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Return to Waikiki tells the story of how Hawaiian music came to be. Although MAKANA is the principle performer, he puts Hawaiian music itself front and center as the star of this new show.
The event is called a luau, but it is in the style of the grand luaus and entertainment of the 1940s and 1950s. The evening evokes the sophistication of the past and is firmly grounded in Hawaii. This sense of place is vital to MAKANA. “People arrive here and they think, ‘I’m in Hawaii but these are the same stores as in my hometown.’ Where is the feeling of being in Hawaii?” Not just somewhere tropical, not Polynesian, but in Hawaii.
MAKANA is known as a slack key guitar player, and he gives a demonstration during the show. I have heard it described as a way of tuning the guitar differently, but it seemed to be more than a technique. “Slack key is a language,” MAKANA said. “It’s not words or a sentence, I speak with it.” To truly explore slack key guitar would take more time. But for this show, it appears as a musical innovation that gives Hawaiian music an added dimension.
This performance is so different from other luaus that I asked MAKANA if he saw it as a sort of “reboot” – a new imagining of the luau. “No, I’m a link in the chain of Hawaiian music,” he said. “To continue the tradition, the music has to breathe, to grow. All the past performers innovated in their times.” MAKANA wants to educate people about the true variety and depth of this musical legacy. “When people come here, all they hear is the same rubbish,” he said. “There is not enough of the sense of place.”
The theme of Hawaii as a sense of place is brought out through the food, the location and the music — a collaboration born of local professionals who take pride in their home. “Look around,” MAKANA said. “There are no corporate labels here.”
As I looked around, I could see the theme, “Made in Hawaii — with aloha.”
Return to Waikiki hits all the right notes.