Island Mele: ‘D-Tour’ by John Keawe

Dec. 2, 2013 | 0 Comments



John Keawe feat. Charles Recaido (Homestead Productions)

The discography of Big Island slack key guitarist John Keawe goes back to 1978, when he was the leader of a group named Keawe’s Homestead Gang and won a spot on Ron “Whodaguy” Jacobs’ “Homegrown III” album.

dtourKeawe is also the only person to date who has received the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Ki Ho‘alu Award more than once (he won in 2003 and 2011). He writes in the liner notes that this collection of six original instrumental compositions is a “tour” through various forms of slack key D-tunings and also a “detour from my usual slack key compositions.”

Keawe’s years of slack key are the foundation of these melodies inspired by his experiences on the Big Island; cruising the old cane haul roads, going to the beach of late-night jams with friends and family members. Modern studio technology allows Keawe to accompany himself on ukulele and ‘ipu heke (a traditional Hawaiian percussion instrument). Charles Recaido, a member of Summer in the mid-70s and more recently the instrumental trio Kohala, joins in on guitar, Fender bass and pu‘ili (split bamboo rattle). Their musical “detour” is relaxing listening from start to finish.

Melodies can convey emotions in ways that transcend language. The doleful shadings provided by cellist Herb Mahelona in the fifth song, “Guitar Lament,’ suggest sorrowful feelings of some sort as surely as the title does.

Keawe and Recaido suggest the freedom of a back porch jam with “The Pu‘ili Blues.” Slack key is the foundation of Keawe’s music but with “The Pu‘ili Blues” he shows that he is into other musical traditions as well.

“D-Tour” is available at
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at

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