Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, known as Ki-ho’alu in Hawaiian, preserves the culture of Hawaiian music
. “Ki-ho’alu” literally means “loosen the key”. It is a finger picked style where a normal six string acoustic guitar is tuned loose to produce a major chord, a chord with a major 7th
note, or sometimes with a 6th
note in it.
The Ki-ho’alu Foundation was established in 2004, and was established to help perpetuate Hawaiian Slack Key music. This year marks the 29th annual Hawaii Slack Key Guitar Festival
, and like in years past it is a completely free event. The promoters and sponsors of the event have tried to keep it free for the public to keep people interested in this beautiful, rich Hawaiian tradition. Throughout the Hawaiian islands each year there are festivals which celebrate “Oahu-island style”, “Maui-island style”, “Kauai-island style”, and “Keauhou style”; each festival is on the respective island its style comes from.
Slack key found its way to the Hawaiian Islands when Kamehameha III brought Mexican and Spanish cowboys (Vaqueros) to the big island to help deal with the overpopulation of cattle. The cowboys brought their guitars which they played around the campfire at night. When the cowboys work was done on the big island
they left some of their guitars with the Hawaiian cowboys (Paniolo
Ki-ho’alu is a very individual and personal tradition which is steeped in mystique. As each player learns more about the art they develop their own ways of tuning their guitar, strum patterns, and the way they “hammer-on” or “pull off” certain notes. It is said that some players never play the same song the same exact way, which is in part due to the fact that this style of tuning and playing is a very flexible form. Each guitarist develops their very own unique way of playing and can be easily told apart from other artists.