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Sound Check

From L.A. to Down Under, slack-key star Makana is turning up the volume.


Once called the “kī hō‘alu kid,” slack-key guitarist Makana is taking his sound to a new place.

Makana’s artistic journey continues to evolve, spiraling in unexpected directions well beyond his roots in slack-key guitar, or kī hō‘alu. The O‘ahu native’s latest album, Ripe, connects a bevy of musical genres—Mediterranean, traditional Hawaiian, acoustic riffs and even what he describes as “Elton John-like sounds.” “That album is almost like an overview of the diversity of the art I create,” the 35-year-old musician explains. “Some artists have a very specific sound; for me, I work in a lot of different genres… Being an artist is an exploration. As soon as you think you find yourself, a new epiphany comes.” But the album is just the launching pad for the rest of 2014.

This spring, the singer will share his eclectic musical explorations overseas and at home. In March, he’ll perform in Australia and New Zealand at the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival, the legendary world music fete launched by Peter Gabriel. Post-WOMAD, he returns for concerts with Hawai‘i Pacific University’s Symphony Orchestra on April 5 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and on April 27 at Hawaii Theatre, accompanied also by HPU’s choir.

In terms of new music, Makana just recorded two EPs at the legendary The Village studios in L.A., which has hosted the likes of The Rolling Stones to Lady Gaga. The session—part of a collaboration with three industry heavyweights—captured Makana in a “live” setting, as opposed to a traditional studio setup. “The intention of this recording is to catch my true vibe without me being produced,” Makana says. “It’s trying to do something rootsy and down-to-earth.”