Slack key guitar is as Hawaiian as poi. The Mexican cowboys who came here to round up Kamehameha I’s cows, brought guitars. The Hawaiians took up the instrument. And loosened the strings to suit their vocal range and fingering style. Slack key was born.
Today the mellow sounds are Hawai‘i’s most soothing export. Artists like Keola Beamer and Keali‘i Reichel are well known on the Mainland.
Maui has its own famed slack key guitarists. The group known as Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitara has been nominated for five Emmy Awards in the Hawaiian album category, and won four of those times through 2010. (The category was eliminated in 2011). Quite a record.
They perform almost every Wednesday evening year round at Napili Kai Beach Resort. George Kahumoku Jr. leads the group that may include Dennis Kamakahi and Led Ka‘apana. His style has the label, “backyard slack key.” It’s not unusual for well-known falsetto singer Uncle Richard Ho‘opi‘i to do a few impromptu songs or for Herb Ohta Jr. to appear.
Locals, well-known by the performers, come to the concerts. One night one brought a baby goat. Inevitably they banter with each other and the evening becomes a ho‘olaulea (party). You’ll feel that you’re with people who have very talented friends.