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Music Review

Ka Hikina o ka Hau, Keola Beamer, (Dancing Cat Records)


Keola Beamer has for years been one of Hawai‘i’s greatest masters of ki ho‘alu (slack key guitar). On Ka Hikina o ka Hau (The Coming of the Snow), though, Beamer heads into uncharted waters. This isn’t a Hawaiian slack key record, at least not the kind you’re used to. Instead, Beamer tackles a range of classical compositions—from Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedies” to Christmas favorite “The Little Drummer Boy.”

In the liner notes, co-producer Daniel O’Donoghue, who arranged most of the works, explains that slack key’s unconventional and flexible tuning allowed him to re-create classical arrangements on the guitar in a way that standard tuning never could. “When you’ve adapted music to the guitar 10,000 times, why not for once try adapting the guitar to the music?” he writes.

What does it sound like? The album’s title turns out to be pretty apt. The mood throughout is melancholy, contemplative. The stripped-down instrumentation lends the music a sparse elegance. Just don’t expect to throw this on at your next afternoon barbecue.

Beamer has created a chilly but beautiful collection of music, using ki ho‘alu’s acoustic tones to capture classical music’s subtleties amazingly well.

“Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening”
“Gymnopedie No. 1”
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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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