Steel Trappings

Maui News Heading

Sliding into the Soul of Aloha

Kick back, relax and enjoy the 2018 Maui Steel Guitar Festival
April 8, 2018 • Mona De CrinisNews

Ed. Note: The following article appeared in the April 8, 2018, edition of The Maui News. The article is reprinted here with permission from The Maui News and the author. ©2018 The Maui News and

Rickenbacher Silver Hawaiian

"I was once told that the steel guitar is the truest extension of the human voice," says Alan Akaka, festival chair for the 2018 Maui Steel Guitar Festival and globally recognized steel guitar artist and teacher. "When a singer slides into a note, the steel guitar can follow seamlessly where other instruments can't."

Believed to be the only instrument indiginous to Hawaii, the Hawaiian steel guitar differs from conventional string instruments by using a steel bar pressed against the strings to alter the sound rather than strings pressed against a fretboard.

"Steel guitars are designed with strings high above the fret bars so we never touch the frets," Akaka explains. "We place the bar on the strings over the frets. That's how we get our pitch. The bar allows us to slide into notes and put a lot of emotion into a song."

He grabs his steel guitar and seduces notes and chords into a languid stretch of sound that conjures visions of swaying palms silhouetted in the glow of sunset.

"That's a glissando, a slide," Akaka informs. "The steel guitar is the only instrument where you can slide not only single notes, but chords. Glissando allows the expression of emotion."

Alan Akaka

The words stop and Akaka lets his guitar finish the thought with an elongated riff that meanders across octaves in a lazy afternoon stroll along the strings. The lilting drawl pulls you in and holds you captive, tantalizing the senses like a slow pour of sweet cream.

"With the steel guitar, you get tension and release. Instead of being on the note, on beat one, we can actually take our time and slide into the notes even though it's after the beat," he explains. "That causes tension, and when you reach 'the note' — that's the release — that's the emotion.

"A lot of the music that was written, Hawaiian cultural songs, dealt with love," Akaka continues. "It could be deep infatuation, love of a partner, grandchildren, family, love of land — aloha. And the steel guitar can bring that out."

Raised in a family rooted in Hawaiian music (his father, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, was the former director of Oahu's famous Kawaiaha'o Church Choir), Akaka fell hard for the steel guitar and was encouraged to pursue it. Family gatherings, which included lots of music making, and a music education at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu and the University of Hawai'i further inflamed Akaka's passion.

In addition to establishing and directing the Kamehameha Middle School Na'Opio Singers and Hawaiian Ensemble, Akaka was the director of the Performing Arts Academy at Kamehameha Schools for 16 years. In 2009, he established Ke Kula Mele Hawaii School of Hawaiian Music to provide an environment for those who want to learn to play Hawaiian instruments.

Festival Musicians

For the last five years, Akaka has functioned as festival chair, booking and coordinating talent and holding workshops for the Maui Steel Guitar Festival as well as similar festivals on neighbor islands.

"We're going to put on a good show for everybody," he says of the upcoming festival, which kicks off on Friday at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel before moving to Queen Ka'ahumanu Center on Sunday for a day of special activites.

Festivities at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel include open stage performance sessions on Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., two days of ho'olaule'a pageants with six presentations each night from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., kanikapila jam sessions for the public hosted by master steel guitar players each night at 9:30 p.m., steel guitar workshops on Saturday, cultural activities and a vintage steel guitar exhibit courtesy of Geri Valdriz.

Admission is free and open to the public. Produced by Arts Education for Children Group and the Hawai'i Institute for Music Enrichment and Learning Experiences, the festival is presented for public awareness, education and community outreach as well as entertainment.

"We encourage people, especially the locals on Maui, to come to this free event held in such a beautiful setting," Akaka says. "If you're coming just to listen to music, bring sunscreen and sit and soak in the music. For those who are musicians and want to experience more steel guitar, bring your instruments - your steel guitar, your ukulele - because we have kanikapila sessions at night, workshops during the day and all are invited.

Alan Akaka

"There will be a lot of steel guitar, a lot of Hawaiian music, all weekend long," Akaka encourages. "If you feel like standing up and doing the hula while somebody sings, great! And bring the children, because it will be a wonderful way to embrace Hawaiian music culture."

10th annual Maui Steel Guitar Festival

April 13-15

Ka'anapali Beach Hotel events

Eric Keawe and Maile Keawe Bryan


All day on Kamani Lawn. Festival information and sales booth, vintage steel guitar display, silent auction.

10:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. Open stage performances featuring artists from as far away as Japan and California.

2 to 2:30 p.m. Entertainment by Elvis impersonator Darren Lee (Burn'n Love)

5:10 to 8:30 p.m. Ho'olaule'a featuring Yokohama Hawaiian Music Academy, Ke Kula Mele Next Generation, Alexis Tolentino, Geronimo "Geri" Valdriz and others.

Sunset at Ka'anapali

9:30 to 11 p.m. Kanikapila jam session open to the public and led by steel guitar masters.


All day on Kamani Lawn. Festival information and sales booth, vintage steel guitar display, silent auction.

9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Workshops, including What Tuning to Use, Steel Guitar Talk Story, The Other Side of Hawaiian Music and more.

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Open stage performances

5:10 to 8:30 p.m. Ho'olaule'a featuring Alan Akaka, Tadashi Arakawa, Bobby Ingano, Joel Katz and others.

9:30 to 11 p.m. Kanikapila jam sessions for the public hosted by master steel guitar players.

Queen Ka'ahumanu Center


11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Valdriz' vintage steel guitar exhibit installed at the Story of Hawai'i Museum and a ho'olaule'a pageant, featuring ten steel guitar presentations including from Alan Akaka, Tadashi Arakawa, Bobby Ingano, Kiyoshi "Lion" Kobayashi, Dave "DK" Kolars, Patti Maxine, Greg Sardinha, Alexis Tolentino and Geri Valdriz.

Malie Lyman and Keen Ching

Kumiko Kakiuchi

Ed. Note: Corrections to the original article were made to the Saturday schedule and the spelling of Keen Ching's last name.



July, 2018
June, 2018
May, 2018
April, 2018
March, 2018


Festivals and Conventions
Instruments and Luthiers



Hawai'i Island Steel Guitar Festival
September 7-9, 2018 - Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, Kohala Coast, Hawai'i
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Ka Makana Ali'i
February 16, 2019 (tentative) - Ka Makana Ali'i Shopping Center, Kapolei
Kaua'i Steel Guitar Festival
March 1-2, 2019 - Courtyard Kaua'i at Coconut Beach, Kapa'a, Kaua'i
Maui Steel Guitar Camp
TBD (tentative) - Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, Lahaina, Maui
Maui Steel Guitar Festival
TBD - Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, Lahaina, Maui
TBD - Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, Kahului, Maui
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Windward Mall
June 8, 2019 (tentative) - Windward Mall, Kaneohe
Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikiki Steel Guitar Week
July 8-13, 2019 (tentative)
Monday-Thursday - Nightly Evening Performances
Friday-Saturday - Festival Ho'olaule'a Performances
Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikiki
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival at Kahala Mall - Keiki Style
August, 2019 TBD - Kahala Mall, Honolulu

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HIMELE is a Hawai'i non-profit corporation that supports music enrichment and education for people of all ages. Our purpose is to educate, promote, and perpetuate Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian musical instruments.