Maui Arts & Entertainment

Multiple Grammy winner is rooted in the soil of Hawaiian tradition

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George Kahumoku returns to the Napili Kai Beach Resort Wednesday after a successful US tour. Photo: George Kahumoku Jr. at the 27th Annual Kī Hō‘alu Guitar Festival. File 2018 PC: Ben Ferrari via Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

KAHAKULOA – Grammy Awards winner George Kahumoku remembers learning as a child to grow taro and other crops from his native Hawaiian grandparents.

“We grew everything that we ate,” recalled Kahumoku.

Many of his songs sprout from his experiences and love of the land, including “Beautiful Nāpili” and “Keālia,” with flourishes from his slack-key tuned guitar.

Following his recent US tour, Kahumoku returns to perform at the Nāpili Kai Beach Resort Wednesday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. Joining him will be another slack key artist Ledward Kaapana. A former member of Hui ʻOhana.

To promote an understanding of Hawaiian culture, Kahumoku plans to hold a one-week workshop at the Nāpili Kai Beach Resort on June 1-8, where masters of Hawaiian music and native Hawaiian practitioners gather to share their knowledge, including Hawaiian arts, crafts, farming and fishing. He plans to provide the food through his farm in Kahakuloa and give 10 workshop scholarships to students.

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In addition to songs composed by him, Kahumoku plays traditional melodies passed down from generations of his family to him as a youth raised in Keālia, Kona on the Big Island.

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The slack-key style, with tunings that depart from the traditional western guitar, rose to national prominence in the early 1970s, with well-known guitarists, such as Ry Cooder and his Tex-Mex music. Cooder studied the slack key form by sitting beside native Hawaiian practitioners like Gabby Pahinui in Gabby’s backyard in Waimanalo.

Cooder’s interest in Pahinui’s music led to Warner Brothers eventually releasing “The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band With Ry Cooder.

Kahumoku has received Grammy Awards not only as a performer but quite often as a producer, partnering with other slack key artists.

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Kahumoku traces his musical roots to his ancestors learning how to play the guitar from a Spanish vaqueros in the 1800s. Vaqueros were brought to Waimea on the Big Island to train native Hawaiians on raising cattle.

A Kamehameha High School graduate, Kahumoku attended college on a scholarship and earned a bachelor’s in sculpture from the California College of Arts in Oakland.

He returned to Hawaiʻi in the 1970s and received a grant to start an alternative school for potential high school dropouts near the City of Refuge in Kona.

There’s no question that farming remains in his blood.

When not touring US cities, he rises early in the morning to feed his animals at his farm at Kahakuloa in north Maui, including sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks. He grows taro, bananas, and herbs, and conducts limited tours of his farm.

Kahumoku’s next slack key show at the Nāpili Kai Beach Resort is April 6, Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m. For more information about his schedule at the Nāpili Kai including his June workshop, go to slackkeyshow.com or by phone at 808-669-3858.

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with MauiNow.com, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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