One of Hawaiian music's most gifted vocalists, Martin Pahinui has performed with a host of top artists, including his father's legendary Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band, The Peter Moon Band, The Pahinui Brothers and slack key super group Hui Aloha. On HO'OLOHE (LISTEN), his long awaited first solo release for the Dancing Cat label, Martin shares his aloha for the traditional sound with thirteen classic tracks full of slack key, steel guitar and a passionate voice that expresses the essence of Hawaiian soul.
HO'OLOHE features Martin's vocals and guitar supported by longtime friends George Kuo on slack key guitar and Aaron Mahi on bass and backing vocals. Steel guitar master Bobby Ingano joins them on seven tracks. Together, they create a warm and lively sound that harkens back to the glory days of slack key greats like Gabby, Atta Isaacs and Sonny Chillingworth. As George points out, "Gabby, Atta and Sonny always had fun when they played. We want to perpetuate that. We're happy playing the old songs. We don't need to be cutting edge, it's the delivery that gives a song its pizzazz. We enjoy adding our own runs and improvisations without losing the melody or the Hawaiian flavor."
On HO'OLOHE, unlike most previous Dancing Cat releases, the main focus shifts away from slack key instrumentals to Hawaiian vocal styles. Martin sings lead on all thirteen tracks, ranging from the tender leo ki'eki'e (falsetto) of "Pua Lilia" to the rollicking powerful yodels of "Hanohano Hawai`i". Most of the tracks include backing vocals by Aaron, whose aloha for old-time Hawaiian glee club singing is most obvious on the group's swinging version of "Moloka`i Nui Ahina" and the romantic ballad "Beautiful 'Ilima".
Still, as with all Dancing Cat albums, HO'OLOHE has lots of virtuoso pa`ani (instrumental solos). George and Bobby take most of them, but even Martin gets into the act. "I love playing with these guys because they're all such great musicians," says Martin. "You play with people who are better than you and they'll lift you up!"
Martin's trio, often joined by Bobby, performs Sunday nights at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort. They also provide backing for veteran singers Nina Keali`iwahamana and Bill Ka`iwa. They have even started accepting a few jobs outside of Hawai`i, busy schedules permitting. "If this band ever gets a name, it should be the 'Olu'olu Gang," says George. 'Olu'olu can be translated into English as "amiable and nice". "My wife Ruthie suggested Ho'olohe," says Martin. "That means to listen. I hope that people enjoy listening to the music we share on this album. These are songs we listened to when we were young and it's such a blessing to be able to play them today."
The youngest child of Gabby and Emily Pahinui, Martin grew up surrounded by music: not only the amazing ki ho'alu (slack key) in his family home but also the many other styles floating on the wind in Waimanalo, where he grew up and still lives. Born July 21, 1951, he quickly jumped into music, picking up Hawai`i's favorite starter instrument, the 'ukulele, around age three. "None of us ever got any lessons but the music was always there," Martin says, "so if you listened closely enough you could catch on."
By intermediate school, Martin picked up guitar, joining his brothers Bla and Cyril in a rock band called The Characters. "We did 'Johnny B. Goode' and all that," Martin says. About that time, he also picked up his nickname, "Gramps". "I used to wear overalls, like the old folks" he says, "and somehow the name stuck."
As the Hawaiian Renaissance began to build in the mid-1960s, young people throughout Hawai`i began to explore their roots, and traditional music enjoyed a revival. "Cyril and Bla went into it ahead of me," Martin says. "They gave up electric instruments, but I held on to mine!" Martin's favorite rock group was and still is The Beatles. "Their songs are so extraordinary," he says. He counts as two of his career highlights meeting Ringo Starr in Los Angeles and chatting with George Harrison on the phone when the shy, spiritual Beatle was living on Maui. "He had a high respect for Hawaiian music," Martin says, "He said he had all of my daddy's records and a lot of other local artists. We invited him to our sessions but he said he didn't want to interfere. I wish we could have gotten to play with him, but I can appreciate his feelings."
In the early 1970s, Martin joined his father, brothers, Sonny Chillingworth, Atta Isaacs and others in the legendary Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band. The group's easy-going style and high level of artistry enjoyed great popularity and inspired many young musicians. "All of us young guys wanted to latch on to what the older ones were sharing," Martin says. While many young people still enjoy learning from na kupuna (elders), today's radio stations and clubs target specific age groups, which limits the mixing of the generations. "We played with musicians of all ages to audiences of all ages," he says. Young bands today don't get many opportunities to do that. It's much harder for them to learn not just the songs but also older ways of playing them.
After the Gabby Band, Martin returned to his rock roots, playing in various bands on Maui and the mainland. In the mid 1980s, he joined brother Cyril in the popular Peter Moon Band, taking the lead vocals on such local hits as the pop ballad "Flying" and the hard-rocking "Cane Fire". Other projects soon followed, including the long-awaited album of The Pahinui Brothers, which reunited Bla, Cyril and Martin with guitarist Ry Cooder and other mainland friends.
The 1990s brought a renewed interest in traditional Hawaiian music fronting a band with steel guitar and slack key. 1999's album with the slack key super group Hui Aloha marked Martin's debut on Dancing Cat, which had already recorded brothers Bla and Cyril as soloists. "George asked me about doing something for Dancing Cat way back when I was with Peter Moon," Martin says. "Many years later, when we were making the Hui Aloha album with Hui Aloha I told him "Wow, you sure are patient!"
After nearly a half century making music, Martin illustrates that good music well played exists in a special place outside the confines of passing fads. He also reflects a firm commitment to both honoring and extending the Pahinui slack key legacy. "My daddy is a very big influence on all of us," Martin says. "But he always did things his own way and he taught us to trust our own instincts too. He always said the key was to respect the culture and then do your music in the way that brings you the most enjoyment."
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