Oahu's "Gift" To Music Releases New Album: Makana Talks

Slack Rock Star Talks With B About His Departure From Hawaiian Music

Oahu's "Gift" To Music Releases New Album: Makana Talks

Oahu-native Makana has been strumming a guitar since around the same time he began to speak. Since then he's released a half-dozen albums, all of which feature his unique style of slack key, Hawaiian-inspired music. Not only has this feat garnered the musician a devout following of plumeria-behind-the-ear groupies, but has earned him widespread respect throughout Hawaii's inner circle of legendary musicians.

Last summer, Makana flew to Austin, Texas, booked a week's worth of time at a local honky-tonk recording studio, hired a band, and cut an album that he calls "totally different than anything I've ever done." What came out of that southwest studio was Different Game; a raw look -- from multiple angles -- of what the artist calls "people's need to let go." There are a few songs about cutting ties with a long-term love that has ceased moving forward; there is another about the perils of rock stardom and it's demand for an image. The album is even capped with an unlikely cover of Yaz's "Only You", which leaves listeners thinking there is hope for love. In between, the artist pleas for listeners to set their own course, and stay true.

we'recently caught up with globetrotting, soul bearing, slack-key strumming virtuoso, where we chatted about everything from his signature line of Levi's to the spiritual journey that occurs when he composes an original tune. Read the exclusive interview that took place during a stroll around Diamond Head Crater one recent afternoon. Feel the sunset. Hear the words of an artist. Listen...

Brian Berusch, Publisher, B on Hawaii: How long have you been playing music, and who were/are your biggest musical mentors"

Makana: I've been performing for 21 years, and playing Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar for 17 of those years. A few of my main musical mentors are Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, Bobby Moderow, Led Ka'apana, Sting, Jimmy Page, Leo Kottke, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, Peter Moon, and Andreas Vollenweider.

B: Different Game is your self-proclaimed departure album: What is it a departure from, and where are you going?

Makana: Different Game is an all original, full band, acoustic electric, album with lyrical themes, done in a style I've created called "Slack Rock". It's a soundtrack for letting go. It's really the first album I've done that is free from the constraints of cultural tradition. A vision of 10 years; it offers music that supports a person's journey toward true love, not mythologized Hollywood romance. The songs encourage the perception that "Love is a constant letting go", and rather than fear it, we surrender and in that surrendering discover within our own heart what we've searched for all along in another. I made Different Game with a burning inspiration to create music for people like myself who see love as an abundant gift emanating from within.

B: You have a lot going on in Japan: Tell us a little about it. What do you see as the allure of Hawaii-styled music in Japan? Is it because it epitomizes Hawaii, or is it something else?

Makana: The Japanese fans are incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of my music. I have more recordings out in Japan than anywhere else, and my own line of Levi's© brand jeans. I feel that the Japanese interest in Hawaiian music and culture is one of the prime factors in its huge resurgence. The music of Hawaii, regardless of it's sub-genre, communicates the feeling of being here, and that's where so many people want to be... here in Hawaii. My music is an instant connection to these Islands.

B: You travel the mainland quite a bit, and are considered to have your finger on the pulse on the music scene there. Where does music from the state of Hawaii -- and not just Hawaiian music -- fit in to the mainland scene? Does it?

Makana: There are two aspects to my music, there's the Hawaiian aspect, and then there's everything else. Because my music is so diverse, it transcends place. When I perform on the mainland it's no different for me than if I was singing in Waimanalo. The space I go into is universal, and that allows me to connect with any audience. Of course I always enjoy turning new audiences on to the special sound of Hawaiian Music. I notice that audiences abroad tend to react in a wonderful way to the feeling that comes through music that I've created in Hawaii. Maybe this is because it awakens something within them new and exciting, or even peaceful, like an easiness and warmth, similar to the feeling we'receive here in Hawaii. There is undoubtedly a grand market for music from this unique Land.

B: Tell us spiritually where the act of writing a song takes you.

Makana: When I write a song, I don't think "I'm writing a song...", I go into a semi-dream like state where my physical senses take a back seat to inner sounds that I "hear into existence". The process is like fishing; the song already exists in multiple forms, it's up to me to be quiet, quick, and sensitive enough to draw it from the ether into sound. It's the strangest feeling, when I'm hearing something before it exists. It really requires influential listening- as if I create through direct experience. Once I channel a series of notes or chordal progressions, I allow myself to leave my own perspective and express varying degrees of insanity, role playing, and imagination through lyrical exploration. It is my favorite activity as a human being! Sitting on the ocean's edge at sunset with my instrument and a heart full of inspiration: this is my job!!

B: Tell us the spirituality of where playing a song live takes you.

Makana: Years of technical repetition and training have allowed me to completely surrender when a song is coming through me. Being in front of an audience allows me to summon a greater mass of energy, due to the collective agreement of the audience opening to receive from me, the performer. I pull in their attention, and that energy becomes amplified with my intention. It is a profoundly spiritual and freeing experience. It's like being a river bed with water rushing over you, through you. The magic key is allowing myself to let go in real time. I move at the speed of the sound coming through me by trusting my body and its muscle memory. I have essentially become the instrument being played.

B: Who would you love to play on stage with, if anyone? Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with? Or is Makana a solo effort"

Makana: I want to perform with Eddie Vedder and Peter Gabriel. "Makana" is a solo performer, a band, a collaborator, a creative force, an explorer, and most of all a re"hearter" that everything is a gift. Music for me is an exploration, with no final destination. I do it to connect with that part of myself that is also a part of every living being.

"Music for me is an exploration, with no final destination. I do it to connect with that part of myself that is also a part of every living being."