Singer OWANA MAHEALANI-ROSE SALAZAR is currently the only known female steel player in Hawai`i and is among the few wahine [women] slack key players around.
Born into a family well versed in music and deeply rooted in Hawaiian history, Owana possesses the ability to reach out in song to intimately embrace her audience. Her profound interpretation of Hawaiian classics, traditional and contemporary music and jazz standards, is truly a reflection of her ancestry and upbringing in knowledge and culture. No matter what genre of music Owana performs, she will bring the listener to an unforgettable experience.
Woven in the fabric of her life, is the presence of her Hawaiian ancestry. Throughout her years as a performing artist, Owana often involves herself with projects relating to Hawaiian history, culture and sovereignty. As a descendant of Hawaiian royalty, Owana lives her life in commitment to upholding the standards of a great cultural legacy. Born and raised on the beautiful island of O`ahu, Owana is of Spanish, Hawaiian, English and French descent. Her early years were immersed in music and family history as taught to her by her mother, the High Chiefess Helena Kalokuokamaile Wilcox Salazar. At the age of nineteen, Owana was initiated into the Daughters and Sons of Hawaiian Warriors, a society committed to the genealogical descent of the ruling chiefs of Hawai`i.
Under the tutelage of Kumu Hula Ho`akalei Kamau`u, Ho`oulu Richards and Winona Beamer, Owana studied the art of Hula. Her growing talents were shaped at The Kamehameha Schools and further education was received at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa as a music major. In addition to music theory, Owana continued her study of hula, pursued private voice study with Elizabeth Cole, piano, string methods, guitar, Javanese dance and gamelan. At the start of her public career, Owana shared the stage with Hawai`i headliners such as Don Ho, Ohta-San, Ed Kenney and Charles K.L. Davis.
It was at the U.H. Manoa that Kiho`alu (Slack Key), a Hawaiian style of playing the guitar intrigued her musical mind. She was introduced to the world of Kiho`alu one day by friend, Nelson Hiu. Combining rudiment music theory with her wide repertoire of Hawaiian songs and her newfound friend, Slack Key, Owana developed her playing skills. The sharing from others such as, George Kuo, Bla Pahinui, Cyril Pahinui, Dennis Kamakahi, George Kahumoku, Jr. and the late great Sonny Chillingworth helped to shape Owana’s Slack Key skills. Other strong musical influences include Joni Mitchell, Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis, Stevie Wonder, Genoa Keawe, Gabby “Pops” Pahinui, Lena Machado and Marvin Gaye.
Her first recording in 1986, “Owana and Ka`ipo, In Kona” was final ballot nominee in the category of Most Promising Artist in the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, an island music industry salute. The following year, her second recording, “Owana”, was final ballot nominee for Contemporary Hawaiian Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year.
“Pupukea” describes different characteristics of the ocean on the renowned North Shore of O`ahu; “Kula Morning” takes you upcountry Maui, gazing from mountain to the sea; “Na Wai” a playful poetic expression of loves different experiences, full of Hawaiian kaona (hidden meanings); “Kalamaula” celebrates the early homesteading movement of the Hawaiian people; “Silhouette Hula” a sultry hapa-ha`ole piece, nestled in the early jazz years of Hawaiian music.
Throughout the 1980’s, Owana sang Hawaiian classics with the Royal Hawaiian Band and performed at many venues in Waikiki and Japan. Destiny took the reigns in 1990 when renowned musician Jerry Byrd, accepted Owana as his student for formal study of Hawaiian steel guitar. Eventually, Owana received a full scholarship from the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association, a world organization whose mission is the love of Hawaiian music. In 1992, Owana became the only female student ever graduated by Jerry Byrd.
Even during these musical times of her life, Owana remained involved with political and cultural pursuits. She served for seven years as Kuhina Nui (Regent) to Ka Lahui Hawai`i, an organization branched throughout the Hawaiian Islands committed to Hawaiian sovereignty. Owana also served as family liaison to the Mayor’s Office of Culture and the Arts for two years, whose goal was the planning, commissioning and ultimate unveiling of a life-size bronze statue of her great grandfather and Hawaiian patriot, the Honorable Robert Kalanihiapo Wilcox. His statue is located at Wilcox Park in downtown Honolulu, on the corner of King and Fort Street.
Owana has performed in different parts of the world: Japan, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, America and, of course, Hawai`i. In January 2000, Owana was the first woman to tour with the Hawaiian Slack Key Festival along with George Kahumoku, Jr., Keoki Kahumoku and Daniel Ho. They enjoyed numerous sold out performances at the theaters and concert halls.
Her CD, “Wahine Slack n’ Steel” released in 2002, showcases her skills and pure love of song, slack-key and steel guitar.
Aloha pumehana! (With warmest regards!)
Owana Salazar uses the following tunings:
Guitar: Taro Patch G; D; D6; C9 and Standard.
Steel Guitar: C6 and B11.
Ukulele: Standard GCEA.
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