Moses Kahumoku - Ho'okupu (The Gift) 

On his first solo Slack Key album, Moses presents brilliant and poignant original songs, as well as powerful interpretations of Hawaiian classics. With his background as a fisherman and farmer, Moses’ music is very closely related to the land and the sea. He embodies the traditions of the Big Island of Hawaii, as well as those of his family. He has used these elements to forge a style very distinctly his own.  

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

  1. Pohakuloa

  2. Laupahoehoe

  3. Pauahi ‘O Kalani

  4. Kona Kai ‘Opua

  5. Paniolo

  6. Ua (Rain)

  7. Lei Ka’ahumanu

  8. Ka’aha Point

  9. U’i Lani

  10. Moke’s Bounce

  11. Le’ale’a Lihau

  12. Pane Mai

  13. Kaula ‘IIi

  14. Hawai’i Aloha

A powerful improviser, gifted composer and interpreter, Moses “Moke” Kahumoku was born in 1953 in Honolulu, and was raised in Kalihi on the Big Island on the Big Island. Moses began playing music around the age of five, and like most ki ho`alu (Slack Key) masters, he looked first to his family for his source. “My first inspiration,” he says, “was the most beautiful lady in the world, Aileen N. Waiolama Perez, my mom. Others include my dad George Kahumoku, Sr., Sonny Chillingworth, Gabby Pahinui, Ledward Kaapana, Leonard Kwan, Ray Kane, Atta Isaacs, Cyril Pahinui and my stepdad, Roman P. Perez. I love them all.” 

A pillar of Big Island Slack Key, Moses is well known as a musician, farmer, fisherman and activist struggling to help protect the `aina (land) and work for Hawaiian sovereignty through his association with the Aloha `Aina organization and other groups. He is also well known outside of his home island for his performances and recordings with his brother George as The Kahumoku Brothers. “My brother George is the best  12 string Slack Key guitarist I’ve ever had the honor of playing with,” Moses says proudly. In addition to their own recordings, the two brothers have also worked with the group Na 'Oiwi, who accompanied kumu hula (hula master) and haku mele (composer) Aunty Edith Kanaka'ole on her highly acclaimed album HI'IPOI I KA 'AINA ALOHA (CHERISH THE BELOVED LAND) (Hula Records HS-568). 

Moses says he plays music because “it saves my soul.” He adds that he wants his listeners “to just enjoy and feel the positive gifts from Akua (God) through the sounds, rhythms and melodies.” Moses plays a nylon string guitar in G Major Tuning, also known as Open G or Taro Patch (D-G-D-G-B-D) from the lowest-pitched string to the highest, for all the songs on this album, and overall he uses at least six other tunings. Several distinctive characteristics of his instrumental style include extensive use of his thumb to play powerful arpeggios to embellish the melody, rapid pull-offs, fast single note picking, extensive improvisation, flamenco type picking techniques, and a very soulful approach to ballads. 

  1. Pohakuloa (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    This original composition showcases Moses’ soulful ballad style, and features his powerful arpeggios played with his thumb filling in the melody. 

    The song expresses many Hawaiians’ feelings about a beautiful place high on the side of the Mauna Kea volcano. “Pohakuloa has lava rock, native plants and animals and great mana (power), but the military was using it for bombing practice,” Moses relates. “The song was written in 1978 when I was hiking the area. It was written with the feeling, the sadness, that they were bombing our land.”  Moses interjects a sense of hope into this version of the song, communicating the good news that the bombing has now stopped, while Pohakuloa and aloha 'aina (love of the land) live on. 

  2. Laupahoehoe (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down two half steps to sound in the key of F. 
    Irmgard Farden Aluli, beloved leader of the family group Puamana, crafted this lively ode to youthful confidence with help from her friends, revered Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui and Namaka Bacon. Aluli says the idea for the song came to her while she was cleaning house. Even though she had never actually visited Laupahoehoe on the Big Island, the feeling about the place kept coming to her until she realized she had to write the song.  It has become a local standard and is frequently accompanied by a jaunty kane (male) hula brimming with joie de vivre (joy of life). 

    Moses plays this strong version as an instrumental. It features his trademark powerful muted sound, which he does by putting the side of his right hand on the guitar strings while playing with his fingers. It also features his stunning muted banjo-type three finger rolls on the high-pitched strings, as well as his great way of playing a D7th chord combining pull-offs and open strings. ‘Pull-off’ refers to the technique of plucking a string with the right-hand finger and immediately pulling the left-hand finger off of the fretboard, producing a second note which is either open or fretted by another left-hand finger. Also note a different use of his thumb arpeggios, especially on the highest pitched strings.  Moses picks with three fingers, but usually uses his thumb to play the arpeggios, whereas a guitarist like Ozzie Kotani will use four finger rolls for the same function, but the sound will be different. 

  3. Pau`ahi O Kalani (vocal) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Queen Lili`uokalani composed this lovely but seldom recorded mele inoa, or name song, for High Chiefess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The lyrics poetically praise her beauty, dignity and exalted position, and the hui (chorus) wishes her long life. Moses plays and sings this song with deep feeling. 

  4. Kona Kai `Opua (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D),  tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Perhaps because words are so central to traditional Hawaiian culture, lyrics often show remarkable durability, surviving intact or forming the basis for new compositions. Congregational choir director Henry Waiau fashioned this highly melodic mele pana (song of place) from an early 19th Century mele ho'oipoipo (love chant) that Kalola, widow of Kamehameha I, composed in honor of Liholiho, Kamehameha II. Like most Hawaiian compositions, it uses imagery from nature and draws upon specific places in a highly poetic fashion. The title refers to the pink cumulus (`opua) clouds that build in the sea beside Kona on the Big Island.  The lyrics also describe how the proud and serene `opua beautify Hualalai, the Big Island's third largest mountain. 

    Moses’ version here uses different tempos to express the feelings of the three different sections within this song. Kona Kai `Opua has also been recorded by Slack Key guitarist George Kuo, also in G Tuning, on his album NAHENAHE (Hula Records CDHS- 576) and by Atta Isaacs with the Maile Serenaders on SLACK KEY & STEEL GUITAR INSTRUMENTALS, VOLUME 1 (Hula Records HS-517) in his C Major Tuning (C-G-E-G-C-E),  played in the key of F. 

  5. Paniolo (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). 
    Originally given as a gift to King Kamehameha I by the British explorer, Vancouver, cattle have been a major part of the local culture since the early 19th century. Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys), trained by Mexican cowboys (vaqueros), have been riding the range and making their lariats hum before there were ranches in the fabled American West. Moses composed this tune in honor of the paniolo greats of Hawai`i. He dedicates it specifically to the memory of Ikua Purdy, the famous Big Island paniolo who won first place (and a standing ovation) at the 1908 world championship rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming. This song features Moses’ trademark pull-offs on the top two pitched strings. 

  6. Ua (Rain) (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Water, in all of its forms, plays a major role in the poetic language of Hawaiian music. This Slack Key instrumental by Moses extends the tradition. It conveys in melody, Moses says, “the feeling of being cleansed throughout the spiritual, mental and physical by being in tune with the natural elements.” 

  7. Lei Ka'ahumanu (vocal) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D),  tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    According to Marmionett Ka'aihue's lovely and informative book, Songs of Helen Desha Beamer, Ka'ahumanu was composed for 'Ahahui Ka'ahumanu, the well-known Hawaiian benevolent society named for Kamehameha I's chief wife. The stately anthem with its strong suggestion of a processional, praises Ka'ahumanu, adorned in a lei of love and victory, made of yellow mamo feathers.  In the chorus, Helen calls upon na kini o ka 'aina, the multitudes of the land, to arise in unity, with one heart, and perpetuate in Ka'ahumanu's name. This song has been memorably recorded by Helen’s famous descendent Mahi Beamer on his album MAHI (issued on both Hula Records HS- 404 and Capitol Records T-1698) , and by the late Slack Key guitarist Gabby Pahinui recorded in the C Mauna Loa Tuning (C-G-E-G-A-E) on his album GABBY (“the Brown Album”) [Panini records].  

  8. Ka'aha Point (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Moses wrote this hauntingly beautiful portrait of the title location, which he describes as “a place of mysterious beauty and color, where I enjoy meditation.”  

  9. U'i Lani (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    ‘Hawai'i's Songbird,’ Lena Machado (1903-1974) composed this exquisitely tender love song for a heavenly beautiful young woman, her newborn grandchild. As the English portion of the lyrics say, in my bosom I caress you with a lullaby.  Notable recorded versions of this frequently requested favorite include Machado's own and a stunning 1970s version by Hui Ohana, featuring the leo ki'eki'e (falsetto) majesty of Dennis Pavao and the Slack Key mastery of his cousin, Ledward Kaapana. This great instrumental version by Moses is a more feisty interpretation of the song. 

  10. Moke's Bounce #1 (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Another original by Moses, this song features a strong swing tempo, his trademark pull-offs, and some interesting chiming notes during the muted part at the end of the piece, which seem to come out of nowhere. 

  11. Le'a Le'a Lihau (vocal) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Attributed to the dean of Hawaiian music, Johnny Kameaaloha Almeida (1897-1985), this paean to good-time pleasures and cool misty rain becomes a march in Moses' arrangement, which features rapid harmonics and picked single notes, as well as more feisty pull-offs and great arpeggio work. 

  12. Pane Mai (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down two half steps to sound in the key of F. 
    Composed by Robert Cazimero, one half of The Brothers Cazimero and kumu hula of the Gentlemen of Na Kamalei, the lilting, folksy Pane Mai was debuted on his 1978 solo album. It very effectively uses the title phrase (which means “answer me”) as a repeating motif throughout the song. Moses’ instrumental version here gives the piece a paniolo feeling. 

  13. Kaula 'ili (vocal) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#, and fingered in the keys of G and C, therefore sounding in the keys of F# and B.. 
    A popular paniolo song, now closely associated with the late Slack Key master Sonny Chillingworth (1923-1994), Kaula 'ili describes riding across the treacherously shifting volcanic soil of Waimea. “Ho'omakaukau kou kaula 'ili i luna o ka pu'u Kanakaleonui,” the songs says, “Get your kaula 'ili (rawhide lasso) ready while riding over the top of the hill called the man with the big voice.” “E ho'olohe i ke kani a na manu,” the song continues, “Hear the singing of the birds. Oh never mind, ke hina pu, ua hiki no, We're in this together, it's okay.” Moses recorded the song in tribute to Sonny, who has been one of his inspirations. Sonny Chillingworth recorded it on his albums WAIMEA COWBOY (Lehua Records), and SONNY SOLO (Dancing Cat Records). 
    Played in the key of G, Moses also modulates for the third verse near the end to the key of C before coming back to the key of G for the next verse and a beautiful instrumental break end the piece. 

  14. Hawai'i Aloha (instrumental) - Nylon string guitar in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D), tuned down one half step to sound in the key of F#. 
    Composed by the Waimea-based missionary, Rev. Lorenzo Lyons (1807-1886), this is perhaps Hawai'i's best known himeni (hymn).  It praises Hawai'i's beloved ridges, glistening streams, and beautiful flower gardens, and calls to all na 'opio o Hawai'i (Hawai'i's youth) to celebrate the gentle breezes that blow love always for Hawai'i.   Although Lyons was not a native speaker, he learned to master the Hawaiian language and the deep poetic idioms of traditional composition.  He wrote or translated hundreds of himeni.  A staunch supporter of the kingdom, he is reported to have asked on his death bed that he be buried wrapped in the Hawaiian flag.  The story goes that King David Kalakaua himself sent the flag. Moses’ instrumental version here again features his very soulful ballad style.  

    Ray Kane has also recorded a vocal version, also playing in the G Major Tuning, on his album PUNAHELE (Dancing Cat Records). 

    Notes written by Jay W. Junker and George Winston. 

    Other Tunings Used by Moses  

    On this album: 
    All songs are in G Major “Taro Patch” Tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D) from lowest- to highest-pitched string. 

     Other tuning used by Mosess: 
    G Wahine (D-G-D-F#-B-D) 
    C Wahine (C-G-D-G-B-D), also known as “Leonard’s C” 
    C Wahine (C-G-E-G-B-D), also known as “Hanalei C” 
    C Major (C-G-E-G-C-E), also known as “Atta’s C” 
    D Major (D-A-D-F#-A-D) 
    D6th (D-A-D-F#-B-D)