THE GRAMMY AWARDS
Grammys prompt surge in slack key
Four nominees follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner
What a difference a year makes. Or does it?
Last year's Hawaiian music Grammy nominees comprised four vocal and one instrumental slack-key CD. "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2" ended up winning the first-ever Grammy in the category.
Yesterday, Recording Academy voters reversed the numbers, selecting four albums that feature slack-key artistry.
"It was very predictable because of what happened last year," said Jon de Mello, owner and chief executive officer of the Mountain Apple Co., which distributes four of the five nominated recordings.
Mountain Apple has received about three slack-key albums a week since Palm Records took home the big prize last year, de Mello said. "What it means is if you play the (Grammy) game, you gotta play, you gotta do what it takes. These nominees did."
Manu Boyd, whose group Hookena was nominated last year, agreed that "the precedent was set last year."
Boyd said he's received far more slack-key recordings this year than ever before. "I think they were (recorded) with the Grammys in mind. The good news is that it's all really good-quality guitar work."
Others credit producer/ musician George Winston, who has produced and promoted nearly three-dozen slack-key albums in the last two decades through his Dancing Cat Records. That spread the genre's acceptance on the mainland, where most of the 16,000 Grammy voters live.
Alan Yamamoto, president of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts, believes that "simple awareness" of the genre was higher because slack key was last year's Grammy winner.
"People are more familiar with it because they found out who won, and now they're paying attention to the name and style," Yamamoto said. "Every retail outlet would showcase a Grammy winner. People pay attention to that 'Grammy winner' title."
Palm Records owner Charles Brotman, who produced last year's Grammy winning slack-key CD, said slack key has a strong following among fans of acoustic guitar. "Many professional guitar players who are (Grammy) members know what slack key is and follow it as fans," Brotman said from his Big Island home. "Guitar is a universal language."
Hawaii artists remain critical that vocal and instrumental music share one category but accept for now that slack key is what Grammy voters identify as Hawaiian (Kapono Beamer's nominated "Slack Key Dreams of the Ponomoe" does include vocal tracks).
Some local music executives suggested that having so many slack-key nominees could split the final votes, leaving falsetto singer Raiatea Helm's "Sweet & Lovely" the winner.
"But the names Kapono Beamer and Ledward Kaapana are probably more familiar to people on the mainland because they've toured there so much," Yamamoto said.
SLACK-KEY GUITARIST and nominee Daniel Ho, who lives in Los Angeles, learned of his nomination when he checked a fax he received early yesterday morning: a purchase order from BMI for his nominated CD.
"I thought it was a junk fax," Ho said. "But the cover letter said 'Congrats, congrats, congrats,' and I didn't know what in the world it was about. So I called and they broke the news to me."
Ho's feelings about being nominated are unusually subdued because, he said, "I never get my hopes up since I never win anything."
Raiatea Helm awoke at 9 a.m. yesterday to several cell phone messages and e-mails congratulating her for her nomination. "I'm so stoked. I wasn't thinking about Grammy. I didn't have my mind set on it, that's for sure."
Helm said she was excited that Hawaii finally was being recognized. "I'm so happy that I can get the true Hawaiian music out there to people. I have a responsibility to perpetuate some things that have been sleeping a little bit. I am so honored to be allowed to do this."
But Helm is also excited about the glitzy Grammy "experience."
"I want to see Mariah Carey and Usher and J. Lo. Oh wow, this is like a little Hawaii girl's dream come true."
BACK TO TOP
The Hawaiian music nominees,
as reviewed by John Berger
"Slack Key Dreams of the Ponomoe"
Kapono Beamer (Onopak)
Beamer's family heritage provides the theme for much of this beautiful album. It opens with a recording of his grandmother, the late Louise Leiomalama Walker "Dambie" Beamer, and follows with many songs that relate to Kapono's childhood on the Big Island.
Beamer sings as well as plays Hawaiian nose flute, slack-key guitar and Hawaiian percussion.
-- Reviewed Aug. 27
"Sweet & Lovely"
Raiatea Helm (Raiatea Helm Records)
Helm's second album reaffirms her place as the prominent female Hawaiian falsetto singer of her generation. Exquisite renditions of "Kalama'ula" and "'Alika" are highlights.
Helm also demonstrates her potential as a pop vocalist by closing the album with "At Last." Fortunately for her Grammy chances, the criteria for the Hawaiian music category allow pop material.
-- Reviewed Dec. 10, 2004
"Kiho'alu: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar"
Ledward Kaapana (Rhythm & Roots)
Kaapana is known for his falsetto singing and instrumental prowess, but on this album he sticks to slack-key guitar and ukulele. The selections include original melodies as well as an assortment of standards and mainstream hits -- including smooth renditions of "Killing Me Softly" and "Love Is Blue."
Producer Milton Lau keeps studio add-ons minimal. Some bass and keyboard tracks don't obscure Kaapana's artistry.
-- Reviewed July 16
"Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Sonny Lim"
Sonny Lim (Palm)
Grammy-winning producer Charles Michael Brotman captures Lim's artistry with 11 exquisite solos, some of them Hawaiian standards, others new.
Although Lim has been known for years as a member of the Hoku Award-winning Lim Family, he has not been as well known a slack-key guitarist. This album is changing that.
Brotman takes a significant step beyond his Grammy-winning compilation, "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2," by providing the composers' credits, cultural information and tunings that make the album more than just beautiful background music.
-- Reviewed Oct. 1
"Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Volume 1"
Various artists (Daniel Ho Creations)
This compilation of 12 performances -- culled apparently at random from recordings made at a series of concerts on Maui -- includes four artists who can accurately be described as "masters" -- Ledward Kaapana, George Kahumoku Jr., Ozzie Kotani and Cyril Pahinui. Other participants include Kahumoku's son, Keoki Kahumoku, a duo named De 'Ukulele Boys and Daniel Ho, owner of the record label and a producer of the album.
New recordings by Kaapana, Kotani, Pahinui and George Kahumoku are always welcome, but if this album wins in 2006, the Grammy will go to the producers: Ho, Paul Konwiser and Wayne Wong. The trio left their names off the album when it was released in 2004.
-- Reviewed Dec. 31, 2004