Described as “dazzling” by The New York Times, Makana is an internationally acclaimed guitarist, singer, composer and activist who is widely known for lending his musical talent for social change.
He has been a TEDx talk presenter, and his guitar playing has been featured on three Grammy-nominated albums, including the soundtrack of the Academy-Award winning film “The Descendants”. In 2011, at the apex of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, Makana’s song “We Are The Many” went viral on YouTube garnering more than half a million collective views and was coined the “Occupy Anthem” by Rolling Stone Magazine. His performance of the song at an APEC World Leaders’ Dinner hosted by the Obamas also went viral and became the #1 news story on Yahoo worldwide for two days, garnering appearances on CNN, BBC, ABC, Democracy Now!, Sean Hannity and other major news outlets. Makana’s captivating and wide-ranging performance style has led him to share the stage with Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, open for music legends Sting, Carlos Santana and Elvis Costello, and perform in venues ranging from Asian and European opera houses to The White House. He has released 8 records to date and most recently a music video anthem, “Fire is Ours”, for Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Makana’s career is incredibly diverse: he recently opened for Common at the Global Green Pre-Oscar party in Hollywood, co-headlined a music festival with Nahko and Medicine for the People, scored the Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau’s entire 2016 TV campaign for Hawai’i (airing on networks and in movie theaters nationwide), composed a song honoring the historic pier of the coastal town of Cayucos (after helping raise funding for its restoration), and produced 3 tribute concerts honoring his late mentor, slack key legend Sonny Chillingworth.
Born and raised in Hawai’i, Makana grew up on the shores of Waikiki amid the likes of legend Don Ho and young Elvis-impersonator Bruno Mars. Makana --whose name means “a gift given freely-- began singing when he was seven years-old, took up ‘ukulele at nine and began learning the traditional art of slack key at eleven. By fourteen, he was performing professionally, and before long playing five nights a week. His reputation as the youngest virtuoso of slack key spread like molten lava throughout the islands.
A protégé of the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar legends, including Bobby Moderow Jr. and the late master Uncle Sonny Chillingworth, Makana has dedicated his life to perpetuating as well as evolving the traditional Hawaiian art form. Slack key or Ki Ho’alu, nearly 200 years old and indigenous to Hawai’i, was created by ‘ohana (families) on the different islands as a very personal folk music expression of their beautiful surroundings and way of life. The style is characterized by “slacking” the strings to open chords, thus freeing the hands to alter the sound whilst self-accompanying with a triad of alternating bass patterns, faux rhythms and sweet melodies evocative of island atmospheres. Think “three guitars in one!”
From this tradition Makana has evolved his own dynamic, high-octane style, coined “Slack Rock”: slack key infused with elements of bluegrass, rock, blues and raga. Makana’s playing has garnered praise from such guitar luminaries as Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Pepe Romero (Spanish Flamenco Master). A contributor to the 2007 Grammy-nominated “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings Vol. I” and 2009 Grammy-nominated “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings Vol II”, Makana is considered one of the “greatest living players” (Esquire Magazine) whose “instrumental brilliance bears comparison with the work of such groundbreaking acoustic guitarists as John Fahey and Michael Hedges” (Maui News).
The focus of Makana’s art is to celebrate the beauty of tradition while exploring new, relevant perceptions, sounds and themes. In his music he often honors his forebears, the vintage Hawaiian music legends as well as the rock poet idols of the 60s, paying homage to the kupuna (elders) who carry within their Beings the cultural wisdom passed down through generations.
Makana is also very active in building and nurturing community and awareness in the fields of food and nutrition, land, economic inequity, government policy, health and spiritual growth. His hobbies include growing food and sowing clarity through philosophy on his blog, Mind Mints. In 2012 he appeared in a film (YouTube “Kamehameha Monsanto”) exposing secret land leases in Hawai’i to chemical giant Monsanto, which birthed a statewide movement to regulate the activities of biotech companies in Hawai’i. Makana has donated his performances to countless rallies, protests, community gatherings and fundraisers throughout Hawai’i and California.
2014 marked Makana’s 25th Anniversary of playing guitar. To celebrate, Makana performed at multiple summer festivals in Holland and France, toured to New Zealand and Australia twice, performed in concert with Grammy-winning artist Gotye and opened for Leon Russell, sold out shows from LA (Vibrato) to Seattle (Benaroya Hall), completed a year of sold-out concerts at the prestigious Kahala Hotel, released “RIPE” (fully funded by fans via Kickstarter and produced by legends Ron Nevison [Led Zeppelin • The Who] and Mitchell Froom [Crowded House • Elvis Costello]) AND “25” (a double album of 25 songs, captured fully in analog), headlined concerts with two different symphonies, gave lectures and workshops on being an indie artist + the art of slack key, sang at countless environmental rallies in Hawai’i, funded and launched the brand “GOT KULEANA!” with accompanying PSAs to encourage higher voter turnouts, raised money for numerous non-profits including Surfrider, the ACLU, and The Thin Green Line Foundation (who support park rangers), started a new side project Hawaiian band honoring Gabby “Pops” Pahinui & The Sons of Hawai’i (named on the spot: “Palaka Pops”), and most memorably, got heckled by the Princess of Thailand, who brought her entire court to see him perform.
Photo: Lexi MacKenzie
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