GARY KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Keoki Kahumoku credits his father George for his success as a musician. The pair was among the artists in a compilation of slack key performances that was recognized as the best Hawaiian album at the 2006 Grammys.
Kahumoku family lives with music
KAPALUA, Maui » Two-time Grammy award-winning artist Keoki Kahumoku said as a child and teenager, he never wanted to become a musician or entertainer.
But his father George had ways of getting him to perform, such as requiring he and his nephews to play the ukulele before they could go into the ocean during a beach outing.
"I thought I was going to be working construction or farming. My father forced me to learn how to play music," recalled the 35-year-old Kahumoku. "I guess he saw something in me, some kind of potential. If it wasn't for my dad, I probably wouldn't be a musician today."
Within the last week and a half, father and son have together seen the kind of success many Hawaiian entertainers dream about -- their performances, as part of a compilation by fellow slack key guitarists, was recently selected as the Best Hawaiian Album at the 2006 Grammys in Los Angeles.
"The Masters of Slack Key Guitar Volume 1," culled from performances recorded at weekly shows at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, also included the playing of Cyril Pahinui, Ledward Kaapana, Daniel Ho, Ozzie Kotani, Peter deAquino and Garrett Probst.
It's George Kahumoku's first time as a Grammy winner and Keoki's second consecutive one, the first occurring in 2005 when he was one of the performers on "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2," produced by Big Island resident Charles Michael Brotman.
THE GRAMMY awards have been a tribute to the unique rhythms and roots of Hawaiian slack key music, learned from the back streets of Kakaako to the fishing villages of Kona, passed from one generation to the next.
Slack key is to Hawaiian music what the blues is to rock 'n' roll.
George Kahumoku, who teaches art at Lahainaluna High School, said while growing up in rural Kealia in South Kona on the Big Island that he learned from his father how to tune his ukulele and guitar to obtain the family's unique slack key sound.
His family came from generations of fishermen who made their living catching opelu and other fish on outrigger canoes. George's father was one of those fishermen before he became a diesel mechanic and moved to Oahu.
At a time in the early to mid-1900s when speaking Hawaiian was discouraged at many schools on the islands, native Hawaiians continued to hold on to their language and culture through the hula and unique family heritage of slack key music.
Keoki said while he may have been surrounded by music, most of the years of his youth were spent working in his family's business in farming and ranching, raising enough produce to help to feed a large extended Hawaiian family.
After moving back to the Big Island, the Kahumoku household in Kohala became a haven for their nieces, nephews and foster children, with sometimes as many as 20 young ones sharing their home.
"It was out of necessity. My dad would bring home all these hanai-ed kids."
Keoki said, before 5 a.m. in Hilo, he'd be carting a wheelbarrow, going door-to-door to collect slop for his family's pigs or tending cattle grazing in grassy empty lots zoned for apartment use.
Later, he'd harvest vegetables in the family's garden, including alfalfa, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
"We did everything. I always had two or three cattle to tend to," Keoki said.
THE YOUNGER Kahumoku, who has already performed on eight albums, said his farming experiences are reflected in his music.
On his latest solo album "Liko," he has a song about his hunting dog who helps him catch wild pigs that sometimes invade farmlands and destroy crops.
"The farming is what gave the music life," he said.
Keoki has also learned how to successfully raise talent as a ukulele teacher. One of his students was Probts, who also appears on the "Masters of Slack Key" album.
His dad George said he feels the Grammy award is a tribute to all slack key guitarists, such as Ray Kane and the late Gabby Pahinui, Sonny Chillingworth, and Leonard Kwan, as well as George Winston and his Dancing Cat Productions, who spread the word through his own self-produced and financed albums throughout a larger, international audience.
"The world is finally recognizing Hawaiian music," George said. "It's lucky we live in Hawaii."