Busting-out for a legend

By Burl Burlingame

I T'S not often the whole point of a concert is a bust, so you might as well make the most of the opportunity. "Salute to Gabby," Saturday at Honolulu Zoo, is not only the musical bargain of the decade - dozens of artists for $5 - the monies raised will be used to underwrite a bronze bust of musical legend Gabby Pahinui.

The figurehead, by Manoa sculptor Jan-Michelle Sawyer, will be unveiled at the concert. It will later be placed at Blaisdell Center.

"It all really started with Jan-Michelle," said concert organizer Milton Lau. "She loves his music and this sculpture was kind of her pet project. She called me to take a look at the prototype, and I said sure - but when I saw it, wow!"

"It looks so real," said son, Martin Pahinui, one of the concert's featured artists. "I'm really looking forward to seeing it in bronze. I've only seen it in clay."

"The eyes are what really caught me," said Lau. "They really look at you. Jan-Michelle basically did this as a labor of love, and there was no money for bronze-casting, which needs to be done in Berkeley. We offered to help with music."

Indeed. Other artists playing Saturday include Eddie Kamae & The Sons of Hawaii, Raymond Kane, Brother Noland, Jesse Rivera, Pekelo, David Kahiapo, Bla Pahinui, George Kuo, Dennis Kamakahi, Cyril Pahinui, Kuuipo Kumukahi, Randy Lorenzo and the Native Hawaiian Band.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Martin Pahinui is a featured artist in "Salute to Gabby,"
a concert in honor of his father, slack-key master Gabby Pahinui

"We had more than 30 bands ask to participate," said Lau, who then contacted the City to ask for a performance venue. The zoo was available, and the City helped decide that the Blaisdell would be the home of Hawaii's most revered musician.

With all this interest, why are the tickets so cheap?

"We only need about $18,000 to complete the bust," said Lau. "And there's been some corporate donations as well. And Gabby would have wanted it that way."

Interest in Pahinui is riding high these days. A well-regarded house secret in Hawaiian music circles for decades, Pahinui was "discovered" by mainland session maestros such as Ry Cooder in the early 1970s, and the records recorded by Pahinui in the mid- to late-'70s were seminal influences for an entire generation of slack-key artists and fans.

What made Pahinui such an interesting musician was his incorporation of jazz and pop-music phrasing into traditional Hawaiian melodies. "I can listen to Pops' stuff today, and it still sounds so fresh," said Martin Pahinui. "And I hear the notes, the melodies, and remember what kind of man he was."

After years of legal wrangling, much of Pahinui's music is now available on CD. "Sales are real slow here, I guess because everyone already has the vinyl records," said Martin Pahinui. "But Pops is selling records on the mainland, and there's interest from all over."

Pahinui passed away in 1980, and a few years later Hawaii's annual slack-key festival was named in his honor.

"This August is the 15th anniversary of the Gabby Pahinui Slack-key Music Festival, and it's also the 100th anniversary of Bank of Hawaii, which has been the sponsor all along," said Lau. "Must be some sort of conjunction."

Saluting Gabby

What: Salute to Gabby
When: Saturday, 4:30 to 9 pm.
Where: Honolulu Zoo
Cost: $5; free for children under 12
Call: 239-4336

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community]
[Info] [Letter to Editor] [Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin