Party Songs Hawaiian Style

Featuring Hawaii's own Slack Key guitar with Leonard KwanFeaturing Hawaii’s own slack key guitar with Leonard Kwan…a Tradewinds Record

A Touch of Folksy, Nostalgic Old Hawaii

One of the most exciting things that can happen to a person is a real, honest-to-goodness Hawaiian party. It can happen any place, any time, and it’s very likely to be impromptu. Conviviality reigns. Food and drink are abundant. Everybody sings and dances. Most play one or more instruments. Ukuleles appear from nowhere, and if you’re very lucky there’s a slack key guitarist among the group…or someone rounds him up. The music is sure to begin at a lively tempo with hulas familiar to all. As the party progresses, the mood becomes more sentimental. Later the less familiar numbers begin to creep in as each artist performs his special numbers, sometimes a piece handed down to him in secrecy by an older member of his family.

These Hawaiian party songs are many things: sweet and sentimental; playful and peppy; sensuous and suggestive; nostalgic, reverent. But above all they are rhythmical, for Hawaiians are a people who dance their songs, and the rhythms of the earth are strong in these exuberant people.

Slack Key Guitar Indigenous to Hawaii

A unique guitar technique, peculiar to The Islands, slack key almost defies description. Basically an unusual tuning (and there are several different slack key tunings, including two known as “Wahine” and “Maunaloa”) in which the tension is lowered to produce a deep, vibrant tone, this difficult method has been handed down by demonstration. There are no written instructions.

Admired and respected as a style, slack key evolved, probably in the 1880’s, from the Spanish guitar brought to Hawaii by sailors aboard whaling ships of the early 19th century.

Slack key is related in philosophy and attitude to flamenco, a sort of gypsy jazz, in that its essence is improvisation and its rhythms are the heartbeat of the folk.

Leonard Kwan, our slack key guitarist for this album, is one of the few younger musicians of Hawaii who have mastered the style. A versatile musician, he plays many string instruments.

about the selections…

Side One:

  1. Haleakala Hula (2:38), snappy and happy-hearted, concerns the fascinating beauty of Haleakala—not a lovely little brown gal but—the world’s largest dormant volcano…Haleakala, “House of the Sun,” on the island of Maui.

  2. Po Mahina (3:03)—a slow, dreamy-voiced tune backed by the steady, sensuous beat of the slack key guitar—suggests, even to the ear unfamiliar with Hawaiian words, a romantic moonlight night. And that’s precisely what “Po Mahina” is all about…it’s a love song of a couple walking in the moonlight.

  3. A Song to Hawaii (2:33) explains that, in Hawaii, the spirit of Aloha begins with the elements: the wind, the waves, even the flowers. With simplicity and reverence, Bob Pauhale Davis sings this tribute to the land of his birth—Hawaii, now the Aloha state.

  4. Manini Chimes (1:11) is a new title to an old tune. It is a brief slack key “excercise” handed down by tune and technique, but not by name, to our artist from his uncle. In this, its first recording, it’s christened “Manini,” a lively pint-sized number, or literally, “alert little fish.”

  5. He Aloha No Honolulu (2:16), to hula enthusiasts immediately suggests a line of quick-stepping hula girls, naughty-sweet in their swishing ti-leaf skirts. With diamond-bright eyes they sing of the excitement of a trip from Honolulu to the big island of Hawaii and of the sights along the way.

  6. Kahoolawe Hula (2:41), for all its melodious and rhythmical appeal, describes the island of Kahoolawe, always a harsh, dry island where few but goats have ever lived. today it is a barren, and (though it is not expressed in the song) pock-marked island of exploded and unexploded shells, a military target isle.

Side Two:

  1. Opihi Moemoe (3:00) was recorded earlier as a single record, and as such this lively number with a magnetic beat has had a great deal to do with Leonard Kwan’s rapidly growing popularity as a slack key artist in Hawaii. The piece, a no-name hand-me-down for generations, is now called “Sleepy Opihi” (tiny shellfish).

  2. Noho Paipai (2:22) is the “Rocking Chair” hula, in which the vocal portion is almost sleepy, while the syncopation of slack key accompaniment is rather rhumba-like. The lyrics are romantic: the poet yearns for his love, whom he has kissed as a stranger.

  3. Yellow Ginger Lei (2:34) is sweet and slow, and this tremolo slack key version gives a vibrant quality appropriate to a hula about a fragile flower. The yellow ginger is a favorite island blossom, delicate and of spicy fragrance, which blooms in moist, verdant valleys.

  4. “Susy” Ana E (2:49), lively and saucy, is a typical Hawaiian hula. It was written in admiration of a girl called “Susy” Ana, a girl with pretty eyes, a girl who goes swimming and fishing with her kane (man).

  5. Nahenahe (1:50), another traditional tune with a new title, suggests sweet music, soft winds, gentle manners. Our slack key version reveals a strong Spanish influence, remembering slow, formal patterns of dance, courtly manners, and then…provocative castanets.

  6. Ahi Wela (2:58), “Love Hot as Fire,” is an old and well-loved song in which Hawaiians use the hymn-like style of singing brought to them by New England missionaries…to tell of a passionate, all-consuming love.

the artists:

Leonard Kwan, slack key guitar and mandolin
Bob Pauhale Davis, baritone
The Kamaha’os Trio: Kalona Manning, Kaua Ioane, Kape Kauhane
Thomas Kaheiki, bass
William Kaawa, guitar

Notes by: Mazeppa Costa & Margaret Williams
Cover by: Allison-Nieman Graphic Design Associates, Honolulu
Published by: Tradewinds Records, Honolulu


(Another thrift-store find, this one. The great 60’s era graphic design and wonderful title caught my eye. The music isn’t bad, but doesn’t grab me as much as many other find have, but that’s all part of the fun of randomly grabbing old records.)


  1. Lorna Soberano
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Aloha Michael, One of the Kamaha’os trio is my Mother(Kalona Manning)She was a Beautiful Hawaiian Singer.Could you tell me where did you get this album.

  2. Posted January 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Aloha, Lorna! Neat to know that your mother is on this recording — that’s wonderful! I found this at a Goodwill thrift store here in Washington, a totally random find.

  3. Peter G.
    Posted May 12, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I admire what you have done here. I like the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the comments that this is working for you as well.

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