Guitarist brings a touch of Hawaii to holiday festivities
Growing up in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, Keola Beamer never experienced a Christmas with snow or other traditional wintery images.
The slack key guitarist – who will perform here Friday in a Christmas-themed concert – still knows how to celebrate the holiday in style, albeit Hawaiian style.
“Christmas is an island theme for us. When I was little, chestnuts roasting on a fire wasn’t really an applicable song because we didn’t have any. Jack Frost, I thought, was a really neat chihuahua,” Beamer reminisced with a laugh. “We have famous Christmas songs, adapted to island life.”
Non-holiday repertoire will also be performed by Beamer, who last appeared in Grass Valley with his wife Moanalani Beamer. She will be back Friday to play percussion and dance the hula.
Beamer, 51, had his first solo recording in 1972, “Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar in the Real Old Style,” also the same year his method book, “Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar,” was published.
Slack-key is a melodic, expressive guitar style that Hawaiians invented after the Spanish introduced the instrument to the islands about 200 years ago.
Beamer was one of the first recording artists to integrate traditional Hawaiian chants and instruments, such as the tiny gourd whistle and the nose flute, with contemporary Hawaiian music.
His 1978 release, “Honolulu City Lights” was the largest selling
recording in the history of Hawaiian music until 1995. In 1994, “Wooden Boat” was the first Hawaiian music release ever to reach the top 15 on Billboard’s World Music Charts.
Beamer has recorded and produced more than 12 CDs and has won numerous Hoku Awards, the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammys. His guitar tracks can also be heard on pianist George Winston’s recordings including “Winter Solstice V,” “Summer Solstice” and “On a Starry Night.”
Today, Beamer performs half the year in the United States, Europe and Japan.
“I do enjoy performing, sharing it with people across the world,” Beamer said. “I’m very fortunate; the last 10 years, this music went national, then international.”
When he’s not touring, Beamer composes, teaches and does studio work.
Beamer was described during his 1995 tour in New York as
“The Quintessential Master of the Slack-Key Guitar Style,” a statement which seven years later still makes Beamer self-conscious.
“People say very complimentary things. I just did a documentary where Willie Nelson called me the best slack-key player in the planet. That’s very sweet, very kind, I appreciate it but I don’t know what it means,” Beamer said charitably. “To call myself any of those terms, I’m not comfortable.”
Whether he acknowledges the accolades or not, Beamer has to admit music comes naturally to him.
His great-grandmother, Helen Kapuailohia Desha Beamer (1882-1952), was one of Hawaii’s most prolific singer-songwriters and a skilled Hawaiian dancer. Her granddaughter, Beamer’s mother, Winona Kapuailohia Beamer, is also an accomplished composer and performer.
And way before that, about the 15th century to be exact, Beamer’s ancestors were storytellers and musicians.
Beamer wouldn’t want to be performing any other genre.
“Hawaiian music brings a lot of comfort to people’s lives, a lot of healing, takes that stressed-out soul we experience and brings a beautiful calm to the psyche,” Beamer explained. “I noticed that a long time ago.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Keola Beamer in concert
WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $15. Tickets at Herb Shop Records, BriarPatch, The Book Seller and at the door or through http://www.thecenterforthearts.org or by calling
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