Curators of Hawaiian Music Debut at Royal's Monarch Room

Makana Opens the Re-Birth of a Legendary Hawaii Showroom

Curators of Hawaiian Music Debut at Royal's Monarch Room

On a rainy June night in the hills of Nu'uanu, a guitar player sits on a rickety old stool in his garage, re-tuning his instrument and jotting notes on a pad. Behind him someone is weaving coconut, while another is pulling the tether on a make-shift sail. In the misty drizzle, a gorgeous brunette is working on hula sequences to a song that plays only in her head, unphased by the rainwater dripping down her arms. This could be any old jam session among friends. Yet in less that two weeks, this outfit—led by Makana, Hawaii's youngest slack-key master—will take the stage at Hawai`i's most legendary showroom, resuscitating a storied tradition.

On July 9th, the freshly reinvigorated (and polished) Royal Hawaiian hotel begins their "Curators of Hawaiian Music" series—perhaps the most important gathering of artists in Waikiki's recent present—for weekly concerts that will tell the story of music in the Aloha State.

"I used to sit out on the Waikiki wall in my early teens with friends and put out a coconut hat, playing for tips," Makana shares. "Even back then, I always wanted to have a showroom of my own, to do a full show in the style of people like Alfred Apaka, Don Ho, and the Hawaii Calls performances. It's time to make that fantasy come true."

The first two months of back-to-back shows, to be held every Thursday (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), will feature Makana and a theatrical performance he scripted, cast and choreographed—something he's been dreaming of doing countless times in his already-successful career as a thriving musician.

The concept for the show, which Makana credits to a wonderful working relationship with Royal Hawaiian general manager Kelly Hoen, is a journey through the history of Hawaiian music, as seen through the eyes of legendary dancer Auntie Florence Iwalani Koanui. The 78-year-old takes the audience through the ages that marked pivotal moments in the evolution of Hawaiian song. A simple, yet inspiring multi-media "set", according to Makana, enhances the audience experience, drawing them in to the setting. Makana and his group (there are 3 other musicians and 2 dancers) touch on many of the different styles and genres of island music, like steel guitar and ki ho'alu (slack key), while showcasing Hawaiian implements that have affected Hawaiian song, such as ipu heke, `ulili, instrument makers, sail weavers, lei makers and historically apt dance.

"I don't want to give the whole thing away," Makana says. "But it is very theatrical. We're building a set, perfecting the sound system, putting a ton of work in to the elements. I've been researching and collecting LP's, studying the old Cazimero and Don Ho acts. We're going to take the classical and timeless elements from the goldern era of Waikiki showrooms, and update it with a high-intensity fashion of performing."

Among the blending of modern and vintage, Makana adds that he has been rounding up props; one of which is a 1920s Victrola, which is actually used in the performance. According to Makana, the show is filling a huge void in Waikiki—and throughout Hawai`i. It's one he hopes other hotels and venues mimick, pushing the throngs of incredibly talented Hawaiian musicians in to the forefront, perhaps in lieu of the generic luau or kitschy, Las Vegas-esque shows that have come and gone in recent years.

"What will make this show magical is that it has all the elements. It's very modern but incorporates a lot of the past, which we explain in detail. People will learn, while being amazed and totally entertained," says Makana. "This isn't just about my reaching a personal goal: It's about the reculturalization of Waikiki."

The series will continue in September and October with Maunalua; Cecilio & Kapono will close out 2009 with shows every Thursday in November and December.

Tickets will be $39 for kama`aina (residents of Hawai`i); $49 for malihini (visitors). Cocktail service will be provided throughout the show; there is a two-drink minimum. You can purchase tickets by calling 808.921.4600 or by visiting

"This isn't just about my reaching a personal goal: It's about the reculturalization of Waikiki." — Makana