Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

"Sometimes things happen (that) even I don't hear right away but I hear the notes or I hear the idea and all of a sudden I have to pounce before I lose the idea." -- Bla Pahinui, Musician

Life after Gabby

Bla Pahinui finds new sources of
inspiration as the local music world
prepares a tribute to his late, great dad

By John Berger

The baritone ukulele is the largest and most obscure member of the ukulele family. Bla Pahinui plans to change that.

"Nobody plays baritone. Nobody plays it," Pahinui said recently. "My wife and George Winston got me a baritone, and the sound that comes out of a baritone ukulele with the nylon strings is just incredible. I took the regular strings off and put nylon strings on, and the sound comes out so clear."

It shouldn't be surprising that Bla "hears" things differently from most other musicians. He grew up listening to some of the best and most innovative musicians in Hawaiian music, for example his father, Gabby Pahinui, who will be inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame next month. Tickets go on sale today for the ceremony and musical showcase taking place 6:30 p.m. Feb. 20. at the Hawaii Theatre. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25, plus a $2 theater restoration fee. Call 528-0506.

"Every day I'm searching for new ideas," Bla said. He credits Jon de Mello with luring him out of retirement last year with an offer to record two albums -- one Hawaiian but done his style, the other whatever he wanted to do.

"It was an experiment," Bla said of the first one, "Guava Soul," a collection of Hawaiian standards and contemporary hapa-haole songs like "Waimanalo Blues" and "Island Style," which he recorded with Milan Bertosa and the blues musicians of Third Degree as his studio band.

"They're so easy to work with that it made (doing the) CD comfortable. They're very gentle guys. Whatever I say, they understand where I'm coming from, and they just jump on the piano or whatever, and that's it.

"They don't know what the hell I'm coming up with, but that's the fun part and it works."

For his next two projects, Bla plans to rework some R&B classics his way and then invite several of Hawaii's other leading guitarists to sit in with him and record updated arrangements of hapa-haole standards like "Sweet Leilani" and "Tiny Bubbles."

Bla says he would rather listen to other musicians than perform live, but he loves to record and work out new ideas in the studio. That can be anything from flamenco to rockabilly to the blues.

"Sometimes things happen (that) even I don't hear right away, but I hear the notes or I hear the idea, and all of a sudden I have to pounce before I lose the idea.

"Five years ago, I let my dad go, so I feel I finally can be myself. I can fly now. I don't have to walk in my dad's shoes any more. It doesn't work that way now for me. I've got a good wife, a good home, and everything falls right into place."

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