The ukulele, the slide guitar and Maui: Put them all together, and the music of Hawaii will embrace you, enchant you and it might even make you fall in love.
Maui has an astonishing number of talented musicians who make sweet music from brunch till dusk, then play late into the night at kanikapila (the Hawaiian equivalent of kitchen parties). International acts visit often and Grammy-award-winning local artists and world-famous rock stars make Maui their home. You'll find everything from rock to jaiwaiian (Hawaiian reggae) -- if you know where to look. Almost every first-time visitor wants to take in a luau, and that can be just the beginning for an exploration of the rich musical history of Maui.
The music of Maui began with the sea. When the first islanders arrived in Hawaii in their canoes from Polynesia around 400 AD, they were already on intimate terms with the rhythm of the waves. With that silky, steady backbeat on the sandy shore, they raised their voices in complex harmonies of chants called mele oli. Then, using what nature provided, they created instruments from gourds, bamboo, rocks and conch shells to accompany the dancers in mele hula. When the missionaries arrived in 1820, they translated hymns into Hawaiian himeni and the churches swelled with converts. Guitars arrived shortly after, followed by the braguinha, brought to the islands in 1879 by Portuguese sailors. Hawaiians called it the Uku lele, which translates to "jumping flea," a good way to describe the flying fingers of a ukulele player.
A stay at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel will put you in touch with the music, culture and values of the ancient Hawaiians. A unique Po'okela (excellence) program for staff focuses on the geography, religion, mythology, economics and technology of old Hawaii. The goal is to impart the essence of Hawaiian culture, an open-hearted sharing, to guests and to the community. And that includes music. This spring, for the fifth year, the hotel hosted the Maui Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival featuring five Hawaiian steel guitar masters sharing their talents through performances, workshops and kanikapila jam sessions.
According to steel guitar artist Joel Katz, one of the headliners, "Steel guitar is quintessentially Hawaiian. After all, the first steel guitar was invented in Hawaii in the 1880s by Joe Kekuku when he was just 15. The soulful sound made by drawing a steel bar across the strings became a sensation and Kekuku travelled to the U.S. and Europe, influencing jazz and blues artists and finding a special kinship with country guitar players."
You can hear Katz perform at the premi re luau in Maui, the Old Lahaina Luau. There are a dozen luaus on Maui, but this one is outstanding. As the sun sets on the beach behind the circular stage, you'll be drawn into the ancient mythology of the early Polynesians through story, song and dance.
On Wednesday nights, you don't want to miss George Kahumoku Jr.'s Slack Key Show -- Masters of Hawaiian Music at the Napili Kai Beach Resort. (Slack key combines open tunings with a fingerpicking style that alternates bass, rhythm and melody, all on one instrument.)
The winner of four Grammy awards for best Hawaiian album, Kahumoku invites the best slack key, ukulele and steel guitar artists from around the world to share the stage. Slack-key virtuoso Ledward Ka'apana is a regular, with his own following of Led Heads. As the night ends, all the headliners gather on stage and the music floats through the open-air pavilion up into the starry night. Stay here and you can enjoy a moonlight stroll through fragrant gardens to your condo by the sea after the concert.
The bay is a perfect place for novice paddle boarders and snorkellers. It's hard to believe when you look out at the immaculately landscaped grounds of the Napili Kai this idyllic site was once covered in thorn trees and skunk cabbage. Fifty years of hard work by Canadian owners created such a friendly atmosphere families return annually and staff stay on for decades.
If rock 'n' roll is more your style, drop in to Fleetwood's on Front Street in Lahaina and have a cocktail on the rooftop patio overlooking the harbour. Arrive around 6:30 p.m. when a bagpiper salutes the sunset. After dark, it's a perfect spot to recline on the Moroccan-style benches covered in throw pillows and watch the stars. The owner is none other than Mick Fleetwood, and an expensive drum kit sits on the second-floor stage waiting for his occasional visits. Live bands play the rooftop Thursday through Saturday.
In Wailea, the sunny southern part of the island, the Fairmont Kea Lani makes a great home base for music lovers. This luxury property has more than 20 acres of lush landscaped grounds, three meandering pools and a classic powder white beachfront.
One of the best places to watch the sunset is the Fairmont's open-air Luana Lounge that overlooks the pool and the ocean from a marble balcony. Luana means "relax" in Hawaiian and you will, especially if you're listening to the laid-back classical guitar of a friendly local musician like Eddee Sebala. A native Hawaiian, Eddee joined the navy and moved to Scotland for seven years to work on a nuclear submarine before he got tired of the snow and decided to follow his dream. "All I ever wanted was to play music and make people happy and now that's what I do." Eddee brings the open-hearted spirit of Hawaii to life.
Starting from the Fairmont, you can sample live music from jazz to jaiwaiian at any of the lobby bars along the 2.4-km Coastal Walk. It skirts the coastline with the Four Seasons, the Grand Wailea, Wailea Beach Marriott and the new Andaz Maui at Wailea on the right, and the pounding ocean surf on the left. Pop in during hana hou (Hawaiian happy hour) to see Reiko Fukino, a guitar player with a vast repertoire, at the Grand Wailea.
"I like to mix it up," she says. "There are a lot of excellent musicians playing the lounges here, like Sal Godinez on piano and Marcus Johnson on bass playing jazz at the Four Seasons, and the pianist and composer Gene Argel. If you find someone you like, just ask them where they're playing next."
No musical trip to Maui would be complete without a visit to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului. More than 1,700 music, dance and art exhibits take place here every year. Such acts as Elton John, James Taylor, Steve Miller and Canada's own Delhi 2 Dublin have performed here. Hawaiian musicians take the stage at festivals here year-round. With so many artists to choose from, you're bound to fall in love with the music of Maui.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013