Living ‘Pops’ Legacy
The Pahinui sons revive a musical tribute to their dad in his hometown of Waimānalo
By Blaine Fergerstrom / Ka Wai Ola
When kī hō‘alu legend Gabby “Pops” Pahinui died in 1980, the City and County of Honolulu looked for a fitting way to memorialize the man who had done so much for Hawai‘i’s culture and people. After allowing the city refuse worker to lie in state in Honolulu Hale, then-mayor Frank F. Fasi moved to name a pavilion in Waimānalo Beach Park in his remembrance.
“Gabby Pahinui Pavilion,” at its dedication, became home to an impromptu slack key celebration which could have gone on “for days,” according to Gabby’s son, Cyril Pahinui. That impromptu party was repeated a few times, annually, in remembrance of “Pops.”
Over time, though, the focus changed from a Pahinui tribute and it grew into the present-day Kī hō‘alu Slack Key Festival. The festival outgrew its Waimānalo roots, moving to larger, more central, modern venues with exponentially larger audiences.
The brothers Pahinui continued their father’s legacy, both together and individually, playing and creating beautiful music. They created numerous albums and bands, each going their separate musical ways. Though separate, each of the sons carried the seeds that their father had sown in their music. You can still hear Gabby whenever any of the sons plays or sings.
Though they all had contracts with different record labels and were members of different groups, sons Bla, Martin and Cyril, united in 1992 to craft an album called The Pahinui Bros., after which they dispersed, professionally, once more.
Cyril talked about growing up Pahinui: “The experience I had with daddy, when I was young, I used to go perform with him … get some extra bread – money. He would tell me ‘Boy, what you like play? Bass? ‘Ukukele? Guitar? I just travel with them.
“Me, him and Atta’s (Isaacs) son, we would be going around the island and we go play. But I was young boy, I think was about 8 years old, I had to sit on my dad’s lap. But my mom say, ‘Daddy, take da boy wit you, yeah?’ and my father was like, ‘OK son, come with daddy.’
“Why my mom wanted me to go was because then my father had to come home!”
And when they did get home, “Ma would be, ‘OK, where the money?’ ” She would check with the boy to see how much money they had made.
The brothers Pahinui have received numerous awards for their music. Of note, most recently, brothers Cyril and Martin shared in the glory of the 2007 Hawaiian Music Grammy for Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, which they performed on, and Cyril won a 2008 Nā Hōkū Hanohano award for his He‘eia album.
THE GABBY PAHINUI WAIMĀNALO KANIKAPILA
In 2008, the decision was made to resurrect the original tribute to Gabby “Pops” Pahinui at his namesake pavilion in his hometown, Waimānalo. The family, along with Hui Mālama I Ke Kai, announced the return of the “Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila” with an ambitious lineup of dozens of top Hawaiian music entertainers.
The three brothers, with their own groups, are scheduled to appear: brother James “Bla” Pahinui with his Hukipau band; brother Martin with George Kuo and Aaron Mahi; and brother Cyril, who put together a group called the “Pahinui Hawaiian Band.”
The new band is a takeoff on the old “Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band” and is intended as a tribute to “Pops” and his ‘ohana.
The lineup will thrill any fan of Hawaiian music, and particularly Pahinui Hawaiian music: Cyril Pahinui, Martin Pahinui, grandpa’s namesake Gabby Pahinui (Martin’s son), Kali Pahinui, Kunia Galdeira and Peter Moon (Peter Moon’s son, also called “Peter Boy”).
Cyril talks fondly about his first days as a professional Hawaiian musician when Peter Moon (the father) gave him his break, asking him to play with the Sunday Mānoa when he was only 17 years old. Moon had previously played with Gabby and the Waimānalo gang. When it came time to start his own group, he asked Cyril to be a part of it.
Now Cyril is returning the favor through Moon’s son, also named Peter (though not a Jr.), asking him to play with the Pahinui Hawaiian Band. Moon, who recently turned 18, was terrified at the thought. But through careful grooming, Cyril is encouraging him to take risks.
“The boy can play,” says Cyril, “but he’s kind of shy, sometimes. He would only play by himself, in his room.” Peter Boy, though unwilling to play for others, had collected all of his father’s albums, and had been practicing, daily, in his room.
“He could play any song!” from his dad’s collection, according to Cyril.
Cyril has been taking Peter Boy under his wing, practicing and even doing a couple of live gigs with him. He is trying to teach Peter Boy to play for a public audience.
“Same thing like I’m doing with Peter Boy, you know? I’m not goin’ teach you – I mean, I goin’ teach you if you need help – but I goin’ teach you to play with us, you know? Play with people, meeting people, so you goin’ break the fear. Because if I tell you, ‘Play one solo,’ and you go, ‘Shame, I no like,’ no. There’s no time for fear.
“Before, when I go ‘Peter, take one solo!’ he look at me, ‘No, no, uncle, I no like, please,’ basically, da kine, begging me not to take one solo.”
“When daddy said, ‘Son, go take one solo,’ man, we was right there, no hesitate, and we waiting for it.
“We come out, we create something right there, on the spot, just like how daddy did it.”
And that is what he hopes for the young Peter Moon, too, to teach him, Pahinui style, “just like how daddy did it.”
With other founding member Palani Vaughan also scheduled to appear, it raises the possibility of a Sunday Mānoa reunion, if even for just a song or two.
With the free Aug. 9 show scheduled to start at 9 a.m., Cyril advises with a smile, “You better come early.” The kanikapila is scheduled to run till 6 p.m. For more information on the Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila, call 722-8575. Email Cyril@cyrilpahinui.com, or see www.gabbypahinui.com. For booth information, contact Hui Mālama I Ke Kai at email@example.com.