Cyril, son of the legendary Slack Key guitarist and entertainer Gabby "Pops" Pahinui, was born and raised on the island of Oahu, in the small town of Waimanalo.  Cyril first started tinkering with a guitar at the young age of seven.    

"At the Pahinui homestead in Waimanalo, we often had backyard parties with `Pops' and `Ma', my brothers and sister, aunties and uncles and many friends," Cyril remembers.  "We would play music until the wee hours of the morning."  One of Gabby's best friends who was often there way the late great Slack Key guitarists Atta Isaacs, who was also one of Cyril's main influences.  Both Atta and Cyril are two of the greatest improvisers in the history of Slack Key.     

When Cyril was 14 he used to hitchhike into Waikiki where he'd sneak into the balcony at the Queen's Surf Barefoot Bar to hear his dad play.  It wasn't long after that Cyril got the opportunity to begin performing with Gabby.  Cyril started performing professionally at 15, though he had to get written consent from his parents to play in clubs around Waikiki, where he would make up to $25 per night. 

In 1970 Cyril's musical career was interrupted when he was drafted into the military.  "Those Southern boys would see my guitar lying around and try to play it, they'd say `Hey Pineapple, what kind of tuning is this?  It don't sound right.' During that time, I got very desperate to hear Hawaiian music.  It's part of me, it's my heritage."  

Once home again Cyril once again performed with his father and brothers.  He appeared on all four of of Gabby's  Panini Records albums including the 1975 international release, THE GABBY PAHINUI HAWAIIAN BAND with Atta Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth, Joe Gang and Ry Cooder.   

In 1979, Cyril joined Slack Key guitarist Peter Moon's band.  Cyril recorded four albums with the Peter Moon Band before leaving the group to start his own band,  In 1989 he released his self titled album, CYRIL PAHINUI.  This album led the Na Hoku Honohano Award nominations that year with nine, and he walked away with two for Best Contemporary Hawaiian Album and Best Male Vocalist.   

In 1992 Cyril re-united with his brothers, Bla and Martin, to release an acclaimed album on Private Music entitled THE PAHINUI BROTHERS, with guest artists Ry Cooder, David Lindley and others.   

This is Cyril's first recording entirely solo, and it showcases his powerful and unique guitar stylings, especially on the 12 string guitar, as well as his soulful vocals backed up by just his guitar.  

The Songs: 


  1. Panini Pua Kea  (instrumental) -12 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E), from the lowest pitched string to the highest, tuned down one half step to sound in the key of B. 

    Closely identified with Gabby, this favorite attributed to mandolinist, composer and bandleader Johnny Almeida describes the effects on the heart of tasting the honey of a white cactus flower. Cyril plays it in the C Major tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E, from the lowest pitched string to the highest) on a 12 string Martin. He enjoys both 6 and 12 string, and plays basically the same on both instruments. " I like the 12 string for the octaves," he says. " The 12 string was my dad's favorite. He did more magic on it." Like jazz musicians, many ki ho'alu players like to quote from other songs when they notice a similarity in melody or structure. " In this recording," Cyril says, " I added some licks from Hame Pila. The two are pretty close in melody, it's just going back and forth with a lot of triple plucking and single plucking. Just go with the flow."

  2. Moani Ke`ala  – 6 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E), tuned down one half step to sound the key of  B 

    Traditionally, the ali'i (royalty) have played an active role in Hawaiian music and dance. Like his three royal siblings, Princess Likelike, King David Kalakaua and Queen Lili'uokalani, Prince William Leleiohoku (1854-1877) created many songs still popular today. In Moani Ke 'Ala, he poetically compares a desirable but elusive companion to the famous Pu'ulena wind of Kona. 

    Cyril plays this well-known flirtation song on the 12 string, often muting the strings with his right hand to create his trademark powerful percussive sound and rhythm, with spontaneous lead phrases flying out of the guitar in between the rhythms and the bass lines. He learned the song by ear from his father. Perhaps because Hawaiian culture has always placed a high value on oral tradition, many anecdotes circulate about Hawaiian musicians' ability to remember melodies and to distinguish between minute degrees of pitch. "My dad had such a good ear," Cyril says. "We would be playing, he would stop the music and point to a person, tell him, 'Tune that second string.'" 

  3. Marketplace -  (instrumental) 12 string guitar in “Cyril’s D” Ni’ihau/Old Mauna Loa Tuning (D-A-D-F#-B-E), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of  C# 

    Cyril recorded this song on Sonny Chillingworth’s 12 string, in his D tuning (D-A-D-F#-B-E), Cyril has also recorded it in the G Major Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D) on the 6 string. I always remember what my daddy used to tell me, 'No get lazy, Son. When you're playing your music, you should always try to find something new to say. If you look, you can always change the melody line a little or add some coloring.' Thanks to my dad, I can always keep adding things and it's comfortable for me." 

    Cyril  plays here in a tuning he created, a D 6/9 Tuning (D–A–D–F#–B–E), which also can be classified as an Ni’ihau/Old Mauna Loa tuning,  a tuning where the second (here the E note), and sixth (here the B note) notes of the scale are on two successive strings, which are tuned a fourth interval apart; with the sixth note (here the B) of the scale on the lower pitched string of the two, and the second note of the scale (here the E) on the higher pitched string of the two.This tuning is so closely associated with Cyril that it’s known among Slack Key guitarists as “Cyril’s D”. 

    This tuning is it close to the “Dropped D” Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), favored by his older brother Bla,with Cyril’s third string is tuned a half step lower to F#.  

  4. Ipo Lei Manu - 12 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of B. 

    An achingly beautiful love song by Queen Kapi'olani, Ipo Lei Manu (also known as He Mana'o He Aloha) compares her husband King David Kalakaua to the 'i'iwi bird, whose delicately beautiful feathers were used for the highly prized 'ahu 'ula (feather apes). This evocative air grows all the more poignant with the realization that King Kalakaua is described in the final verse as hele loa (gone forever). He died on January 20, 1891, in San Francisco during an official visit. 

    "My dad recorded this," Cyril points out. "Palani Vaughan did a nice version too. They both inspired me." While this beautiful song is performed extensively, this is the first time it has been recorded as a solo. "It was hard at first for me," Cyril admits. "I'm not so used to that. I usually play with a bass and rhythm guitar player, steel player."  

  5. Young Street Blues -  (instrumental) - 6 string guitar in the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). 

    Played on the 6 string Martin, this is another piece created by Cyril in the recording studio on Young Street in Honolulu in 1991. "We were in the studio doing some recording," Cyril recalls, "and I came up with a melody then and there. I started adding things and going on and on with it. Melodies are my thing. I like to try out different picking styles and different tunings and try to play like an orchestra adding variations, harmonies and things."  The G Major is the most popular Slack Key tuning, but only used occasionally by Cyril. 

  6. Noenoe -  (instrumental) -12 string guitar in the C Mauna Loa Tuning (C-G-E-G-A-E). 

    Cyril learned this popular waltz medley by watching his dad and Sonny Chillingworth play it at parties. Cyril remembers it especially for the way it made people sit still and pay attention. "Back then," he says, "they never used microphones or amps, so everybody would listen more closely to what they were playing." 

    Noenoe, also known as Ua Kea O Hana, is attributed to Edward Pu'ukena and was written when the waltz was a very fashionable foreign import to Hawai'i. It describes the gray fog (noenoe) of East Maui and the famous white rain of Hana (uakea), perhaps using kaona (layered meaning) to describe people the composer knew. 

    Remember, Be Sure and Be There, attributed to J. Elia and Charles A.K. Hopkins, is included, as it almost always is when Hawaiians play Noenoe. This mele (song) describes the Moa'ula waterfall in Halawa Valley on Moloka'i, and explicitly centers on romance, as someone special is asked to do what the title says. Many lovely vocal renditions of this medley have been recorded. In this instrumental version, Cyril's high phrasing on the top two pitched strings is reminiscent of his dad, and the jazz-type chord progressions at the beginning and the end and between some of the verses are reminiscent of the late Atta Isaacs, one of Cyril's main influences. Cyril plays this on the 12 string guitar in a C Mauna Loa tuning (C-G-E-G-A-E) Gabby often used. 

    Mauna Loa tunings are based on a Major chord with the top two (thinnest) strings tuned a 5th interval apart. These two strings can then be played in 6th intervals (as the 1st and thicker 3rd string usually are in several tunings), producing the recognizably sweet Mauna Loa sound. The top two strings can also be "frailed" (strummed) rapidly with the index finger, producing another characteristic sound of this tuning. 
    In the introduction, Cyril plays this chords progression:  
    B flat 9/13,  
    E flat 6/Major 7,  
    A flat 9/13,  
    D flat 6/Major 7,  
    to G7.  
    Then after the first verse, he plays this chord progression:  
    B flat 9./13,  
    E flat 6/Major 7,  
    To A flat 9/13, to G7.  
    Then after the second verse, he plays this chord progression: 
    B flat 9/13,  
    E flat 6/Major 7,  
    A flat 9/13,  
    D flat 6/M7,  
    to G7. 
    At the end, he plays this chord progression:  
    E flat 9/13 with an A flat bass,  
    A flat 6/Major7,  
    B flat 9/13,  
    E flat 6/Major 7, 
    to C. 
    Note the beautiful jazz cords at the end, as influenced by one of Cyril's main mentors, the late, great Slack Key guitarist Leland "Atta" Isaacs (1930-1983).  

  7. Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha – 12 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E) , tuned down one half step to sound in the key of  B. 

    This very nahenahe (gentle) song attributed to Matthew Kane communicates the feelings of a heartbroken husband whose wife has left him. The title tells us she's been taken away by the wind. A kahuna (medicine man) gave the heartbroken husband a potion which he threw into the sea at a place where his wife often fished, and she later returned to him. The title phrase also names a popular quilt pattern, like the song, originally from Maui. 

    Although many people perform Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha, it invariably reminds Cyril of Kui Lee (1932-66), the influential composer, dancer and singer who recorded it near the end of his life when he was battling cancer. "I was still in high school when I heard it," Cyril says, "and to me he sang it like he was leaving and never coming back, like he put everything he had into it." Cyril adds his own special touches to the song. "I sustain the words," he says, "and try to delay my chord changes a little to make the mood linger. When I'm singing, my voice can go one way and my guitar another." 

    SET TWO 

  8. Moloka`i Nui Ahina - Panini Pua Kea  (instrumental) 12 string guitar in “Cyril’s D” Ni’ihau/Old Mauna Loa Tuning (D-A-D-F#-B-E). 

    Mele pana (songs of place) retain a special place in the hearts and repertoires of many Hawaiian musicians. Cyril's version of this well-known tribute to Moloka’i, also recorded on Sonny Chillingworth’s 12 string, expresses for him the good times and excellent treatment he has always received on the friendly island. Recorded here in Cyril’s D tuning on the 12 string, Moloka'i nui a Hina exemplifies the march tradition, which has been a part of Hawaiian music since the 1830s when a brass band, The Royal Hawaiian Band, was created by Kamehameha III. "The way I started this version," Cyril says, "it was like a banjo." Like Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha, this well-known, frequently recorded composition is popularly attributed to Matthew Kane. 

  9. Hilo E  - 12 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C”  Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of  B. 

    Sometimes attributed to Mary Heanu, this mele pana takes us to the east side of the Big Island, paying special attention to Waiakea and Pana'ewa. It also reminds us that at Hilo you find the lehua blossom, which residents often string into a lei for visitors. "I love Hilo," Cyril says. "I did 'Hilo E' with my dad in mind."  

  10. Hanauma Bay - (instrumental) - 12 string guitar in the C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of  B. 

    By the beloved Hawaiian language and music scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, and her frequent musical collaborator, Maddy Lam, this mele pana is for one of O'ahu's most beautiful scenic areas. It praises the peaceful bay under encircling cliffs, the white surf on brilliant blue water, the shade under dancing kiawe branches and the sand that contains green crystals. "I used to do it back in the 1970s," Cyril says, "with a group called Mauna Loa. It's always so nice to hear the old ones." His powerful 12 string version represents the first time it has been recorded as an instrumental. 

  11. Lei 'Ohu – 12 string guitar in C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E),  tuned down three half steps to sound in the key of A. 

    Meaning "adorned with a lei," this George Akiu composition takes us to the Big Island, Maui, O'ahu and Kaua'i. We receive, in turn, leis of lehua (representing the Big Island), roselani (Maui), 'ilima (O'ahu) and mokihana (Kaua'i). " My dad did this one on 'the brown album' (GABBY - Panini 1002)," Cyril says. "My version is a little different than his. Because I'm all by myself, I have to play the rhythm and melody parts on one guitar. Also my voice sounds kind of husky."  

  12. No Ke Ano Ahiahi – 12 string guitar in C Major “Atta’s C” Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E),  tuned down three half steps to sound in the key of A. 

    Mele inoa (name chants/songs) comprise a large and honored part of popular Hawaiian music. Composed as gifts, mele inoa become the property of the person for whom they have been written. He or she acquires the mana (power) in the sounded words and may then pass it down within the 'ohana (family) as a treasured, often closely guarded heirloom. While in traditional Hawaiian culture everyone received at least one mele inoaali'i (royalty) frequently received many. This traditional mele inoa honors King William Lunalilo (1835-1874) and describes the bittersweet moments of recollection before a trip to mainland America. It is a very evocative and haunting chant celebrating the evening hours. The song was rediscovered by the great 'ukulele player and documentarian, Eddie Kamae. 

    "When Daddy recorded it with Eddie Kamae and the Sons of Hawai'i (Panini Records 1001)," Cyril says, "it was uptempo. When we did it as the Gabby Band (Panini Records 1008), it was slow. So here I decided to do it medium tempo."   

  13. Lullaby for Pops -  (instrumental) - 6 string guitar in “Cyril’s D” Ni’ihau/Old Mauna Loa Tuning (D-A-D-F#-B-E), tuned down one half step to sound in C#. 
    This beautifully conceived and rendered original by Cyril developed over two sessions three years apart. "To me all my music, whatever I'm doing, it's Pops and me. I feel his presence." 


  1.  C Major Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E) – for Panini Pua Kea, Moani Ke`ala, Ipo Lei Manu, Ka Makani Ka'ili Aloha, Hilo E, Hanauma Bay, Lei 'Ohu , and No Ke Ano Ahiahi  

  2. C Mauna Loa Tuning (C-G-E-G-A-E) – for Noenoe/ Remember Be Sure and Be There.  

  3. Cyril’s D Ni'ihau/ Old Mauna Loa Tuning (D-A-D-F#-B-E) - also known as "Ni'ihau" or "Old Mauna Loa" Tuning, for MarketplaceMoloka'i nui a Hina and Lullaby for Pops

  4. G Major "Taro Patch" Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D) for Young Street Blues

1. Open D Major Tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D) 
2. G Wahine Tuning (D-G-D-F#-B-D) 
3. C Wahine Tuning (C-G-D-G-B-D)