Music Man

June 5, 2012 | By Jason Black

Cyril Pahinui carries on his family's musical tradition. Photo courtesy: Cyril Pahinui

Slack-key King Cyril Pahinui spreads the aloha.

On a cool relaxing mid-week night in Waikiki, everybody wants a moment with 62-year-old traditional Hawaiian musician Cyril Pahinui. And it’s no wonder. The guy is a certified living legend as a master of slack key guitar. Truly gracious, he makes a point to share a handshake and some meaningful conversation with each of his guests. It’s the same scene that happens every week at his regular Wednesday night show at the Kani Ka Pila Grille located in the Outrigger Reef on the Beach hotel.

“I just like to make people happy,” he says, with a glimmer in his eye and a telling smile. “I enjoy playing to the crowd and connecting with them.”

Alongside Peter Moon Jr. (son of popular ’70s local musician Peter Moon) and Jeff Au Hoy, the Pahinui trio, wearing in matching red and white aloha shirts, moves through a selection of slack key guitar classics including a few from his influential dad, Gabby Pahinui. To him, it’s just as important to make memories with his music as it is making personal connections with his audience. And tonight’s audience, a gathering of visitors and residents alike, appreciates his warm aloha spirit.

“I like to treat you like you’re my friend, my ‘ohana (“family” in Hawaiian), even if we just met,” comments Pahinui. “It’s the way I am and what I love to do.”

Since he was a keiki (child), playing music has always been in his blood. Growing up in Waimanalo, located on O‘ahu’s east side, as one in ten children (four girls and six boys) to Gabby “Pops” Pahinui and his wife Emily, there was always music flowing through the house. In fact, their country home attracted many well-known musicians, including slack key masters Leland “Atta” Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth and Ray Kane, along with David “Feet” Rogers, Joe Marshall, Aunty Genoa Keawe, and Eddie Kamae. Weekends at the Pahinui’s were a continuous jam session, as they hosted dozens of musicians, both young and old, who came by to play with “Pops.”

On Wednesday evenings, Cyril brings that same family backyard jam session feeling into his weekly show at the Kani Ka Pila Grille (kani ka pila literally means “let’s play together”). Actually, he just celebrated his three-year anniversary at the venue. He’s very proud of the fact that he’s been there every week without fail, “excepting for once because it rained.” He’s also pleased that Hawaiian music has made a real resurgence in Waikiki. For him and his family, it recalls the days when the elder Pahinui used to play at the Queen’s Surf Hotel.

“I like playing regularly in Waikiki because it makes me feel as if I’m following in my dad’s footsteps,” he says.

When he’s not playing he enjoys teaching slack key guitar to others including promising musicians like Moon and Au Hoy. He believes that it’s all a part of giving back to something that has given him so much and preparing the next generation of slack key guitarists. “When I teach we’re going to have fun,” he says.

Ultimately, beyond all the accomplishments and accolades throughout his career, Cyril Pahinui simply loves to play music. And he’s always wanted to share that love of music with the world.

“I love the music,” he says. “I love the music and it’s opened doors for a lot of local musicians, including me.”

Cyril Pahinui
Wednesday nights from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Kani Ka Pila Grille at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach.

2169 Kalia Road [D:7 Waikiki Map]
(808) 923-3111