Also see Keola's website at www.kbeamer.com
“In our family we’re taught to respect our kupuna (ancestors) and their legacy, but that it’s also important to look to the future. I never look at this as burdensome. It’s a natural state of affairs. Both perspectives increase my appreciation of life. They’re constant sources of inspiration.”
- Keola Beamer
For over thirty years, Keola Beamer’s artistry has helped breathe new life into slack key guitar music while remaining true to the soul of its deeply Hawaiian roots.
In traditional Hawaiian society, sounded words possess mana (spiritual power) and music plays a significant role in all aspects of life. “I think that’s why we’re so serious about music,” Keola says. “We come from a history of oral tradition in which music played a big part. Our genealogies, land boundaries and navigational information are all in chants. In Hawai’i, music is more than personal expression, it keeps us connected to our history and culture.”
For Keola, Hawaiian music is also a way to express awareness of and appreciation for life in the Islands. “There’s a beautiful feeling, at least once a day when the curtain of every day activity lifts, when you stop whatever you’re doing, and see this place for its amazing beauty. The sun coming up, a gentle breeze, the mountains at sunset. It can’t be expressed in words, but in one’s heart there’s a feeling of thankfulness and pride. There’s a haunting sense of gratitude that you feel to be a part of this. It seems to me that this is what Hawaiian music is all about.” Many people who have never visited Hawai’i continue to relate to the universal sentiments expressed through Keola’s music.
In 1973, Keola recorded the groundbreaking solo slack key album HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY IN THE REAL OLD STYLE. In many ways, this release, along with the early Sunday Manoa albums, represented a movement of Hawai’i’s young, rock-era guitarists to investigate the work of older, more traditional masters, like Pops Gabby Pahinui, Atta Isaacs, Leonard Kwan and Sonny Chillingworth.
Naturally, the youth reinvigorated the form with their own ideas, just as every generation had done before. From the beginning, Keola has sought to expand the music. “I don’t feel that culture’s just some natural phenomenon,” he says. “We all have a responsibility to help guide it in a good way that keeps things pono.”
Reflecting both continuity and innovation, Keola incorporates traditional forms in his music, including chant and ancient instruments, multi-track recording and complex chord progressions. He was also one of the first slack key masters to teach public classes. “In my early twenties, I was making guitars with George Gilmore and Donald Marienthal,” he says. “People came in to our shop asking about slack key. There were very few teachers back then, so I agreed to try it.” Soon, teaching became his main job until he turned to full time performing and composing.
In the mid-1970s, Keola and his brother, Kapono, formed the Beamer Brothers, mixing Hawaiian and pop to create many Island standards. Throughout the 1980s, Keola turned increasingly to a solo career, which by the 1990s included recording for Dancing Cat. WOODEN BOAT, his first Dancing Cat album, appeared in 1994.
Each Dancing Cat release has focused on a different aspect of his art.Keola’s sixth Dancing Cat album, KA HIKINA O KA HAU (THE COMING OF THE SNOW) , is not a traditional slack key recording. “It poses a simple question,” he says. “Can the palette, coloration and tonality of Ki ho'alu add an indefinable something to the interpretation of songs written by truly great composers?” The answer is a breathtaking surprise.
The album, produced by solo pianist George Winston, features eighteen arrangements of classical compositions by Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dowland, Piazzolla and others, as well as two more Hawaiian inspired pieces. For the first time Hawaiian Slack Key guitar tunings have been used to interpret the works of classical composers, resulting in a romantic, winter oriented album that uniquely blends both the Hawaiian Slack Key and classical music traditions.
Arranged for two or three guitars, specifically for Keola by musicologist, guitarist, and linguist Daniel O’Donoghue, KA HIKINA O KA HAU (THE COMING OF THE SNOW) highlights Keola on acoustic nylon string, acoustic steel-string, and electric guitars, overdubbing multiple tracks to create a truly unique sound.
Click on album title for more information, sound clips and online ordering.
With Kapono Beamer:
- HONOLULU CITY LIGHTS (Paradise Productions 808) - 1978
- KEOLA & KAPONO BEAMER (Tantalus Records 2453) - 1976
- THE MUSIC OF HAWAI'I (National Geographic Society 706B) - compilation album with other artists - 1974-75
- HAWAI'I THEN AND NOW (Music of Polynesia 35000) - 1974
- THIS IS OUR ISLAND HOME - WE ARE HER SONS (Music of Polynesia 22300) - 1973
With Nona Beamer:
- THE GOLDEN LEHUA TREE (Starscape Music 96112) - storytelling by Nona Beamer with slack key guitar, vocal, and traditional Hawaiian percussive instrument accompaniment by Keola
- HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY CHRISTMAS (Dancing Cat) - Keola plays Away in a Manger
- KI HO'ALU CHRISTMAS (Dancing Cat) - Keola plays Do You Hear What I Hear?
- HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR MASTERS INSTRUMENTAL COLLECTION (Dancing Cat) - Keola plays E Ku'u Morning Dew and a guitar duet with George Winston on Kalena Kai
- A WINTER SOLSTICE REUNION (Windham Hill Records 11369) - Keola plays Keiki's Dream (Child's Dream)
- A SUMMER SOLSTICE (Windham Hill Records) - guitar duet with George Winston on Kalena Kai
- ON A STARRY NIGHT (Windham Hill Records) - Album of children's lullabies from around the world. Keola plays Pupu Hinuhinu (Shiny Shell Lullaby)
- A WINTER'S SOLSTICE V (Windham Hill Records) - Keola plays a duet with George Winston on Poli'ahu - The Snow Goddess of Mauna Kea
- BIG WEDNESDAY (Warner Bros. Studios) - several pieces on compilation soundtrack, including the movie's theme song - 1978
- THE ART OF HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR (Homespun Tapes GT01) - slack key guitar instructional video with booklet taught by Keola Beamer containing music and tablature. Available from Starscape Music at 1-800-424-3858.
- KEOLA BEAMER TEACHES HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR (Homespun Tapes/Distribution; Hal Leonard Publications) Book + CD. Available from Starscape Music at www.kbeamer.com or 1-800-945-5651
- LEARN TO PLAY HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR (Mel Bay Publications MB96695) - by Keola Beamer and Mark Nelson. Available from Starscape Music at www.kbeamer.com or 1-800-945-5651
- FIRST METHOD FOR HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR (Beamer Hawaiiana, Inc. - out-of-print) [for Beginners & Intermediate]
- HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR (Oak Publications - out-of-print) [for Beginners & Intermediate] - an extended version of the FIRST METHOD FOR HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR book, with accompanying flexible disc recording.