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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Makana
Monday, May 05, 2008

Taking something old and creating something new. That’s exactly what O’ahu native Makana is doing with his guitar. At the ripe old age of 11 Makana began learning the ancient art of slack key, studying under a number of greats including Sonny Chillingworth. By the time he was 14 he had already been dubbed the youngest master of slack key guitar. Then the innovations came. Makana toyed with slack key and worked to modernize the art. Now with a few albums, and a few years, under his belt, as well as both headlining performances and opening gigs for the likes of Sting, Santana, Elvis Costello and No Doubt, the man whose name means “a gift given freely” is hitting listeners with his latest effort, Different Game. After hearing some of the music from the album I was blown away by both its originality and Makana’s lyrical content, which is why this week I caught up with him to find out more about his work, how some of the old school practitioners of slack key guitar reacted when he started altering the craft, and some of the pros and cons of being an artist in Hawaii.

Adam Bernard: You are Hawaiian, born and raised. What kind of musical influences did you have growing up on the islands?
Makana: I was barred from listening to anything but Hawaiian and religious music until I was 10. When I finally discovered the radio at a friend's house I was so excited within a week I was able to name the song and artist on every station within one and a half seconds of it airing. Then in high school I was exposed to three decades of rock, from the 60's through the 90's, and that became a big influence. Then I got into world music of every kind. So traditional Hawaiian music is my foundation but from there everything is an influence.

Adam Bernard: What exactly is slack key guitar? Is it native to Hawaii? How does it differ from some of the other styles of playing?
Makana: Slack key guitar is found in different cultures. It is a way of tuning (or slacking) the strings to a chord so the player doesn't have to use a whole hand just to hold a chord. This frees up the fretting hand for movement and then the picking hand establishes an alternating bass pattern over which a faux rhythm and lead melody are played. Essentially, it is the art of simulating multiple instruments simultaneously on a single guitar. It's like having a mini-symphony at one's fingertips.

Adam Bernard: A lot of times when a young man or woman takes up an older style of music the old school artists who used to perform it can be the harshest critics when it comes to their view of authenticity. You've managed to take an older performance style, slack key guitar, and put a modern twist on it. How have the old school slack key guitarists reacted to this?
Makana: The elders of the art are huge supporters of what I do. They understand that tradition is a living entity, not a relic of the past, and each generation must infuse the art with their "mana" (energy) and creative voice. I earned that respect by initially becoming extremely well versed in the old styles of Hawaiian slack key guitar, so I can do both my own exploratory music as well as the classic styles.

Adam Bernard: Did you worry at all about what their reaction would be when you started changing things up?
Makana: Initially I was reprimanded by some, but the audience had such a great reaction every time I would play that eventually the support manifested. When I first started out, and people challenged my approach, I knew I was onto something.

Adam Bernard: Moving to your lyrics, tell me about some of the messages you look to get across with your music?
Makana: My songs are intended to express realism versus reinforcing mythology. I'm much more interested in the nature of interactive reality than to clog minds with distraction classified as entertainment. Eastern philosophy, sarcasm, questions versus answers, conscious relationship, these are some of the themes expressed. The path to the mind is through the heart, so I focus on connecting with people's hearts through my lyrics and music.

Adam Bernard: All of those ideas are on display on your latest album, Different Game. Tell me, what's the game and what's different about it?
Makana: The "game" is a mythology-fueled system of competition in relationships, on both interpersonal and macro-social levels. Different Game encourages the listener in the direction of a different kind of love, based on being open, and placing another's happiness as high on the priority list as your own. It goes beyond the possessive nature of common partnerships and sings about love from an abundant place rather than a space of poverty and need. It offers the paradox: letting go actually brings one closer.

Adam Bernard: Tell me about the scene you’re releasing this album into. Is Hawaii a place where an artist can grow and thrive?
Makana: We have an incredible "cottage" industry that is entirely independent of any other music scene in the world. The audience for our music is highly dedicated, supportive and loyal, and we are very blessed to have a climate where "local" music is supported on such a scale. Although, I wish we had better, and more, venues, especially outdoor ones!

Adam Bernard: Finally, what is the best aspect of being a musician in Hawaii? I'm just guessing hula girls, but I could be wrong.
Makana: Just being here. Playing a show at sunset time on the ocean's edge, with friends all around... and the wahine (women) are hot.

Related Links

Website: makanamusic.com
iTunes: Makana on iTunes


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:48 AM  
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