The closest thing to flying to Hawaii for a night may be getting a seat to see Makana play at The Neptune Theatre Friday, Sept. 29.
Makana, 39, has been called the master of the slack-key guitar, a fingerstyle genre of playing that is indigenous to Hawaii and older than the blues.
“I can transport people to Hawaii with just a few words and notes,” Makana said the other day. “But I really connect with that humanity. That’s what I do and it’s just so natural for me.”
The show begins at 8 p.m. Friday at The Neptune. Doors open an hour before.
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Makana was given his first guitar at 11, and took lessons under a man named Bobby Moderow and appeared on a show called “Superkids of Hawaii.” Not long after at a slack-key guitar convention, he met Sonny Chillingworth, who was “Tiny Bubbles” legend Don Ho’s musical director.
“Young man, I was looking for you,” Chillingworth told Makana, who would become the elder’s last student.
Slack-key isn’t as well-known as the ukulele of the islands, which has made the art a mission for Makana: “It’s like that image is stuck in the minds of millions of people around the world,” he said of ukulele. “So when I get to talk about the music, it helps people discover this beautiful thing.”
Makana is able to sound like three guitars playing at once because he has tuned the guitar to a chord, called “detuning” but best known as “slacking” — and then he plays a dizzying, blurred-finger lead over it.
“Every time I touched the tuning, I had to relearn the fretboard,” he said. “I want to constantly put myself in unknown territory because it forces me to create and discover.”
He has also mounted a guitar pickup parallel to the bass strings of the guitar, then runs the bass pickup though subwoofers, making a giant sound.
“I have the biggest sounding acoustic guitar in the world,” he said, recalling the time he opened for Joe Walsh. “I would hit the bass string and people would throw their sodas into the air.”
He isn’t worried about making changes to an indigenous art form. “There’s a stigma around the perpetuation of tradition, that you can’t change anything. But that murders the art form. I treat it like a banyan tree. As high as the branches go, the roots go that deep.
“You have to infuse it with the spirit of yourself in time,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going backwards.”
Makana, who lives on Kauai, will also appear on “Live Wire!” with Luke Burbank the following night at The Neptune, and at the Vashon Theater on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“I can’t tell people why to come, because once the music leaves me, I can’t control it. When I perform, I become completely vulnerable,” he said.
“I show up empty and let the audience create the show.”