Bla Pahinui - Mana 

 James Daniel “Bla” Pahinui is the second oldest son of Hawaiian music and Slack Key legend Gabby Pahinui.  A founding member of the band The Sunday Manoa, The Gabby Band and The Pahinui Brothers, Bla proudly perpetuates his family’s heartfelt commitment to deep Hawaiian music. On Mana, his first solo effort, Bla performs original instrumentals, his deepy soulful interpretations of  Hawaiian standards, and his other passion, ballads from the Rock ‘n’ Roll era of the 1950s and the 1960s.  

1.  Incoming (instrumental) 4:58 
2.  Ka`ena    (vocal)   6:54 
3.  Aloha Ka Manini  (vocal)   5:32 
4.  E Aloha E  (vocal)    4:55 
5.  Meleana E   (vocal)   3:02 
6.  Kaua`i Beauty  (vocal)   5:28 
7.  Gabby Kai (instrumental) 4:49 
8.  Ku`u Ipo [I Ka He`e Pu`e One]   (vocal)   4:57 
9.  Sanoe   (vocal)   5:08 
10.  Maori Brown Eyes (instrumental) 3:46 
11.  ‘50s’ Medley: Silhouettes (On the Shade)/ Goodnight My LoveCan’t Help Falling in Love (With You)   (vocal)   7:27 
12.  Isa Lei (instrumental) 6:25  

James Daniel “Bla” Pahinui was born in 1942 and raised in Waimänalo.  He is the second oldest son of Slack Key legend Charles Philip “Gabby” Pahinui.  A founding member of Sunday Manoa, The Gabby Band and The Pahinui Brothers, Bla proudly perpetuates his family’s heartfelt commitment to Hawaiian music. He plays and sings with tremendous heart, soul and feeling, and exhibits profound aloha for humanity both in and outside the music realms.  Currently Bla works for the City and County of Honolulu  Department of Parks & Recreation and has counseled troubled youth with Job Corps. 

Bla’s first instrument was a two by four with four nails at the top, four nails at the bottom and fishing line stretched between. “When I was real young I used to play with that for hours,” Bla says. “Then, when I was ten my father bought me a Martin tenor `ukulele.  It cost $78, a lot of money back then. The first song he taught me to play on it was Poor People of Paris.”   

As a teenager, Bla got into Latin music.  “A school mate showed me all the licks, what goes where, and another friend taught me flamenco,” he says. Bla retains his love for Latin music.  “I just saw the biography of the Gypsy Kings.  Awesome, and their jam sessions are almost identical to my dad’s.”   

Gabby’s jam sessions attained a mythic status in Slack Key circles.  According to those who attended, the myth is minor compared to the reality.  “He’d bring his friends over and they never went home!” Bla says.  “For two weeks it would be a full on jam everyday, twenty–fours.  The police would come and put up road blocks.  The only ones allowed onto Bell Street were people who lived there.”  At times even busloads of tourists would arrive for these events.  “The bus drivers all knew Gabby and they’d pull up in their big buses packed with tourists. So all that was going on and my mom was flipping out!  Most of the time she’d be down at the beach picking seaweed or in the kitchen cooking for everybody.  She’d cook up spare ribs, kälua pig and cabbage, some heavy stuff, beef stew, fish the max.  You’d walk into the house and all you’d see was wall to wall people and food.”  Sometimes even the police would go get the supplies.  “They’d bring boxes of food, from fish to whatever  and my mom would cook for them too.  It was a knockout back then in the ‘50s.” 

Besides Hawaiian and Latin music, Bla also heard a lot of R&B in the ‘50s.  Even today, if you mention the names, he can sing the songs.  “Shep and The Limelights, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, The Ponytails, Lee Andrews & The Hearts, Bob & Earl, Bobby Day & The Hollywood Flames...Oh man, those are GREAT songs!”   

In Waikïkï Betty Reilly had a nightclub. “She brought all the Mainland groups. What a joy! We’d stay there all night.”  Bla and his friends even started their own rock band, The Playboys.  “We did a lot of Chuck Berry songs. I played a Telecaster. We used to blow.  Good fun days.” 

Gabby encouraged music in the family.  “He bought me everything I wanted,” Bla says,  

“including a purple Les Paul.”  Gabby never criticized his children’s music.  “He knew I was a rock and roller, but he never said anything about that.  He told me once that Hawaiian music is the foundation, but he never told me what to play.  He always said, ‘play whatever you feel, whatever makes you happy, but always keep Hawaiian music in your heart.’ It took me a lot of years to realize where he was coming from.”  

Page BreakBy the early 1960s, with the folk music boom in full swing on the mainland, Bla began getting back to acoustic instruments and Hawaiian roots.  In 1962, he met Peter Moon at Ala Moana Bowls, a popular surfing site.  “Peter always carried his `ukulele with him, so I started bringing down my guitar.”  In 1966 Peter came up with the idea of doing an album with Palani Vaughn and Bla’s brother Cyril. “We came out with the album Meet Palani Vaughn & The Sunday Manoa (Hula Records).  After that, Palani left and Cyril went in the service.  Peter, Albert Kalima, Jr. and I carried on in 1969 with the Hawaiian Time album.” 

 Finally, in the early 1970s, Bla joined his father and brothers, Philip, Cyril and Martin in The Gabby Band, one of the most beloved and influential groups of the 1970s. “My dad always wanted his sons with him,” Bla recalls, “but he knew the only way he would get that was when the time was right.  So when he left The Sons of Hawai`i, he got us together with him, Slack Key guitarists Uncle Sonny Chillingworth and Leland “Atta” Isaacs, and bassist Joe Gang.” 

In their day, at the height of the Hawaiian Renaissance, The Gabby Band filled stadiums, outsold the big rock releases and revitalized the Slack Key scene. Gabby Pahinui became an icon for local kids of all musical and ethnic backgrounds.  “My dad was really flowing back then,”  Bla says. “He had all this talent and all this support around him.  But after five albums, everything came to a standstill.  There were problems, so my dad stayed away from music for awhile and really got into my mom and the family. He wanted to do another album with the sons alone.  But the sad thing was that the sons weren’t ready. That was his biggest wish, but the Lord took him October 13, 1980.” 

Throughout the 1980s, Bla continued to perform with friends and family. In 1992 Bla, Cyril and Martin finally recorded an album together entitled The Pahinui Brothers. Recorded on Maui, with Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Jim Keltner, Van Dyke Parks, Dwight Yoakam and other Mainland artists, the album came out to rave reviews.  Since then Bla has been recording solo for Dancing Cat Records, and with his esenembe for Mountain island Records. 

Like a few others, including Mainland guitarist Eizabeth Cotton (1895-1987) [well known for her her song Freight Train] Bla plays the guitar in the unusual Left–handed fashion: turning the guitarupside down and backwards without changing the strings (many Left-handed guitarists, incuduing Jimi Hendrix, restrung the guitar for normal playing when they turned the guitar over). Bla plays all the songs on this album in the in the key of D in the “Dropped D” tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E - from the lowest pitched string to the highest),  either on the steel string or on the nylon string guitar. He has a unique sound within the Slack Key tradition and distinct characteristics of his playing are;  

  1. playing in an almost–Standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E) [except for the lowered 6th string] 

  2. his rhythm strum up (towards then ceiling) with his thumbnail 

  3. strumming down (towards the floor) with his index finger 

  4. picking his bass with his index finger while picking the high pitches with his thumb, the opposite way of players who play the guitar the normal “Right-handed” way. 

In the studio, Bla found working solo a challenging but rewarding experience. “Seven days a week I started playing my guitar, looking for something. That felt so totally different, hearing only what one person can do.” Through the struggle, Bla came to some profound realizations, including interpreting traditional and standard pieces both as vocals and as instrumentals, composing original instrumental and vocal pieces, experimenting with keys other than D in the Dropped D Tuning, and occasionaly experimenting  with other tunings such as the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), and Standard Tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E). 

Bla says as he gets older he sees what it means to be part of a tradition.  Because of the Pahinui heritage, he believes it’s important to keep sharing music with others.  These days he enjoys playing solo, dropping by to play with friends like Dennis Kamakahi and Mike Ka`awa at Shipley’s or sitting in with The Native Hawaiian Band. “As far as following what Gabby left behind, there’s no way because only he could do that.  If somebody told me I could fill his shoes, I’d laugh. Maybe ten years ago I would’ve believed that but today, no way.  I’d rather go fishing or walk with my wife down the beach. For me, music is one thing, life another.  Without a good life, what is music?”  

  1. Incoming 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E - from the lowest pitched string to the highest [Standard Tuning with the lowest pitched E string tuned down two half steps to D]. Here the guitar is also capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E. 

    The title of this original serves an important function among several Slack Key players and their ex-servicemen friends. "It's a joke we use when the enemy's approaching," Bla says. "Somebody says 'incoming' and that's the for the door, somebody you don't want to see is coming."  

  2. Ka`ena 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E. 

    Samuel K. Halstead’s best–known composition refers to the westernmost point on O`ahu, an important and sacred spot in traditional Hawaiian culture.  The lyrics describe inviting eyes, a soft voice and a lei of pearls moistened by the seaspray.  Ka`ena has twelve verses but most performers sing four or five.  Bla originally recorded the song with the Sunday Manoa on the Hawaiian Time album (Hula Records 528).  It became a local standard.  “I got a lot of requests for Ka`ena,” Bla says, “but I never did it before ‘cause I never practiced it.  With the chance to record it, I made the time to relearn it.”. 

  3. Aloha Ka Manini 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E 

    Lot Kauwe’s tribute (on the surface at least) to the Manini, Pöpolo and other reef fish, Aloha Ka Manini receives a complete reworking of the melody by Bla, much like the late, great New Orleans pianist James Booker often did on songs like Goodnight Irene, a 3/4 time song that James played as a 4/4 time song. Bla also recorded the classic Hi’ilawe withHawaiian musicians are very creative and individualistic in their interpretations of songs, and with Bla changing both the melody and time signature, it takes this to a whole new level. “I was playing around in the studio on the steel string, using a bunch of different chord changes, and worked in a little bit of Latin influence. It really gives it a different texture.”  Gabby Pahunui recorded it in with the original melody in 1972 on his album THE GABBY PAHINUI HAWAIIAN BAND – Vol 1 (Panini Records 1007), playing in his C Wahine Tuning (C-G-E-G-B-E), along with Atta Isaacs,  playing in his C Major Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E).

  4. E Aloha E (Embracing Life) 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E. 
    Bla adapted the music from an old party song called Uka Good, and Wally Naope wrote new lyrics.  “Wally’s a good friend of mine,” Bla says. “He’s like a teacher to me. I asked him to write some new verses and I put together some new music.  It came from deep within our hearts.  When I hear it I get chicken skin.”  

  5. Meleana E 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E)  
    A turn of the century party song about Mary Ann, who, as the lyrics say, likes to give massages – among other things.  Aunty Genoa Keawe recorded a very swinging version on her album Luau Hulas (Hula 514).  The Ho`opi`i Brothers recorded it in the classic chalangalang style on their album Ho`omau (Mountain Apple 2037). “There are so many ways to play this song,” Bla says.  “We had a good time recording this.”  

  6. Kaua`i Beauty 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B-E), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E.
    This beautiful song by Henry Waiau pays tribute to the Garden Isle and to a beloved mokihana lei  that will never be forgotten.  As a member of The Gabby Band, Bla helped record the well known version that can be heard on Rabbit Island Music Festival (Panini 1004).  “That’s one of my favorites of all the favorites of my dad,” Bla says.  “It’s the way he sang it from the heart. They still play it a lot on the radio and everytime I hear it I get chicken skin. When I recorded it on the steel string, I cried.  There’s only one man for me and I did it with love for him, my dad, to say thank you.”  

  7. Gabby Kai 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E. 

    An original instrumental composition, Gabby Kai came to Bla in 1994. The title comes from the name of his brother Peter’s fishing boat that was named after Gabby.  Kai is Hawaiian for sea water.  “I always told myself I wasn’t a Slack Key player,” he explains.  “I was my father’s right hand rhythm guitar player.  He always wanted me on his right side to keep the meter, not plucking but full on six string strumming.  That was my job so I never did use my fingers.  But playing solo, I experimented a couple months, seven days a week, plucking away, adding runs, changing keys. It really started getting radical and that’s when Gabby Kai came into view.  I’d play it in the studio and finally one night, bingo.  It came out totally different from what I originally thought but it was good fun.”  

  8. Ku`u Ipo [I Ka He`e Pu`e One] 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E) 

    The ali`i (royalty) of Hawai`i have traditionally been active patrons of music and dance.  Ku`u Ipo I Ka He`e Pu`e One illustrates this well.  It was composed by Princess Likelike (1851–1887).  Accomplished on piano, guitar and `ukulele, Princess Likelike was important to the musical life of her day.  She and her royal siblings, Kaläkaua, Lili`uokalani and Leleiöhoku, are often referred to collectively as Nä  lani `Ehä, the Heavenly Four, for their contributions to Hawaiian music.  With a highly developed poetic sense and a remarkable ability to adapt outside influences to local use, they worked to preserve mele kahiko (ancient style chant and hula) and popularize newer forms of song and dance. 

    Although Princess Likelike was particularly close to her older sister, Hawai`i’s greatest composer Queen Lili`uokalani, composer of Aloha `Oe and over 150 other pieces, her  music is not as well known as that of her siblings, but several of her songs continue to circulate widely.  She also influenced other writers.  For example, the phrasing of the melody in this mele ho`oipoipo (love song) established a fairly common pattern heard in many later songs.  The title refers poetically to a sweetheart who surfs over the sand bar into the mouth of the stream. 

    “I fell in love with this song when the Cazimeros did it.  They did a great job,” says Bla. He performed the song for about three years with his cousin Bernard Kalua.  “This was Bernard’s song,” Bla says.  “His phrasing is what inspires me. I do it cause I love all those guys.” As in the earlier Aloha Ka Manini, Bla again creatively reworked the melody of Ku`u Ipo to suit himself, and changed the time signature to 3/4.  

  9. Sanoe 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E), with the guitar capoed up three frets to sound in the key of F. 

    Another highly personalized treatment here, this time of a Monarchy era standard from the days of diaries, love poetry, waltzing and serenades.  By Queen Lili`uokalani and Kapeka Sumner, Sanoe describes a romance at the court of Lili`u’s elder brother, King David Kaläkaua. Sanoe was brought back into general circulation by `ukulele master Eddie Kamae and Gabby with the Sons of Hawaii on Music of Old Hawaii (Hula Records). Slack Key guitar master, Keola Beamer, has also recorded an instrumental version for Dancing Cat on Moe`uhane Kïkä. 

    “For me this goes back to my dad,” says Bla. “A lot of the Hawaiian songs go back to my dad.”  

  10. Maori Brown Eyes 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E) 

    Claude Malani’s Slack Key classic extols the beauty and powerful attraction of a certain resident of Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, also known as New Zealand. Maori Brown Eyes was originally played as a waltz back in the 1920s and 1930s, but since the 1950s, it has been more often played in 4/4 time. Bla does a unique instrumental version of this song on the nylon string. One of the most influential has been Leonard Kwan’s instrumental rendition in the G6th Mauna Loa Tuning (D–G–D–EG–D on his album Slack Key (referred to as “the Red Album” in Slack Key circles) on Tradewinds Records, and it has been reissued with all of Leonard’s other early tracks on CD on Hana Ola Records HOCD 55000, with the title LEONARD KWAN–SLACK KEY MASTER–THE COMPLETE EARLY RECORDINGS). The late Slack Key master Sonny Chillingworth, Malani’s nephew, also recorded a beautiful vocal version on Sonny Solo (Dancing Cat Records) in the same G6th Mauna Loa tuning. “This one came right out of the blue,” Bla says. “Just one take. We didn’t even rehearse. It’s all heart.”  

  11. ‘50’s Medley:  Silhouettes (On the Shade)/ Goodnight My Love/ Can’t Help Falling In Love (With You)                     
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E). 

    Like many musicians of his generation, Bla enjoys R&B and rock from the 1950s and 60s, his formative years. “These songs will always be with me,” he says,  “from the days of Oxfords, Levi jackets, chops, curly hair hanging down in front. Cool. Real cool.” Bla has always enjoyed interjecting a few golden oldies into every set.  He feels his diverse tastes stem from his father.  “He always enjoyed all kinds of music,” Bla says, “jazz, Latin, even rock. He really loved the Beatles and The Stones. Hey Jude and Lady Jane were his favorites; you should’ve heard him play them on the steel.” 

    Recently Bla has been experimenting with arranging songs as instrumentals on the nylon string guitar, such as on this medley. It opens with the hit Silhouettes from 1957, which The Rays took up to #3, and The Diamonds took up to #10. Jesse Belvin’s beautiful Goodnight My Love dates from 1953. Elvis Presley debuted Can’t Help Falling In Love in his 1962 movie Blue Hawaii. ”I’m working on Love Me Tender for a future album,” Bla says, “it’s even slower. More tears.. 

  12. Isa Lei 
    Dropped D Tuning (D–A–D–G–B–R), with the guitar capoed up two frets to sound in the key of E. 

    Isa Lei is the deep poignant Fijian song of farewell popularized in Hawai`i by Harry Owens, Bla also recorded a vocal version on the Pahinui Brothers album (Panini Records).  “I loved it and wanted to do did it again as an instrumental for this album.” Gabby also performed it in a medley with Aloha `Oe on his album Pure Gabby (Hula Records) in his F Wahine tuning (F–C–E–G–C–E).   

    Notes written by Jay W. Junker with technical assistance by George Winston.


    Bla plays all songs on this album in the in the key of D in the Dropped D tuning (D–A–D–G–B–E, from the owest pitched string to the highest), and often using a capo to raise the pitch to match his vocal range. All songs are played on the steel string guitar, except for the Medley: Silhouettes (On the Shade) / Goodnight My Love / Can’t Help Falling In Love (With You) and Maori Brown Eyes, which is played on the nylon string guitar.  

    Bla occasionally pays in the key of G in the Dropped D Tuning tuning (on Wahine U’I [to be issued]), and the key of C (on Pupu Hinuhinu [to be issued]). 

    He also occationally plays in the Standard Tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E)    He also occasionally plays in the G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning  (D-G-D-G-B-D) –  on the album THE RABBIT ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL album – in the intro to Kaua’i Beauty; and on the album GABBY (the “Brown Album”), in the intros to Lihue, Leahi, and Lei No Kai’ulani.