Slack-Key Guitars and Ukuleles

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Slack-Key Guitars and Ukuleles

You may not think about Hawaii's music until you step off a plane on the Islands, and then there's no escaping it. It's a unique blend of the strings and percussion favored by the early settlers and the chants and rituals of the ancient Hawaiians.

Hawaiian music today includes Island-devised variations on acoustic guitar—slack key and steel guitar—along with the ukulele (a four-string guitar about the size of a violin), and vocals that have evolved from ritual chants to more melodic compositions.

This is one of the few folk music traditions in the United States that is fully embraced by the younger generation, with no prodding from their parents or grandparents. Many of the radio stations on Maui play plenty of Hawaiian music, and concerts performed by Island favorites fill with fans of all ages.

One don't-miss opportunity to hear Hawaiian music on Maui is the outstanding George Kahumoku Jr.'s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music (888/, a weekly concert held at the Napili Kai Beach Resort. You can catch Grammy-winning slack-key legends in an intimate setting. The mellow ki hoalu (slack key) music will show you a bit of Hawaii's paniolo (cowboy) history and knee-slapping banter among the musicians as they tune their guitars.

Check ads and listings in local papers, and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, for information on island concerts, which take place in indoor and outdoor theaters, hotel ballrooms, and cozy nightclubs.

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