“In our family we’re taught to respect our kupuna (ancestors) and their legacy, but that it’s also important to look to the future. I never look at this as burdensome. It’s a natural state of affairs. Both perspectives increase my appreciation of life. They’re constant sources of inspiration.”
- Keola Beamer
For over thirty years, Keola Beamer’s artistry has helped breathe new life into slack key guitar music while remaining true to the soul of its deeply Hawaiian roots.
In traditional Hawaiian society, sounded words possess mana (spiritual power) and music plays a significant role in all aspects of life. “I think that’s why we’re so serious about music,” Keola says. “We come from a history of oral tradition in which music played a big part. Our genealogies, land boundaries and navigational information are all in chants. In Hawai’i, music is more than personal expression, it keeps us connected to our history and culture.”
For Keola, Hawaiian music is also a way to express awareness of and appreciation for life in the Islands. “There’s a beautiful feeling, at least once a day when the curtain of every day activity lifts, when you stop whatever you’re doing, and see this place for its amazing beauty. The sun coming up, a gentle breeze, the mountains at sunset. It can’t be expressed in words, but in one’s heart there’s a feeling of thankfulness and pride. There’s a haunting sense of gratitude that you feel to be a part of this. It seems to me that this is what Hawaiian music is all about.” Many people who have never visited Hawai’i continue to relate to the universal sentiments expressed through Keola’s music.
In 1973, Keola recorded the groundbreaking solo slack key album HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY IN THE REAL OLD STYLE. In many ways, this release, along with the early Sunday Manoa albums, represented a movement of Hawai’i’s young, rock-era guitarists to investigate the work of older, more traditional masters, like Pops Gabby Pahinui, Atta Isaacs, Leonard Kwan and Sonny Chillingworth.
Naturally, the youth reinvigorated the form with their own ideas, just as every generation had done before. From the beginning, Keola has sought to expand the music. “I don’t feel that culture’s just some natural phenomenon,” he says. “We all have a responsibility to help guide it in a good way that keeps things pono.”
Reflecting both continuity and innovation, Keola incorporates traditional forms in his music, including chant and ancient instruments, multi-track recording and complex chord progressions. He was also one of the first slack key masters to teach public classes. “In my early twenties, I was making guitars with George Gilmore and Donald Marienthal,” he says. “People came in to our shop asking about slack key. There were very few teachers back then, so I agreed to try it.” Soon, teaching became his main job until he turned to full time performing and composing.
In the mid-1970s, Keola and his brother, Kapono, formed the Beamer Brothers, mixing Hawaiian and pop to create many Island standards. Throughout the 1980s, Keola turned increasingly to a solo career, which by the 1990s included recording for Dancing Cat. WOODEN BOAT, his first Dancing Cat album, appeared in 1994.
Each Dancing Cat release has focused on a different aspect of his art.Keola’s sixth Dancing Cat album, KA HIKINA O KA HAU (THE COMING OF THE SNOW) , is not a traditional slack key recording. “It poses a simple question,” he says. “Can the palette, coloration and tonality of Ki ho'alu add an indefinable something to the interpretation of songs written by truly great composers?” The answer is a breathtaking surprise.
The album, produced by solo pianist George Winston, features eighteen arrangements of classical compositions by Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dowland, Piazzolla and others, as well as two more Hawaiian inspired pieces. For the first time Hawaiian Slack Key guitar tunings have been used to interpret the works of classical composers, resulting in a romantic, winter oriented album that uniquely blends both the Hawaiian Slack Key and classical music traditions.
Arranged for two or three guitars, specifically for Keola by musicologist, guitarist, and linguist Daniel O’Donoghue, KA HIKINA O KA HAU (THE COMING OF THE SNOW) highlights Keola on acoustic nylon string, acoustic steel-string, and electric guitars, overdubbing multiple tracks to create a truly unique sound.
Keola in combination with the Beamer Ohana (Family) Non Profit Corporation - The Mohala Hou Foundation conducts genuine cultural immersion experiences through their bi-annual "Aloha Music Camp" held at the Keauhou Beach Resort in Kailua, Kona during the months of February and July. These week long immersions instruct musicians and non musicians in the art of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Ukulele, Hula, Olelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian Language) and Oli (Chant). For many people, this is a life changing experience, as the contextual learning of the immersion experience is presented with the true sincerity and clarity of Aloha. "Our guests are our extended family", says Keola.
Keola shares the following artistic statement, as it relates to his stage performances with his wife, Kumu Hula (Hula Master) Moanlani Beamer.
"When I was growing up, my mother Winona Beamer would often say, Malama Ko Aloha . Mom wanted us to cherish or keep our love. Her idea was that by keeping Aloha in our hearts and reflecting upon its meaning in our lives, we could help the idea of Aloha to grow in the world. Thanks to my mother, Aloha became much more than a word to me. It became a way of being in the world.
It is not easy to follow the path of Aloha. When we are angry or frustrated, Aloha can be forgotten. Sometimes in difficult situations, we may even take a step backwards from Aloha. If we remember my mom's advice, "Malama Ko Aloha", we can gather our courage, take a deep breath and try again. We can endeavor to live our lives with compassion for other human beings. We can live our lives embracing the ideas of diversity, harmony, and peace.
Hawaiian philosophical thought suggests that within each of us, there exists a bowl of light. It is our sincere hope that as we share our music with you, we might each take a moment to explore this light. We believe it is the presence of Aloha.
And then ask yourself ... will you Malama Ko Aloha? Will you help us keep Aloha alive in the world?"
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