Performed on an acoustic steel-string guitar with open tunings and a finger-picking technique, Hawaiian slack key guitar music emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. Though performed on a non-Hawaiian instrument, it is widely considered to be an authentic Hawaiian tradition grounded in Hawaiian aesthetics and cultural values. In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs listens to Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and non-Hawaiian slack key guitarists in Hawai‘i, California, and Japan, attentive to the ways in which notions of Kanaka Maoli belonging and authenticity are negotiated and articulated in all three locations.
In Hawai‘i, slack key guitar functions as a sign of Kanaka Maoli cultural renewal, resilience, and resistance in the face of appropriation and occupation, while in Japan it nurtures a merged Japanese-Hawaiian artistic and cultural sensibility. For diasporic Hawaiians in California, it provides a way to claim Hawaiian identity. By demonstrating how slack key guitar is a site for the articulation of Hawaiian values, Fellezs illuminates how slack key guitarists are reconfiguring notions of Hawaiian belonging, aesthetics, and politics throughout the transPacific.
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