In Tune with the Aloha

The legendary Beamer 'ohana offers a chance to immerse yourself in Hawaiian music and culture on Moloka'i.

Under a full moon on a warm June night, the ocean is shimmering at Kaupoa Beach on Moloka’i, and as the waves roll in, music and laughter fill the air. Some folks are playing slack key guitar around a campfire. Nearby, a group of ‘ukulele players is strumming Hawaiian songs, pop tunes and standards like "Blue Moon."

Over the past two years, Liko Puha, of Hilo, and 10-year-old Anthony Brookins, of Washington State, struck up a friendship at the camp. They bonded in a beginning slack key class. Here, they perform together at the student concert. photo: Heidi Chang

This is a typical night at Aloha Music Camp, when people are free to relax or kani ka pila (play music). They’ve come from all over the world, mostly the Mainland, and including a few locals and kama`aina from the Islands, to immerse themselves in a week of Hawaiian music and culture. Slack key pioneer Keola Beamer came up with the idea for the camp after teaching slack key guitar on the Mainland.

Aloha Music Camp

The next camp will be held Feb. 5-11, 2006 at Kaupoa Beach Village, Moloka’i.
Packages start at $1,600 and include three meals a day, accommodations for six nights, all workshops and evening concerts.
(541) 899-8656, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (West Coast time).

"In Hawaiian music, you don’t just learn the music, but also what the lyrics and metaphors mean, the kauna, the double meanings of certain verses. So I was searching for a way to pass on some of these beautiful ideas in music, in a way that made more sense culturally," recalls Beamer, who is also a singer and songwriter. He runs the camp in a partnership with Mark Nelson, a fellow musician in Oregon. Beamer is the artistic director and Nelson is the camp administrator.

The first Aloha Music Camp was in 2001, on the island of Hawai’i. Since then, it’s been held six times, with the past two retreats on the Friendly Isle. It’s open to anyone interested in playing Hawaiian music, learning the language or dancing the hula. Many are drawn here to learn from the Beamer ‘ohana, one of Hawai’i’s most respected musical families.

About half of those who sign up are returnees, like Angela Gobelin. A radio host in Germany, she fell in love with the the people here, like the Beamers and Auntie Nona, and with learning slack key, ‘ukulele, oli (chant) and hula. "The camp gives us the opportunity to get deeper inside the culture. That changed my life," says Gobelin, back for her fourth camp.

This is the fifth time Richard Wasserman has come to the retreat. He’s inspired by the "spirit of aloha that you get when your music is critiqued by Keola and others, in such a loving and beneficial way." Wasserman says this experience has also helped him be a better listener, which is crucial in his work as an attorney in Oregon. "You try not to be judgmental. Think of the value of what others have to say, instead of how to respond and refute it."

photo: Heidi Chang

Mahiki Aki Lankford, 59, is grateful she was awarded a camp scholarship. Lankford is pure Hawaiian and grew up on Moloka’i, where she volunteers at Maunaloa School to teach children ‘ukulele and Hawaiian songs. She believes music can be a positive outlet for kids who often "see drugs and domestic violence." Lankford was thrilled to learn oli and slack key at the camp, and is now also teaching that to children.

So in the mood to try something new or nurture your soul? Response has been so positive, the next Aloha Music Camp will be held this February. "A lot of people have kind of complex lives, a lot of responsibilities, says Keola Beamer. "And for this moment, this week on Moloka’i, they follow their hearts."