We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.


There’s a lot more to Hawaiian musical history than Don Ho. Hui Aloha plays slack-key guitar music, a mostly acoustic style that, like the quartet’s moniker, has its roots in the nineteenth century. Hui Aloha is Hawaiian for “meeting of compassion,” the name of an 1831 Maui church whose restoration and reopening in the late 1970s inspired the group’s members. Slack-key guitar music also originated in the 1830s, when Hawaiians transformed the campfire songs they heard being played by visiting Spanish and Mexican cowboys. The Hawaiian players tuned their instruments to loose-stringed open chords and then used their thumbs to create a constant bass sound while their other fingers picked the upper register. On Hui Aloha’s new self-titled CD, the band has harnessed more than 100 years of slack-key tradition, matching delicate, high-pitched picking with lullaby-sweet vocal delivery. Precious on the surface, the music’s strength and intricacy are soon revealed by closer listening. Dennis Kamakahi on guitar and his son, David, on ukelele, George Kuo on six- and 12-string double-neck guitar, and Martin Pahinui on bass, expertly create subtle and engaging instrumental changes. While the group’s ethereal stringwork is showcased mostly on Hawaiian standards, it also invigorates a few originals penned by Dennis, including the melancholy “Ke Kaua Laiki,” a sobering tale of the deaths of some of his friends in the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive. Hui Aloha performs at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31, and Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Barns of Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna. $18. (703) 938-2404. (Steve Kiviat)