When the producers of The Descendants – starring George Clooney as an unsavory landowner trying to mend relationships with his children – wanted an authentic Hawaiian sound, they turned to the music of the late guitarist Gabby Pahinui, putting six of his songs on the soundtrack.
Pahinui, known as “Pops” by Hawaiian musicians, was a master of the style known as slack-key. Unlike the slidey Hawaiian guitar of grass-skirt tourism ads, slack-key is played on a regular acoustic guitar retuned (by loosening or ‘slacking’ the strings) to play open chords. The choice of tunings and fingering techniques is highly individual. Pahinui’s “Hula Medley,” from 1947, helped introduce slack-key to the world, and it was chosen for the National Recording Registry in 2012.
The song itself is unusual, recasting traditional melodies from hula (the narrative song and dance form that is not as sexy as haoles think) in an instrumental context. Telling the story of “Hula Medley” are Pahinui’s son, Cyril Pahinui, also a renowned guitarist; University of Hawaii ethnomusicologist Jay Junker; and musician Nickie Hines.
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