Malaki Kanahele remembered

Family, friends and musicians are anticipated to gather in Kekaha Friday to honor slack-key guitar artist Malaki Kanahele — described by leading Kaua‘i artists as being among the finest musicians to have come from Ni‘ihau.

Kanahele died June 19 at age 79, and a funeral service is scheduled today at 3 p.m. at the Kekaha Hawaiian Cemetery.

Although Kanahele has been involved with traditional Hawaiian music for at least 50 years, performing mostly on Kaua‘i and winning accolades for his work, friends say he was an Hawaiian man of his generation; he never sought the limelight.

Kanahele was recognized Wednesday at the 30th annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards ceremony in Honolulu.

Pekelo Cosma of Maui captured the Haku Mele award — the most prestigious award of the night’s event — for an original Hawaiian-language composition

He shared the award with Ileialoha Beniamina for composing “Ni‘ihau” on his “Hana by the Sea” compact disc, and dedicated the song to Kanahele.

Cosma said he and Kanahele composed the song 10 years ago on a trip to Ni‘ihau.

The song spoke of Kanahele’s love for his place of birth, and to which he would often return after periodic stays on Kaua‘i.

In 2002, he and his brother, Nahale, had their chance to snare similar honors.

The brothers were nominated for a Na Hoku Hanohano award for their song, “Aloha Ka Po‘e Koa O Ni‘ihau/Mai Lohilohi Mai Nei/ Ka Makanani Ka‘ili Aloha/Alekoki,” for the “single of the year category.”

The brothers didn’t win that year, but their music can be compared with the best, said Mark Rossi, a Kaua‘i-based slack key performer.

Kanahele’s brother, also skilled with a guitar and able to sing falsetto, died four years ago, according to a family member.

Rossi said he met Kanahele through a state art program 12 years ago, studied under Kanahele and performed with him at island parties and events.

“I was privileged to have had the opportunity to study under him and to be the one to whom he showed his style,” Rossi said.

Legendary Hawaiian performer Eddie Kamae thought enough of Kanahele’s skills to feature the man in a video on Hawaiian culture, “The Hawaiian Way.”

Kanahele also was recognized as a “living treasure” by Kaua‘i leaders more than a decade ago for his contributions to Hawaiian music. Kanahele played the violin and the steel guitar and sang falsetto, Rossi said.

He played kanikapila style — informal gatherings of musicians in someone’ s backyard — because he loved playing, he said.

Characterized by the Garden Island Arts Council as being among the best musicians to come out of Ni‘ihau, Kanahele played traditional Hawaiian music that was not affected by rock and roll or music with hapa-haole overtones, Rossi said.

“He played an older style, traditional Hawaiian music,” he said. His style of music was neither robust or subtle, just “nahenahe,” which in Hawaiian means “sweet,” he said.

Hawaiian slack key guitar, also known as ki ho‘alu, is one of the world’s great acoustic guitar traditions, historians in music said in Web sites. The strings are slacked to produce beautiful tunings, they said.

Kanahele performed with Ambrose Smith, the father of Allan Smith, a retired senior vice president with Grove Farm and now interim director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, at island parties for many years.

Kanahele didn’t play Hawaiian music to get rich, but played it for the love of it, Rossi said.

“He played every day as far as I know,” he said.

One of three sons, Ku‘u Kanahele, who lives in Kekeha, said his father favored the guitar because of its rich, energetic sound.

Ku‘u Kanahele said he likes traditional Hawaiian music, but didn’t want to pursue a career as a musician.

He said he liked how his father used his hands in another way — as a rancher and as a carpenter.

“I learned the construction business from him, and now I am in it,” he said.

Aka Kanahele, one of three daughters, said she will remember her father not so much for his musical talents but for his heart.

“He taught me so much. He taught me to love my family,” said Kanahele, a resident of Kekaha and a mother of four.

Malaki Kanahele is survived by two other daughters, Lama Kaohelauli‘i and Pupu Duerte, two other sons, Kaohu and Kalana Kanahele, numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Arrangements are being handled by Borthwick Kaua’i Mortuary.

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