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George Kahumoku, Jr.
Hawai`i’s Renaissance Man
by “Stevie Guitar” Sparks

George Kahumoku, Jr.  and  Daniel Ho;
featured on the latest Aire Music release, Hymns of Hawaii

As Island music becomes more synthesized, reggae-fied, Rap-ified and homogenized, with more and more mainland pop and country cover tunes being worked over by local bands and singers (sometimes not for the better), there fortunately are those native artists who provide relief from this progression, by digging deeper and deeper into their roots, to bring us the fruits of compositions and styles which we would otherwise never be fortunate enough to savor.

George Kahumoku, Jr. was raised in the old ways, with a large family. He worked the land and the sea and grew up with the music of his people. By the time he was 12 yrs of age, he was playing professionally with the legendary and influential Kui Lee (“I Remember You”, “Lahainaluna”, etc.). After graduating from the Kamehameha Schools in 1969, he went on to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts. Not only has he achieved recognition and accolades for his music (Hoku award in 1979), and his art (sculpture, etc.), but also for his skills and experience with the land, with several state-wide and national awards for farming. In 1993 he graduated from the Hawai`i State Agricultural Leadership Program. George is a community leader as well, working with children in native language studies, farming, and other programs, and teaches the Special Motivation Program at Lahainaluna School.

As George says: “Music comes from the land… the leaves, the trees, the rivers, the rocks… and the spirit of our Kupuna (elders). Land ownership is a ‘western’ concept… it is not the Hawai`ian way. We are stewards - we share the land for everyone’s benefit.” To this end he has been working with local students at a location in Kahakuloa, where they are farming taro, as well as other foods, medicinal herbs and plants. The man who has been voted “Farmer of The Year” in Hawa`ii is passing his knowledge on to others.

Auntie Nona Beamer has dubbed George “Hawai`i’s Renaissance Man”, because he is one of the few who still knows the old ways–farming, fishing and herbs–and can survive on the land, and yet gets up every morning and works the internet, fielding international requests for his CDs and performances. George has run his own career, often subsidizing his farming with revenues from his music. But the land he worked and inherited from his family (once over 6,000 acres) was lost to taxation, bankers and lawsuits. It’s sad when a man with his integrity loses ancient family land.

Barry Flannagan, of Hapa, told me that when he heard a particular recording of George’s, he didn’t think he could ever play Slack-Key guitar again –he was so stunned by the power, depth and passion of George’s playing.

George is one of a handful of artists who records for the Slack-Key Master series on George Winston’s Dancing Cat label, which distributes his music in 55 countries. In his struggle to save his land, he moved to Maui from the Big Island, and still works the resorts here, between touring gigs. He has played nearly all over the world, and is gaining a wider audience in the U.S. 

George’s recordings are inspired works from soulful hands that transcend time and style. His voice also comes from a deep place, sometimes sounding like Gabby Pahinui’s, but taking on a unique tone, as he comes into his own as an elder in his craft. Most of his work is mellow and “old-world” in texture–soothing for the soul, and virtually “anti-pop” in context. He has recorded works by Queen Lili`uokalani, made an album with his son Keoki (also very talented and accomplished), and recorded with a host of other Island legends, including Edith Kanaka`ole, his brother Moses (20 albums), Diana Aki, and Kekuhi Kanahele. His most recent release, with master musician and producer Daniel Ho (Hiroshima), is a collection of spiritual melodies (“Hymns of Hawai`i”) that George learned growing up with his `Ohana (family). These songs are presented reverently, with contemporary touches, and provide refuge for the soul in a fast-paced, changing world.

It’s been said that, “If we don’t know where we came from, we can’t know where we are going”. Thanks to artists like George Kahumoku, Jr., we have these touchstones linking us with the spirit of the past, and its’ simple truths. He was once told that we can always make more money, but the one thing we can never recover is time. Among the many people George would like to thank for sharing their time and energy with him are: the Aluli `ohana and Colleen Furukawa at The Mauian in Napili, Darlene at The Westin, Joe Cabato, David Johnston, Papio - of Wailuku - for his skills with the land, Paul Fagan of Hana, Edith Kanaka`ole, Harry Mitchell, and Oliver and Valerie Dukelow of Kahakuloa. Unfortunately, space doesn’t allow us to include so much more of the wisdom and experience which George brings to this community.

E-mail him at: george@kahumoku.com, for more information about his farming, herbology, and his work with kids in Kahakuloa. 

* MAUI TIME * January 18, 2000

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