.”
As the concert came to an end, Makana invited Lanakila and Kanaka’ole backed to the stage for “Hawaii Aloha.” The crowd stood and sang along, swaying to the music and raising their hands. Later, Makana greeted fans outside the Theatre, took photos, and signed copies of his new CD Twenty Five.
If you missed the benefit concert, and would still like to donate to the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hāmākua, they are accepting donations (via PayPal) through their website: https://hccoh.org/about/.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby