featuring: Raymond Kane, Sonny Chillingworth, Ledward Kaapana, Leonard Kwan, Haunani Apoliona, Diana Aki & George Kahamoku Jr.
This compelling look at Hawaiian Slack Key guitar unveils a cultural richness that is uniquely Hawaiian.The story is told not by a narrator, but by each artist telling their story in their own words, and the spirit and feeling that is within the culture of the Hawaiian people emerges. The development of slack key corresponds to Hawaiian history, and tells of the changes within Hawaiian culture while preserving its tradition in form and verse.
Slack Key guitar is a traditional solo fingerpicking style unique to Hawaii. Hawaiians have been playing slack key since the early 1800s when traditional guitars were brought to the islands by the Spanish cowboys. The Hawaiians tuned or "slacked" the strings to suit their own music. The tradition extends beyond the islands to influence many musicians including Ry Cooder and Chet Atkins.
This film tells the story of slack key guitar through an intimate portrait of Raymond Kane, a man who holds a special place in the domain of traditional Hawaiian music. The style of the films reflects the "down home" feeling of the slack key guitar, and of Raymond Kane himself. "It's sweet, it's good for the soul" Raymond says. Over four years in the making, this film, with its infectious musical aspects that are specifically Hawaiian, its fascinating main character and its rich visual material and verité sequences, will be an important document of Hawaiian culture to share with contemporary audiences.
Running time: 60 minutes
Review: A lovely documentary on a lovely music, Ki ho’ alu presents the world of slack key guitar, the gentle fingerpicking style of the Hawaiian Islands. The central figure in the film is Raymond Kane, the grand old man of the slack key scene, and he is as charming a presence as he is a fine musician. He talks about the music and how he came to learn it, and is shown playing with friends, teaching students and even dancing a somewhat comic hula. A big man with a big smile, he radiates hospitality and good humor, and his playing shows the bedrock of slack key technique. There is no wasted effort, just relaxed, easy moves that somehow produce wonderfully flowing music.
Along with Kane, the film has interview and musical footage of the late Sonny Chillingworth, with his flashier but equally engaging style, and brief vignettes of Leonard Kwan, Ledward Kaapana and Diana Aki, whose singing is a perfect complement to her delicate picking. Director Susan Friedman is pleasantly undogmatic, including a hokey but entertaining version of the tourist chestnut On The Beach At Waikiki by ukelelist Andy Cummings alongside the purer traditional sounds.
Friedman is also careful to supply plenty of context. At parties, we see people singing along and enjoying themselves, and get a feel for the music that is lacking in a concert setting. Slack key guitar was never a world unto itself, and one of the film’s most engaging moments features Kane backing ukelelist and singer Louise Kong as they accompany two hula dancers. All look to be in their 60s or 70s, and they have a relaxed grace that some of the younger artists can only hope to acquire. Hardcore guitar fans will complain that there are too few shots of players’ fingers, but there are enough to give an idea of the techniques, and for a wider audience one could hardly ask for a better introduction to this music. – Sing Out!