Story last updated at 2:11 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Guitarist brings Hawaii to the Bay
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo supplied
George Kahumoku Jr. specializes in slack-key guitar  
Though the exact origins of Hawaiian slack-key guitar playing have faded into the past, the techniques used to mimic the traditional vocals of the islands are recognizable as Hawaiian around the world.

Singer-songwriter George Kahumoku Jr. returns to Kachemak Bay Friday to demonstrate these techniques and warm crowds with his personal interpretation of the slack key guitar.

A guitar player since his teens, Kahumoku studied with legendary singer-songwriter Kui Lee and developed a deep love and respect for Hawaii and the environment. He was exposed to music daily as a child, and specifically the slack key guitar, a legacy he says is present when he plays.

"When I'm playing a solo instrumental piece," he said in a statement about his work. "Especially on the 12-string guitar, or when I'm playing together with other players, I often imagine in my musical mind's eye all of the people in my family, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, who have had a great influence on my music - that they're all playing or singing along with me. I hope that my grandchildren will one day come to understand and play this music."

Slack-key guitar playing involves a special tuning and playing technique that produces a variety of sounds unlike those with traditional tunings. According to the Dancing Cat's Web site of Kahumoku's recording label, the unusual sounds come from guitar-finger techniques including the "hammer-on" technique that involves plucking a note and immediately fretting on that string to produce a second higher tone. Another technique is the "pull-off," produced by plucking a string and immediately pulling the finger off that string, sounding a second lower note that is either open or fretted by another finger. The result mimics Hawaiian singing, with its yodels and falsettos.

Other harmonics techniques and slides are also used. Though such common guitar techniques are traditionally used, slack-key guitarists modify the sound for themselves.

"It's a very personal kind of art, and it displays a lot of the person's feelings," Kahumoku said. "You can make it fit to the mood you're in. If you're feeling sad, you can make the notes really linger and cry. And if you're feeling creative, you can really take off. You can speed up the song and make it bouncy, or you can take a bouncy song and make it hypnotic and dreamy."

In addition to this week's performance, Kahumoku will give a slack-key workshop and Nancy Sweeney will teach a hula workshop on Friday, May 17 from 4-6 p.m. at the Susan B. English School in Seldovia. Kahumoku will perform at 7:30 p.m. that night at the school. Tickets are $15. Check with Seldovia Arts Council members for pre-sale prices or call 234-7614.

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