November 12, 2004

Comfort Stew

OK so yeah my subtitle says "dubwise" and "hiphopcentric", but when I'm in the mood for comfort food, it's all about Hawaiian music. (And yes, Joni Mitchell—original hip-hop diva.)

It's been one of those, my ancestors liked to call 'em, cursed years--interesting, eventful, exhausting. I've got to go home and get a big plate of beef stew, break some English (as the one called Lyrics Born asked me after a vacation to the islands--"What language do you guys speak over there?"), and listen to some ki ho'alu.

It all starts with Gabby.

Philip "Gabby" Pahinui was the father of modern Hawaiian music, a master of the slack-key (ki ho’alu) guitar, and every Local's hard-drinking, hard-living father figure. Folks called him "Pops".

Gabby was born in 1921 and raised in Kaka'ako, the heart of urban Honolulu. As a shoeshine and newspaper boy hustling for his family, he ran into musicians that were living off the booming tourist economy in Waikiki. He began playing guitar and steel guitar in downtown bars for the Locals. He was into the chords and complexities of Ellington, Basie, and Goodman, but he said, "(Patrons) would just shake their heads and say, 'Do you think you could play one or two strings and give us a little Hawaiian flavor?'"

By the late 50s, he went to work for the County, doing pick and shovel work for the Road Department. He was there for 14 years until he suffered a work accident. By then, Pahinui had turned his home in Waimanalo into a lively center for Hawaiian music. The legend is that Moms Pahinui kept a couple cases of beer and a big pot of beef stew on the stove for anyone who wanted to come down and jam.

Under Gabby’s mentorshop, a new generation of musicians—including his sons Bla and Cyril and Peter Moon (the subject of a future post)—began to make their presence known in the late 60s and early 70s in what became known as the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance. By 1972, they had pulled Gabby himself back into the spotlight and he cut an album, Gabby, that made him a Local icon and started attracting folks from the continent like, uh, Ry Cooder.

This song, “Moonlight Lady”, from the 1974 album Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band, Volume 1, is a great intro—probably Pops’ most “pop” song. It’s sung in English--the so-called "standard" variety, altho if you listen close to the second verse, one word gives away all the Hawaiian flavor--by Bla and Randy Lorenzo. Ry is in there, and the song also features strings overdubbed in Los Angeles.

But the vibe is Waimanalo all the way—mountain waterfalls, valley streams, wet soil, dew-dipped ti leaves, noonday sun, black asphalt, brown pine-combs, white sand, blue-green ocean, moonlight on the water. This song always makes me think of both of my grandmothers, both strong women who always kept a big pot of something on the stove no matter what the circumstances.

So for now it’s goodbye California, like the immortal Billy Kaui once sang, hello Waimanalo, I’m coming home to you.

Posted by Jeff at November 12, 2004 09:38 PM