By Vanessa Wolf
Referred to as “one of the greatest living slack key guitar players” by Esquire magazine, Makana will celebrate the release of his new album this Saturday, Nov. 23 at Gannon’s Restaurant in Wailea.
The concert celebrates the release of Makana’s 6th album, Ripe, which was entirely funded by fans.
Makana is an internationally acclaimed slack key guitarist, singer, and composer. We talked to him about his background, the album and what keeps him in the business.
Maui Now: How did you get into slack key guitar and become the man we know as Makana?
Makana: I was born and raised on Oahu. I discovered slack key when I was 10. I fell in love with it: it so beautiful and so peaceful. My mom helped me find an amazing teacher – Bobby – who was like a big brother to me and had been a protégé of Raymond Kāne.
Then when I was 13, I received a grant from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to tutor under Uncle Sonny Chillingworth, one of the great masters.
The deeper I got into it, the more I realized it really is a special thing for the kupuna – the elders. I loved to see the joy in their faces when I play the folk music, but a lot of my friends and peers weren’t interested in that. What I tried to do is take the tradition and make the slack key more relevant for today’s audience.
MN: We love the title of the new album. Why did you name it “Ripe”?
Makana: When I was a teenager – about 17 or 18 – I was the guitar player in John Cruz’s band.
He used to say to me, “You’re a good mango, but you’re only half ripe, brah.”
Especially when the ladies would come around, he’d say, ‘Don’t touch the mango! It’s only half ripe. You gotta wait a little bit.’ It was an ongoing joke with us, but as the years have gone by my music has really matured a lot and it seemed apropos to name the album Ripe.
MN: What would you say is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Makana: “Get the check” would probably be at the top: make sure you get paid. <laughs>
Seriously though, the best guidance I’ve had has come from my elders. They have been really honest with me, even at times it really hurt my feelings. However, because I was receptive to them I was able to integrate their wisdom.
That’s the foundation of everything I’ve ever done: I’ve always listened to my elders.
When I look back at my success – and this is not advice that came from someone else – I always followed my heart. Let your heart be your leader. Trust yourself and your life and let it be as big as it can be.
MN: Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Makana: The new album is so varied: it’s like a mix tape.
I really love “Manic.” It’s a crazy song: it’s about being an obsessive romantic. It’s intense and it’s funny.
With Manic, rather than validate common mythologies or lies heard in most love songs, I want to write songs that are really about love. I look at my own life without judgment and write about what’s really going on. I think Manic is one of those songs that gets people in their core because it’s honest.
MN: The final question for you is actually from the last musician I interviewed, Keb’ Mo’.
Makana: Wait: it’s from Keb’ Mo’? That’s awesome!
MN: His question is “Why are you doing this, beyond money and the music itself?”
Makana: Oh my god, I’m not doing this for money!
It’s what I was born to do. It’s my dharma.
For example, I’ve been in the last two days, and the whole time all I want to do is write. All I want to do is sit down at a piano and write. It’s my passion. I’ll die if I don’t do it. I HAVE to do it.
What drives me with music more than anything isn’t the music, the music is just the form. When music hits you you digest it and break it down like food. It becomes pure nutrients. It becomes you.
I don’t do music for music. I do music to get inside people. I love being inside people and touching their spirits. That’s my passion. I love giving people the feeling that they’re not alone and someone understands. I’m just like them and they’re just like me, and we’re in this together.
Give Makana a chance to get inside and touch your spirit on Saturday. Doors open for dinner at 5:30 p.m. and the 21 and over show runs from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
To purchase tickets or make pre-show dinner reservations call (808) 875-8080.