Issue 12.2: April / May 2009

We Be Jammin'

story by Kris Bordessa
photo by Olivier Koning

Step over the haphazard pile of rubber slippers accumulated at the plantation house door and you’ll hear music. Lots of music. The air hums as musicians gather in the stairwell and on the lanai, jamming together and practicing their new chops.

The scene couldn’t please Keoki Kahumoku more. The fifth-generation slack-key guitarist has played on almost every Grammy-winning album in the Hawaiian music category. And while he appreciates the accolades, Keoki has a bigger vision: to bring the community together through traditional Island music. Local music legends such as Herb Ohta Jr., Sonny Lim and Dennis Kamakahi join Keoki as instructors at his Kahumoku ‘Ohana Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Workshop, held several times a year at the Pahala Plantation House on the Big Island.

Immersed in the music of ‘ukulele and ki ho‘alu (slack-key guitar), teenagers and kupuna (elders) sit side by side; often it’s the kids who teach the old guys a little something about playing Island style. The event brings island resident Isaac Wang back time and again. “Being around great musicians who are willing to share their time, knowledge and mana‘o [thoughts] is inspiring. It gives you an idea what you can aim for,” he says. Beginners are welcome; those without instruments of their own can borrow one. Held several times each year, the workshops range from five to eight days long. Fees vary from $750 to $1,125, including class sessions and meals.

But there’s more than music at Keoki’s workshops: Participants from across the nation learn traditional skills like lauhala (pandanus) weaving, lei-making and even poi pounding. Of course, it wouldn’t be truly Hawaiian without the grinds: Following recipes passed down through generations of Big Island families, students prepare kalua pig, poke, poi, laulau, sticky rice.

The workshops culminate in a free concert for the community. Already Keoki sees the seeds he’s planted growing: One of his students is gigging on the island; another is teaching residents to play ‘ukulele, bringing Keoki’s dream full circle. “All the kids who’ve learned at the workshops,” says Keoki, “they’re going to be our teachers someday.” HH

Kahumoku ‘Ohana Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Workshop