Ledward Kaapana

Led Kaapana is a man of such remarkable talent that even while he is going strong in the very prime of his career, I must include him in my Hall of Fame.  I have had the privilege of seeing Led perform on a number of occasions (once from a distance of four feet!) and I simply cannot describe in mere words the talent and pure joy of life he possesses.  I don’t think I’ve seen another man enjoy his work as much as Led does, and this joy comes through every moment he is performing.

His guitar and u’kele playing are legendary, and deservedly so.  I have never seen fingers move as fast when he really starts cranking on his u’kelele; he is certainly one of the “seven wonders of the musical world.”  I once saw him play a rendition of the famous 1960s surf tune “Pipeline” (originally done by the Chantays in 1963) in what must have been triple or quadruple time, and every note was perfect…absolutely perfect.  In addition to the u’kelele, he plays the acoustic guitar, the steel guitar, the autoharp and the bass guitar.  And on top of all that he is a remarkably gifted vocalist, noted for his beautiful falsetto.

Early life

Led grew up in a musical family living in the small black-sand bay village of Kalapana where he says there were little distractions. “We didn’t have electricity, not television, not even much radio, so we entertained ourselves. You could go to any house and everybody was playing music.” At fourteen, he began performing professionally with his mother, Tina, and his uncle, the rarely-recorded slack-key master Fred Punahoa.

Led’s big break came a few years later when he was a part of Hui ‘Ohana, with his twin brother, Nedward, and his cousin Dennis Pavao. Hui ‘Ohana released fourteen albums, each of which was a commercial success. Led left the group eventually, then released six albums as the leader of another trio, I Kona, and performed with the Pahinui Brothers, Aunty Genoa Keawe, David Chun, Barney Isaacs and Uncle Joe Keawe.

His first solo album, Simply Slack Key, was released in 1988 on Paradise Records; the album won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for “Instrumental Album of the Year” in 1989. He released Led Live in 1994 on Dancing Cat Records. He has performed and recorded with acoustic lap-steel player Bob Brozman, and released several more albums on the Dancing Cat label from the late 1990s onward.

It should be noted that Kaapana spells his name without using the modern ‘okina marking that is used to indicate the proper pronunciation of certain Hawaiian words. Kaapana has said that his family has always spelled it without an ‘okina and that he prefers the traditional spelling. Most of his marketing literature is without the okina.

Many of his fans refer to themselves as “Led Heads.”  I, your host, certainly am one!

Quote

“Everything you play, every time you play, there’s a mood, an energy. If you plug into it, the music just flows. Even in a simple song, there are so many different ways to play the melody, the rhythm, the harmony. It never stops if you stay open to it.”

Awards

Led is one of the few Hawaiian recording artists who has received Na Hoku Hanohano Awards from the Hawai’i Academy of Recording Arts (HARA) for work as a member of three different recording entities—as a solo artist, as a member of Ledward Kaapana & I Kona, and as a member of Hui ‘Ohana. Two of his solo albums, ‘”Ki Ho’alu: Hawaiian Slack Key” and “Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar” received Grammy Award nominations and appeared on the final ballot in the “Best Hawaiian Music Album” category.

His guitar and u’kele playing are legendary, and deservedly so.  I have never seen fingers move as fast when he really starts cranking on his u’kelele; he is certainly one of the “seven wonders of the musical world.”  I once saw him play a rendition of the famous 1960s surf tune “Pipeline” (originally done by the Chantays in 1963) in what must have been triple or quadruple time, and every note was perfect…absolutely perfect.  In addition to the u’kelele, he plays the acoustic guitar, the steel guitar, the autoharp and the bass guitar.  And on top of all that he is a remarkably gifted vocalist, noted for his beautiful falsetto.

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