Gabby Pahinui: Hi'ilawe




Gabby Pahinui (guitar, vocals)


Pure Gabby (Hula Records HS-567)

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Gabby Pahinui (guitar, vocals),

Sonny Nicholas (bass)


Composed by Sam Li`a Kalainaina


Recorded: Recorded in 1961, but not released until 1978


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Tracking down real roots music in Hawaii, amidst all the hotel lounge acts and tourist fare, is about as easy as finding a good surf spot in Bolivia. But if you persist, it can be done. I know, because I came back from the islands with a suntan and a stack of Gabby Pahinui records. Pahinui's pioneering 1946-47 recordings marked that decisive moment when slack key guitar playing emerged from its fringe existence as private entertainment in Hawaii and captivated the general public. But though Pahinui is to Hawaiian music what Diz and Bird were to bop, there were only modest financial rewards for this artist, who spent much of his career doing pick-and-shovel work on road crews.

This recording was made in 1961, but no labels were interested in it at the time, and the tapes sat on a shelf for almost two decades. Here Pahinui performs one of his trademark songs, "Hi'ilawe," in an understated, acoustic rendition that perfectly captures the artistry and personality of this seminal figure. His singing achieves a paradoxical combination of fragility and power, and his music manages (that greatest rarity in Hawaiian music) to transcend entertainment, instead communicating a sense of ritual invocation. In Polynesian cultures, people speak of mana, that supernatural aura of influence and authority that only rare individuals possess—call it Hawaiian mojo, if you will. Gabby Pahinui not only had it, he defines it.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia


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