Hawaiian slack key guitar (ki ho’alu) is one of the great acoustic guitar traditions of the world, dating back to the 1840’s when guitars were first brought to Hawaii and relatively unknown outside the islands until recently. “Slack Key” means that some of the strings are slacked from standard tuning, with the bass, melody, and improvisation played at the same time, and is often played to accompany traditional dance or song. Many players use their own special tunings that often remain proprietary secrets.
Ken Emerson is a San Francisco bay area born/ Hawaiian island bred slide guitarist who covers many musical genres. Having played with the great Gabby Pahinui and many of the slack key icons, he has played his special blend of Blues/Jazz Hawaiian guitar for 40 years and running. His original compositions and performances on ‘Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2’ (Palm Records) helped bring in the first ever 2005 GRAMMY award for Hawaiian music.
Jim “Kimo” West first visited Hana, Maui in 1985. As the sounds of Gabby Pahinui, the Sons of Hawai’i, Sonny Chillingworth, The Sunday Manoa, and others played on the turntable, he jammed along for fun and relaxation. Already a devotee of open tunings, he was immediately drawn to the gentle rhythms of ki ho ‘alu (slack key guitar) and soon began writing his own songs. The rich physical and cultural landscape of the Hana Coast has provided the inspiration for many of his compositions.
While always retaining the heartfelt essence of traditional slack key, Kimo brings much of his own musical heritage to his original ki ho’alu instrumentals. His style can best be described as “nahenahe”, meaning “soft, sweet or gentle voice”, a fusion of old and new but still rooted deeply in tradition.