Melveen Leed returns to Kaua‘i for pa‘ina

Put on your fancy western wear or Hawaiian outfit and a lei and come to celebrate Kaua‘i’s paniolo (cowboys) on April 29 at the Kaua‘i Historical Society’s annual pa‘ina at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort & Beach Club at Kalapaki Beach.

This year’s event, titled Na Paniolo Nui o Kaua‘i, honors the lives of the hardy paniolo of past and present through some talk story, great ki hoalu (slack-key) music, and Hawai‘i’s country girl, Melveen Leed, singing her signature blend of Hawaiian and country music.

The event starts at 5 p.m. with no-host cocktails, ki hoalu music and the silent auction.

While the four-course dinner is served, everyone can continue bidding on the silent-auction items and enjoy the program highlighting the lives and music of Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau paniolo.

Since the 1830s, paniolo on Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau have worked on ranches from Mana to Hanalei, becoming skilled horsemen and rodeo riders by learning from Spanish and Mexican vaqueros.

From clearing land, building fences and corrals, moving herds, training horses, making saddles, tending sick animals and injured co-workers, to living in rough conditions, the paniolo had hard lives.

Yet, these tough guys wove flowers and ferns into lei for their hats and for loved ones.

They put decorative tooling on their saddles and belts, taking great pride in the workmanship put into utilitarian equipment.

The paniolo also learned to play the vaqueros’ guitar-like instruments, slacking the strings to tunings that suited their voices, hence, the term “slack-key” or “ki hoalu.” The paniolo also composed songs about their lives, famous people and places, and beautiful love songs.

The instruments and melodies expanded Hawaiian music beyond traditional percussion implements and chants.

Slack-key music blossomed from the 1970s, when young musicians began learning from the few masters of the time, and making recordings.

Since then, ki hoalu has spread worldwide, and two ki hoalu CDs won Grammy awards in the Hawaiian-music category.

Leed, called “Hawai‘i’s country girl,” has performed and recorded many country tunes, traditional Hawaiian songs, and contemporary songs in her clear, distinctive voice.

Her voice quality seems particularly well-suited to country tunes like “Tennessee Waltz,” and she also sings uniquely Hawaiian country songs like “Red-Eye Gravy and Poi” and “Paniolo Country,” plus island songs including “Nani Ko‘olau” and “Morning Dew.” Call the Kaua‘i Historical Society at 245-3373 now to reserve your tickets for Na Paniolo Nui o Kaua‘i.

Reserved tables of 10 are $750. Individual tickets are $75 each ($35 is a tax-deductible donation). Proceeds from this annual event and the silent auction help to fund the programs of the Kaua‘i Historical Society.

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