Local Moco, Waikiki’s Cultural Ambassador: Makana

Photo by John Hook

The Life of a Waikkīkī Cultural Ambassador, Makana

“I always think of International Market Place as the forgotten child of Waikiki. It’s like everything has moved forward in time except for the Market Place, and that’s what I love about it. The atmosphere in here, it’s like the last bastion of Waikiki.”

Makana, a master slack key guitarist, is the host of Return to Waikiki, a brand new lū‘au experience nestled amidst the banyan trees in International Market Place.

The show, set against the backdrop of a 1920s radio show, takes the viewer on a journey through different aspects and eras of Hawaiian music, incorporating all types of hula, like kahiko, ‘auana, and even drunken, or naughty hula.

“This is truly a passion project. I thought I was gonna be the next Don Ho, and then I realized, it’s slavery! We’re working so hard to convince people that this is cool, that you can come back to Waikiki.”

So what’s wrong with Waikiki?

“I feel this intense pain. This is where we grew up, and it didn’t used to feel like this. On Kuhio, it feels like Detroit. Hookers beating each other up, pimps everywhere. On Kalakaua it feels like an India bazaar. … I wanted to maintain a sense of place here, perpetuate the culture and create an experience that was genuine and valuable to both the visitor and the local.”

In 2006, Kirk Hammett of Metallica quoted Makana and André Segovia (arguably the greatest guitar player of all time) as two of his new influences.

“Hawaiian slack key is a cultural art form, but the technique is universal, so the potential of it to become a universal language in music is huge. That’s how you keep Hawaiian tradition alive, not just playing it, but by influencing others.”

So what is the value of Hawaiian music, tradition and culture?

“Our archipelago is so exotic to people, and that is the hook to bring them here. But people and corporations dress their product in a cloak, so when you go underneath or behind it, there’s no sense of relationship to place for 90 percent of what’s out there. You can only go so far away from your sense of place that it becomes obvious to even the lowest common denominator, non-thinking idiot who just wants to get laid and drink beer. Hawai‘i is even going to stop appealing to them because at some point, we’ll have no value to offer. Once we lose our sense of place I think we kill Hawai‘i. We kill it. To come here and just not feel like you’re here anymore, what a horrible potentiality.”

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