Ki Ho’alu Christmas 

This album brings together many of Hawaii’s celebrated Slack Key masters in a unique seasonal collection. While chestnuts seldom roast on an open fire in the Islands, and Christmas is only white atop Mauna Kea, this holiday collection will warm hearts and wish a Hawaiian-style Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) to people everywhere.  

Ki ho alu (pronounced kee-ho-ah-loo) is the Hawaiian-language name for the finger-style guitar tradition unique to Hawaii. First introduced to Island culture by Hawaiian cowboys in the early 1800s, Slack Key guitar is characterized by a variety of tunings and the wealth of deep feelings each individual artist brings to the music.  

  1. Do You Hear What I Hear? - Keola Beamer (instrumental) 2:55 

  2. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S (The Meaning Of Christmas) - Ledward Kaapana (instrumental) 5:50 

  3. Christmas Carol Waltz - Moses Kahumoku (instrumental) 3:09 

  4. Mele Kalikimaka - Cyril Pahinui (vocal) 4:56 

  5. Away In A Manager - Bla Pahinui (instrumental) 3:56 

  6. Winter Wonderland - Barney Isaacs & George Kuo (instrumental acoustic steel and Slack Key guitar duet) 3:06 

  7. Christmas Memories - Dennis Kamakahi (vocal) 4:11 

  8. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear - Ozzie Kotani (instrumental) 4:08 

  9. Little Drummer Boy - George Kahumoku (instrumental) 7:19 

  10. Fireside Ki ho'alu - George Kuo (instrumental) 3:44 

  11. Medley: Kanaka Waiwai/Iesu No Ke Kahuhipa - Cindy Combs (instrumental) 4:59 

  12. Po La'i E (Silent Night) - Joanie Komatsu (vocal) 3:55 

  13. Silent Night - Ledward Kaapana (instrumental) 2:22 

Christmas is celebrated in Hawai’i, as in many other parts of the world, with great enthusiasm and elaborate preparations.  While much of the activity and music is closely linked to life in late 20th­century America, much is also quite unique to the Islands, reflecting its multi­cultural society and long Polynesian heritage.  No one knows for sure what year Christmas was first celebrated in Hawai’i, but the first celebrants were most likely European sailors who began stopping here on a fairly regular basis soon after Cook’s initial visit in 1778.  Called Kalikimaka in Hawaiian, Christmas grew in importance after 1820, when missionaries from New England arrived, and the Hawaiian churches blended Western and Hawaiian traditions, leading to the creation of beautiful, unique songs and styles.   

At Christmas, as at other times, local composers translated European and American carols and hymns or crafted new songs reflecting the Hawaiian experience.  Elbert & Mahoe’s book Na Mele o Hawai`i Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs includes a dozen Hawaiian originals and translations of Christmas songs, including Mary Kawena Pukui’s Kana Kaloka (“Santa Claus”), Kani nä Pele (“Jingle Bells”), Pö La’i Ë (“Silent Night”) and several versions of the New Year’s standard Auld Lang Syne, as translated by Queen Lili`uokalani in the 1890s. Hawaiian hymnals, such as Na Himeni Haipule Hawai’i, also include Christmas songs, many dating back to the nineteenth century. With the advent of commercial music in Hawai’i around the turn of the century, composers began churning out Christmas oriented popular songs in both Hawaiian and English.  The fad reached its peak in the decade following World War II, when Hawaiian music enjoyed international success and classics such as Mele Kalikimaka and a pidgin­language rendition of  The Twelve Days of Christmas traveled far and wide. 

Today  Hawaiian musicians continue to embrace traditional, imported, and local songs for the holiday season.  No matter where the music comes from, it invariably takes on a uniquely Hawaiian flavor in the hands of Hawaiian musicians, as the album Kï  Hö`alu Christmas aptly illustrates.  

Kï hö’alu (Slack Key) is a mainstay of entertainment and relaxation in many ‘ohana (families) assuring it a role in Hawaiian Christmas celebrations.  Kï hö’alu has also figured prominently in Hawaiian caroling and serenading, especially in rural areas where visits to the homes of neighbors and relatives are still often accompanied by some impromptu music­making.  Caroling is now mostly done in the cities or at churches, but Hawai’i’s ranching areas abound with colorful stories of paniolo (cowboys) riding up to a house, performing from the saddle, then riding off to their next destination.   

Professional musicians have also been known to go caroling with kï hö’alu.  Old­timers fondly recall a dream trio of Slack Key guitarists “Pops” Gabby Pahinui (1921-1980), Sonny Chillingworth (1932-1994) and ‘ukelele player Andy Cummings (1913-1995) strolling through Kähala and other exclusive neighborhoods at Christmas time, playing for tips and refreshments. 

As might be expected, Christmas recordings have a long history in Hawai‘i.  New holiday releases come out every year to join the local favorites returning to the stores and airwaves as faithfully as migratory birds.  Many prominent artists, from traditional figures like Aunty Genoa Keawe, Nina Keali’iwahamana, and The Sons of Hawaii, to more contemporary groups have released songs for the Christmas season.  The Waimanalo Keikis, a children’s group, has even recorded some Yuletide classics using kä’eke’eke, the traditional Hawaiian bamboo stamping tubes. 

Kï Hö`alu  Christmas brings together the artistry of thirteen of today’s most celebrated Slack Key masters.  While chestnuts seldom roast on an open fire in Hawai’i and our Christmases are only white high atop Mauna Kea, we do have the colors of the rainbow, along with feelings of aloha and the sounds of this beautiful, unique music to wish everyone around the world Mele Kalikimaka e Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year). 

SONG NOTES for Kï Hö`alu Christmas CD 

1.  Keola Beamer: Do You Hear What I Hear?  

In this instrumental version, Keola plays six guitars.  The two electric guitars are played in a (C­F­C­F­C­F) from the lowest pitched string to the highest.  The two acoustic steel guitars and two nylon 6­string guitars are played in a C Wahine Tuning (C­G­D­G­B­E), often referred to as “Keola’s C”, because he has been the most prolific Slack Key guitarist playing in this tuning. Wahine is the name for a tuning with the Major 7th note in it, here the B note on the 2nd string. 

Composed by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne in 1962.   

2.  Ledward Kaapana:  C–H–R–I–S–T–M–A–S (The Meaning of Christmas)  

Ledward plays the steel string guitar in a C Wahine Tuning (C­G­D­G­B­D), often known as “Leonard’s C” because it was the favorite tuning of the great Slack Key guitarist Leonard Kwan (1931-2000). 

Composed by Eddy Arnold and Jenny Lou Carson. Ledward was the first of the Slack Key guitarists recorded by Dancing Cat Records to spontaneously decide to record Christmas pieces, which eventually led to the concept of this album. 

3.  Cyril Pahinui: Mele Kalikimaka  

Cyril performs this perennial favorite on the 12-string guitar in the C Major Tuning (C­G­E­G­C­E),  tuned down two half steps to sound in the key of B flat, and often called “Atta’s C” since it was the favorite tuning of the great Slack Key guitarist Leland “Atta” Isaacs (1929-1983). It features Cyril’s great improvisational prowess on the many instrumental choruses. 

R. Alex Anderson composed this hapa haole (half Hawaiian, half foreign) classic in 1949 as Hawai’i’s answer to the song White Christmas.  With its jazzy swing and breezy lyrics that mix praise and promotion, it nicely expresses the optimistic spirit of both the holiday season and much Hawaiian music in the postwar era.  Recordings by local stars such as Genoa Keawe and Bing Crosby helped give the song a wide circulation.   

4.  Ozzie Kotani:  It Came Upon a Midnight Clear  

Ozzie plays this on the nylon string guitar in the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D­G­D­G­B­D).  

First published in 1849 as a poem by Edmund Hamilton Sears, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was adapted by Richard Storrs Willis as a musical composition in 1850.   

5.  George Kahumoku:  Little Drummer Boy  

George plays this contemporary holiday standard on the 12-string guitar in the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D­G­D­G­B­D).  

Composed in 1958 by Harry Simeone, Katherine Davis, and Henry Onorati. 

6.  Barney Isaacs and George Kuo:  Winter Wonderland 

Barney plays the acoustic steel guitar in the A minor 7th Tuning (C­E­G­A­C­E), and George Kou plays the steel string guitar in the C Wahine “Leonard’s C” Tuning (C-G-D-G-B-D).  

This jazz-influenced holiday piece was composed in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith.  .  

 7.  Dennis Kamakahi: Christmas Memories  

Dennis plays this on the 12-string guitar in the C Mauna Loa Tuning (C­G­E­G­A­E), tuned down three half steps to sound in the key of A.  

Here, Dennis performs a solo vocal version of a song he wrote in 1978 and first recorded on the album Christmas Time With Eddie Kamae and The Sons Of Hawaii (Hawaii Sons HS 4004). “Herb Kane did a painting for the cover of that album,” Dennis recalls.  “The house, the porch, people playing music; it all reminded me of what Christmas used to be like in Hawai’i.  That inspired me to write this song.  It expresses the thoughts of a man when he’s older thinking back to Christmases past.”   

Mauna Loa tunings are based on a Major chord with the top two thinnest strings tuned a 5th interval apart.  This way these two strings can be played in 6th intervals, producing a distinctively sweet sound.  The top two strings can also be “frailed” (strummed rapidly with the index finger), producing a characteristic sound of this tuning. 

8. James “Bla” Pahinui:   Away in a Manger  

Bla plays the steel string guitar in the Dropped D” Tuning (D­A­D­G­B­E), and capoed up two half steps to sound in the key of E.  

The origin of this classic Christmas hymn is still uncertain, although it is often credited to Martin Luther.   

9.  George Kuo: Fireside Kï Hö’alu 

George created this evocative piece in the G Major ‘Taro Patch” Tuning (D­G­D­G­B­D), tuned down two half steps to sound in the key of F, while visiting Lake Tahoe, California at Christmas time in 1990.  “The weather was very wintry,” he says, “but there was a fireplace where I was staying.  I saw all the colors in the flames dancing around and felt the warmth. That inspired the rhythms and the melody.” 

10.  Moses Kahumoku:  Christmas Carol Waltz 

Moses plays this evocative original on the nylon string guitar in the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D­G­D­G­B­D).  

11.  Cindy Combs: Kanaka Wai Wai & Iesu No Ke Kahuhipa  

Cindy plays this medley in the C Wahine “Keola’s C” Tuning (C–G–D–G–B–E), a favorite of hers because Keola Beamer was her first Slack Key teacher. 

Iesu me ke Kanaka Waiwai (Jesus and the Rich Man) is one of modern Hawai’i’s most popular himeni (hymns). Noted bandleader and songwriter John Kameaaloha Almeida claimed he composed it in 1915. Iesu No Ke Kahuipa is the Hawaiian version of Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, which was translated by Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, composer of the well known song Hawai`i Aloha.  It can be found in the hymn book Na Hïmeni Haipule Hawai`i

12.  Joanie Komatsu:  Pö La’i E (Silent Night)  

G Major Tuning (D­G­D­G­B­D) 

Joanie plays this in the in G Major “Taro Patch Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D) and sings both in Hawaiian and English.  Her sister Ruth Komatsu accompanies on the alto recorder, whose beautiful tone often sounds like a human voice. 

Composed in 1818 with words by Joseph Mohr and music by Franz Gruber. The English lyrics were adapted from the original German of Joseph Mohr; the lyrics were translated into Hawaiian by Stephen and Mary Desha.  

13.  Ledward Kaapana:  Silent Night  

Ledward plays this Christmas classic on the autoharp in the key of G in his unique solo style.  

Liner notes written by Jay Junker and George Winston. 
Produced by George Winston 
All recordings engineered and mixed by Howard Johnston  
Additional engineering by Porter Miller and Milan Bertosa 
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Los Angeles, CA. 
Cover photography and cover design by Nelson Makua 
Booklet interior editing and design by Su Gatch, with editing and research assistance by Heather Gray, Siobhan Hickey, and Leslie Schuette