Amid the dropping temperatures, blustery winds and increasing rainfall, Cyril Pahinui is bringing a touch of the Aloha spirit, if not Hawaiian weather, to Seattle this weekend.
Five years ago, the Oahu-based musician and his wife, Chelle, founded the Seattle Slack Key Festival, which returns to Town Hall this Sunday.
“It’s just to give the people on the mainland a treat,” the guitarist explained, speaking from the Kani Ka Pila Grille, the Waikiki restaurant at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach, where he can be found performing every Wednesday with his trio. “It’s helping to keep Hawaiian culture going.”
The four hour event, which starts at 2 pm, will feature not only Pahinui, but also such acclaimed talents as Palani Vaughan, known for his four album series about Hawaii’s “Merrie Monarch,” King Kalakaua; Roland Cazimero, one half of noted Hawaiian duo The Brothers Cazimero, who have over 30 albums to their credit; and Jerry Santos, known for his work with his band Olomana, as well as his efforts on behalf of water conservation in Hawaii.
“You’re going to get the best of best,” Pahinui said proudly. “Some of these guys you’ve never seen for many years. You can’t go wrong.”
Along with ukulele, slack key guitar and hula, a Hawaiian foods and crafts fair will be held at Town Hall prior to the concert from noon to 2 pm. VIP tickets, which include a reception with the artists Saturday, are already sold out. But general admission tickets are still available, and you can also sign up for the ukulele and slack key guitar workshops also being held on Saturday at the Dusty Strings Music School.
Pahinui, a multi-instrumentalist whose 2007 solo album “He‘eia” received a Grammy nomination, speaks passionately about his desire to “spread Hawaiian music all over the world. Wherever you go now, people know what is Hawaiian music, they know what is hula, they know what is slack key.”
After having played in the Pacific Northwest numerous times, Pahinui and his wife decided to launch the Slack Key Festival after Hawaii was added to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of The Recording Academy (the organization that hosts the Grammys), calling the event “a bridge and an opportunity for our musicians to be an active part of the Pacific Northwest music community.”
Don’t come expecting carefully rehearsed performances. Pahinui likes the musicians he gathers for the event to rely more on improvisation — what the Hawaiians call “kanikapila,” or jamming. It’s strongly reminiscent of the way the performers learned to play music as children, Pahinui points out, by playing along with friends and family at parties and other informal gatherings, creating a different experience than you would hear at a more formal concert.
“It’s something that I have to continue,” says Pahinui of his work in Hawaiian music. “Both for my dad’s legacy [Pahinui’s father was the highly regarded musician Gabby Pahinui] and at the same time building my legacy. Now it’s my turn to share, to give back, to help all the new generation learn to play from the heart and love your culture. We need that kind of spirit, that kind of motivation in our young. I play music to share, have fun and to make sure you have Hawaiian music wherever you go.”
Fifth Annual Seattle Slack Key Festival