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Hawaii loses one of its greatest composers

By Staff | May 8, 2014


West Sider George Kahumoku Jr. and Maui’s music community are mourning the loss of Rev. Dennis David Kamakahi, who lost his battle with cancer last week Monday.

Kamakahi was a dear friend to Kahumoku and a regular guest performer at his weekly Slack Key Shows in Napili. They also played together on tours, at concerts and on music recordings.

Kahumoku called Kamakahi one of our greatest living Hawaiian songwriters and slack key guitar masters.

“To me, Dennis Kamakahi was Hawaii’s greatest song composer since Queen Lili’uokalani. Dennis wrote about the simple things in life and was a great observer of nature,” Kahumoku said.

“He wrote love songs (‘Pua Hone’) and songs about the hihiwai (fresh water escargot) and ka opae (river shrimp). He wrote wahi pana (place name) songs like ‘Koke’e.’ He wrote songs about our chiefs; songs about our winds; our waterfalls (‘Wahine Ili Kea’); and those dear to us (Luther Makekau),” Kahumoku continued.

“He wrote in the ‘real’ old style – simple, catchy tunes that we could keep beat to with our feet – and his poetry was such that his words will be remembered for generations, yet unborn. Hula dancers around the world dance to Dennis’ compositions.”

The two slack key masters were planning to tour the Mainland in April, but Kamakahi was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment.

Kamakahi “left such a legacy for the world,” his friend noted. He composed over 500 Hawaiian songs – many that have become famous Hawaiian standards.

It was Kamakahi’s tenure with the Sons of Hawaii (1974-1995) that led him to become one of the most prolific Hawaiian language songwriters. He sang and played traditional and original Hawaiian songs using multiple open slack key tunings.

Kahumoku said Kamakahi learned from Hawaiian masters such as Eddie Kamae, Tutu Kawena Pukui and Aunty Iolani Luahine.

Kamakahi’s music legacy includes multiple Grammy and Na Hoku Hanohano awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts and a place in the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.

He was the first modern Hawaiian music composer to have his six-string slack key guitar accepted into the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s permanent collection.

Kahumoku commented, “In my family alone, we span five generations who sang or danced hula to Dennis’ songs.

“He was a great friend, and we traveled the world together with Richard Ho’opi’i sharing our Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian stories and Hawaiian music,” he continued.

“I give thanks to Dennis for helping many of us navigate through this life. It has been an honor to share time and space during my lifetime with such a great poet and songwriter,” Kahumoku concluded.

A special Dennis Kamakahi Tribute Concert is in the works. Check www.SlackKeyShow.com for the announcement.