Iz, Gabby Pahinui and the Sounds of Hawaii
Travel Blog • Pam Mandel • 02.10.09 | 11:36 AM ET
Big Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” is an iconic ukulele track—it’s often the first thing folks ask me to play when they learn I have a uke. If you’ve heard the full track—it slid into U.S. consciousness a few years back via a toy store advertisement—then you’ve heard the bit at the beginning where Iz says, in his perfect, soft voice, “K, this one’s for Gabby.”
Iz is referring to Gabby Pahinui. Even though Gabby died in 1980, he’s credited with being the master of slack key. You can take his title as the father of Hawaiian music more literally, too: three of his sons, Cyril, Martin, and Bla are recording artists. For me, Cyril’s sweet falsetto and the sound of slack key guitar evoke the islands like nothing else. I’ve had the good fortune to see Cyril Pahinui on the mainland and in the islands—he’s often on tour with Led Kaapana, another slack key super genius.
If you want the academic take, Dancing Cat records has A Brief History of Slack Key that includes a lot of arcane information about tunings and the harmonics and why it’s called slack key. But I’d skip all that and go straight for the the sound of the rain on Maui, the surf, the wind, and Hi’ilawe.