Imagine that you’re a musician (or maybe you really are!) and you’re given the opportunity to spend a week hanging out and learning from your musical heroes. While icons like Santana, Stevie Wonder, and Eric Clapton may not ever make themselves so available to their fans, here in the islands we have our own Hawaiian music icons and they are an ever-present part of the culture here.
Amateur musicians intent on learning to play the ‘ukulele or traditional Hawaiian ki ho‘alu, or slack-key guitar, have the opportunity to do so from the best of the best every year at the Kahumoku Ohana Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Workshop on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. The workshop is organized by Keoki Kahumoku, a five-time Grammy Award winner in the Hawaiian music category. Keoki shares his music and knowledge of the Hawaiian culture from the heart, warmly welcoming students to the workshop. His wish is to ho‘omau – or share the tradition – of Hawaiian slack-key guitar and ‘ukulele.
“If each student takes what he learns and shares it with one other person, the music is perpetuated,” he says earnestly.
Flanked by two huge plumeria trees, the walkway to the historic Pahala Plantation House leads visitors and participants straight to an impressive pile of rubber slippers and the joyful noise of slack-key tunes and ‘ukulele music wafting from the lanai, the stairwell, the library. Returning participants enthusiastically greet old friends, sharing stories and eventually, trading licks on their favored instrument. New attendees stand, awed by the energy in this place.
“Where do I check in?” one woman asked me, overwhelmed by the bustling activity of new arrivals and a multitude of songs being plucked out by those more familiar with the system. It wasn’t long before she, too, had her ‘ukulele out, adding to the musical mix. This event is a casual one, one that encourages folks to embrace the relaxed attitude that embodies the islands.
‘Ukulele and guitar cases are scattered about the foyer of the Plantation House in anticipation of a whole lot of musical education squeezed into a single week. This year’s instructors include John Keawe, Ledward Kaapana, Herb Ohta, Jr, the amazing James Hill straight from Canada, George Kahumoku, Brittni Paiva, Dennis and David Kamakahi, and so many more. Attendees choose from several workshops daily, and have the chance to sign up for one on one lessons with the instructors.
But it’s not all about the music. Consider it a week-long immersion lesson in Hawaiian culture. Participants come together every morning for ho‘oponopono, a circle gathering to discuss and share ideas and also to practice the chant written specifically for this event. There are lessons in hula, lauhala weaving, lei making, and other cultural crafts. One evening meal is prepared in a traditional imu, or pit oven and all of the meals feature Hawaiian fare like lau lau, poke, poi, and of course, sticky rice. Instructors and students gather every evening for kani ka pila, or a jam session. And there is talk story. Lots and lots of talk story.
Keoki strives to offer his guests a chance to experience the casual, comfortable Hawaiian lifestyle while they are here. But he’s also intent on bringing these values – and the music – to local students who may not have such an opportunity at home. This year, the workshop hosted 25 scholarship students.
An amazing thing happens when youth and adults come together over a shared passion. They find themselves on equal footing, no longer separated by a span of years. Here, they are all musicians, all striving to learn and share. The instructors teach, but so do the attendees, and it’s not uncommon to find a tattooed local boy sharing an island tune with a gray haired visitor.
It’s no surprise, really, that attendees come back for more each year. This is an event that touches heartstrings just as much as the strings on those beloved guitars and ‘ukuleles.
Interested in owning an ‘ukulele of your own? Please go read this post from Pam at Nerd’s Eye View and consider spending $10 for a chance to win an ‘ukulele from Flea Market Music. Your donation will help to build a village in India. The bidding closes December 13, 2010, so hurry!