Cyril Pahinui Biography
HE'EIA is Cyril's third solo album for Dancing Cat, following 6 & 12 STRING SLACK KEY, and NIGHT MOON (PO MAHINA), and a fourth volume is planned. He has also recorded FOUR HANDS SWEET & HOT for Dancing Cat, an album of pure duets on Slack Key guitar with acoustic steel guitar master Bob Brozman.
Cyril Lani Pahinui has won numerous Hawaiian music awards and two Grammys® and has traveled the world performing ki ho'alu, Slack Key guitar. Like all great Slack Key guitarists, he has developed a distinctive style that is instantly recognizable. His soulful baritone voice is also unique and brings a deeply personal emotion to everything he sings.
Traditional artists tend to be much more aware of the past and much more concerned with honoring the sources of their art: "Dad always said, ‘Stick to your Hawaiian music, you can play other music, too, but stick with playing Hawaiian music.' I followed his advice, and I am more and more thankful every year, that I did," says Cyril. "The things my dad did for me opened doors. He paved the road for me, and that road even brought me to Carnegie Hall two times. The first time I played there, I was so nervous, but then I thought of Daddy, and I said ‘Dad, we made it!'. When I said that, I wasn't nervous anymore, because I could feel my dad there with me. The first song I sang was Hi'ilawe because that was the one my dad was most famous for doing. I sang it the best I could. I want to share my dad's legacy with everyone, and honor him in every way I can." Cyril recorded Hi'ilawe on his 1998 album NIGHT MOON [PO MAHINA] (Dancing Cat Records).
"I'm so glad for all I've been given," Cyril continues. "Daddy, and Atta Isaacs and Sonny Chillingworth, are the best Slack Key players I ever knew. What inspired me about them, was the way they played the guitar; the magic of what they would do. It makes you cry, gives you chicken skin (goose bumps), and puts you in a state of shock. That's how beautiful their music was. Nobody in the world can play exactly the way they did. They were my teachers. My workshop was in the backyard. I learned with my eyes and ears; no paper, no pencil, no charge. Now my teachers are gone, and I'm just doing what I can do and what I can project."
Born April 1, 1950, Cyril grew up in the small town of Waimanalo at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains on O'ahu's Windward coast. His father, Philip "Gabby" Pahinui (1921–1980), was Hawai'i's best known and most influential Slack Key guitarist, famous for his beautiful and innovative guitar playing, his soulful vocals, and his charismatic personality. The Pahinui home on Bell Street provided food, shelter, rehearsal space, concert hall, and playground for many of Hawai'i's foremost traditional musicians, including Slack Key masters Leland "Atta" Isaacs (1929-1983), and Sonny Chillingworth (1932-1994), 'ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae, and more.
By 1973 Gabby was at the peak of his popularity. The all–star group affectionately known as The Gabby Band was just getting started and Cyril joined his father, brothers Bla, Phillip, and Martin, upright string bass player Joe Gang Kupahu, along with Atta and Sonny; and Cyril played on all five of Gabby's ground breaking albums on the Panini label.
In 1979 Cyril joined The Peter Moon Band, which featured his brother Martin as well. While he could play in a variety of tunings, Cyril began to specialize in the C Major Tuning he learned from his dad and from Atta Isaacs (C-G-E-G-C-E, from the lowest pitched string to the highest). Atta so prominently recorded in this tuning, that it is very often called "Atta's C Tuning" in Hawai'i. For examples of Atta's own playing and stories of how he created the tuning, please see THE LEGENDARY ATTA ISAACS-INNOVATIVE HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY MASTER album (Hana Ola Records), and his 1969 duet recording with Gabby Pahinui TWO SLACK KEY GUITARS (Tradewinds Records).
1992 saw Cyril join his brothers Bla and Martin for a long–awaited Pahinui Brothers album. The album reunited the brothers with former Gabby Band guest star Ry Cooder, and gave them a chance to play with Ry and David Lindley and several other top Mainland players.
Also in 1992, Cyril began recording for Dancing Cat as a solo performer. "It took time to adjust to playing solo. No rhythm, no bass, and you've got to handle all the pa'ani (solos) yourself! But I'm very, very thankful for this chance to share Slack Key in this way."
His debut release on Dancing Cat, 6 & 12 STRING SLACK KEY, won the 1994 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.
For Dancing Cat, Cyril especially enjoys recording some songs in different tunings, styles, and tempos: "I like to surprise 'em. There's so many ways to play a song, it all depends on how you feel or what tuning you're in, or even who else is in the room. Some songs, there's five different takes, each one completely different. I play Open C Tuning in a different style now. Once you master that tuning you can master every standard key. I only play in Slack Key tunings, and I adapt other kinds of music to Slack Key."
True to his giving spirit, Cyril is increasingly offering workshops and school programs for students of all kinds – not only musicians. Now that he is retired from his day job, he is also able to take some time for personal travels. "Just this year I went for the first time to Waipio Valley to see the Hi'ilawe waterfall, which the song is about," Cyril says. "I got chicken skin when I saw Hi'ilawe, and I cried, seeing the beauty of the place while thinking of how beautifully my Dad sang that song. While I was there I met kids who were in a halau (school of hula), and their parents. They were working in the taro patch there. So I asked the kids if they would dance hula to the song Hi'ilawe while I sang it, and they danced wonderfully."
"And after we finished, I told the kids, ‘The reason I wanted you to dance to that song is because the waterfall Hi'ilawe supplies all the water that is so essential for the taro patch and, when you danced, you were giving thanks to Hi'ilawe.' And the entire time I was thinking of Daddy. I don't know if he ever got a chance to see Hi'ilawe, but in my heart, he was there with me. I said, ‘Dad, you are here with me in this valley.' That was the first time in my 57 years that I ever saw that waterfall and, doing that song there, I knew I had come full circle. I felt so comfortable there. I felt at home. I am going to return there to do some Slack Key workshops in the Valley, that will also include ‘ukulele, hula, and planting taro."
In addition to doing more workshops, Cyril looks forward to doing many more concerts in his beloved Hawaiian Islands, as well as in Mainland America, and around the world. As he says, "I'm ready to go and travel more, do concerts, share my music with people, and do workshops, and do everything I can to honor my dad. When people come up to talk to me after my shows, I always greet them and thank them. They are so wonderful to me. I tell them, ‘Now that I've met you, you are part of my 'ohana (family)'."