Producer Charles Michael Brotman, right, accepted the award with guitarist Sonny Linn for the best Hawaiian music album, "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2," yesterday at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

Slack key wins first
Hawaiian Grammy

The nominees say the crucial
award was recognition
for Hawaii


Thursday, February 17, 2005

» Sonny Lim is one of the musicians who performed on the album "Slack Key Guitar Volume 2," which one a Grammy for best Hawaiian music album. In a photo caption on Pages A1 and A7 in Monday's early edition, his last name was misspelled.

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Producer/guitarist Charles Brotman and his "Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2" won the first-ever Grammy Award for Hawaiian music yesterday over favorites Keali'i Reichel and the Cazimero Brothers.

"Aloha," a composed Brotman greeted an audience of several thousand during the "pre-telecast" portion of the 47th annual Grammy Awards. Out of the 107 awards, 92 were awarded off-camera at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

"We wouldn't be here today without all the hard work and creativity of all those Hawaiian musicians that came before us, and it's an honor to be on the same list as the other (Hawaii) nominees," Brotman said.

"I think I can say this for the entire state of Hawaii: Mahalo."

The award was the first in the new category of Best Hawaiian Music Album. "Slack Key" is a compilation featuring 10 island musicians with distinctively different styles. Brotman was joined onstage by three of the guitarists: Sonny Lim, Jeff Peterson and Ken Emerson.

Lim appeared stunned onstage, and with tears in his eyes was unable to speak at first when Brotman gently nudged him to the microphone.

"I, uh, uh," said the tuxedoed Lim, stepping back from the microphone to compose himself and receiving loud applause from the audience. Then, with head held high and an infectious smile, Lim spoke melodically in Hawaiian, which he later translated as, "Thank you to the Grammy ohana for honoring Hawaiian music, the music of our culture, and allowing Hawaiian music to be represented here."

Three of the guitarists wore traditional tuxedos, while Emerson wore perhaps the brightest jacket at the event -- with colorful sequins and neonlike thread. "I got it from my friend Todd Rundgren, who lives on Kauai," Emerson said. "We agreed that I needed to wear something colorful to represent our beautiful state." His ensemble was completed with black pants and a kukui nut lei.

To win over the other nominees -- Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom for "Amy & Willie Live," Keali'i Reichel for "Ke'alaokamaile," Ho'okena for "Cool Elevation" and the Cazimeros' "Some Call It Aloha ... Don't Tell" -- was an honor but not a complete surprise, Brotman said.

Performers on the best Hawaiian music album include, from left, producer Charles Michael Brotman, Ken Emerson, Jeff Peterson and Sonny Linn. Their compilation "Slack Key Guitar Vol. 2" beat out hometown favorites such as Keali'i Reichel, the Cazimero Brothers and Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom.

Many Grammy handicappers suspected that the nationwide popularity and familiarity of slack key had made the Palms Record album at least a dark horse.

"There is something about the sound of that solo guitar that crosses genres and borders," Brotman said.

He explained some slack-key history to about 60 reporters in a crowded conference room backstage. "We think it may go back to the 1830s on the Big Island, when King Kamehameha brought in mainland cowboys to take care of a growing cattle population. When these paniolo began playing their guitars, they would slacken the strings, so right there you have the derivative of slack key."

Guitarist Peterson said slack key has been popular on the mainland for many years. He credited George Winston and the many CDs produced on his Dancing Cat label with leading the charge.

Brotman, a Washington state native, said every guitarist on the album was either born in Hawaii or has lived and played music in Hawaii for 25 years or more. "If you're a working musician anywhere, and certainly in Hawaii, a Grammy is not something you can plan for ... or expect," he told reporters. "It's an elusive thing that, being in Hawaii, you never expect to land on you."

Brotman said the award had nothing to do with deciding who's best, and that all the nominees had contributed to the art. "For us this wasn't a battle to win an award, but to represent a very special kind of music, and Hawaii," Brotman said. "Music is not a competition for us."

Robert Cazimero said he was feeling fairly relaxed as the announcement of the Hawaiian Grammy grew closer -- more so than he would have been in Hawaii, "where there is a lot of attention and everyone knows you."

He added, laughing: "I'm embarrassed to say this, but I wanted to win -- but I wasn't crazed over it. For real, Roland and I feel like we did win, because Hawaii did. And we're very happy for Charlie."

Robert's immediate reaction: "Now we can eat."

Then he received nine phone calls within a few minutes, all expressing support although the pair hadn't won. "We've been around a very long time and know the thrill of victory and the hell of defeat," he said. "But this doesn't feel like defeat."

When the announcement came, Brotman was in the audience with wife Joanie, sister and business manager Jodie and the three guitarists.

"When we all just heard the word 'slack,' we all jumped up," Brotman said. "It was such an adrenaline rush. ... It's going to take me a week to calm down and really understand what's happened. I know in my head what happened, but my heart is ready to burst. I still can't figure out what it all means. Oh, but I will."

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