Slack-Key Guitars and Ukuleles

You may not think about Hawaii's music until you step off a plane on the Islands, and then there's no escaping it. It's a unique blend of the strings and percussion favored by the early settlers and the chants and rituals of the ancient Hawaiians.

Hawaiian music today includes a stylistic technique on acoustic guitar—slack-key and steel guitar—along with the celebrated ukulele (a four-string guitar about the size of a violin), and vocals that vary from traditional chants to euphoric falsettos, or more reggae-inspired compositions.

This is one of the few folk-music traditions in the United States that is fully embraced by the younger generation, with no prodding from their parents or grandparents. Many of the radio stations on Maui play plenty of Hawaiian music, and concerts performed by island favorites fill with fans of all ages.

A couple of don't-miss opportunities to hear Hawaiian music on Maui: Every June, the annual Ki Hoalu (Hawaiian Slack Key) Guitar Festival ( attracts top local musicians. This family-friendly event is free to the public and held outdoors at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The outstanding George Kahumoku Jr.'s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music (888/669– is a weekly concert held at the Napili Kai Beach Resort, where you can catch Grammy-winning slack-key legends in an intimate setting. The mellow ki hoalu (slack-key) music will show you a bit of Hawaii's paniolo (cowboy) history and knee-slapping banter among the musicians as they tune their guitars.

May is a month-long celebration of music, hula, and Hawaiian culture through Mele Mei events. Mele is Hawaiian for "song" and Mei refers to the month. The islands rev up the festivities with concerts, workshops, and festivals that lead to a major soirée on Oahu, Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, where the state’s legendary and rising musicians are honored. (

Check ads and listings in local papers, and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, for information on island concerts, which take place in indoor and outdoor theaters, hotel ballrooms, and nightclubs.

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