Makana will play in concert on March 23 at Open Space for Arts & Community (Lexi Mackenzie Photo).

Makana will play in concert on March 23 at Open Space for Arts & Community (Lexi Mackenzie Photo).

Makana returns to share virtuosity, aloha spirit

The slack-key guitar legend has a special love for Vashon audiences.

Makana, a renowned protégé of the Hawaiian slack key guitar legends including Bobby Moderow Jr. and Uncle Sonny Chillingworth, will return to Vashon for a performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Open Space for Arts & Community.

Working from a place of reverence for the slack key tradition and its place in Hawaiian culture, Makana now creates music that is infused with elements of bluegrass, rock, blues and raga.

With his compositions and playing described as “dazzling” by The New York Times, Makana has become an internationally acclaimed guitarist, singer, composer and activist working to stop to the proliferation of nuclear arms.

From his base in Hawaii, he tours widely, but audiences on Vashon hold a special place in his heart. First brought to the island through a friendship with islander Loren Sinner, Makana has now played shows here so often that he has lost track of the exact number of times he has stood on Vashon stages.

“It’s one of those places when you are on tour, it’s a reprieve,” Makana said in a phone interview, describing how he has felt an “unfolding of community” on Vashon.

Makana recalled one show he did on the island, when he spontaneously offered free hugs to everyone in the audience. After the show, he said, 300 lined up to be embraced.

“I serve as an ambassador of Hawaiian culture and music, and everyone on Vashon gets it; maybe because we’re all island people,” he said.

Makana’s appearance on Vashon is part of a tour that comes at a busy time for the artist, who is now also in the midst of several exciting recording projects.

He said he has recorded approximately 90 songs since April of 2018. Many of those are part of a new collection of royalty-free music, intended for use in film and media projects, that is being published by Facebook and Instagram. He’s also been hired to compose all of the ambient sounds heard in the public spaces of the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel in Honolulu. Makana says that island audiences can expect the unexpected at his upcoming island show — because no two Makana shows are ever the same.

“There is a lot of a love in my shows,” he said, describing what his performances might be like for the uninitiated. “My performances are art cultural conveyance, and they are also musical, with instrumental intensity and focus — some people call it virtuosity,” he explained.

“But there are also always stories and anecdotes and philosophy, and even humor and silliness. … I do what the room feels it wants, I don’t have an agenda,” he said.

But Makana does have a deep and personal commitment to working for change.

He was one of more than a million people in Hawaii who woke to news of an imminent nuclear attack on Jan. 13, 2018. The erroneous alert, he said, “got me thinking — why is this even a possibility?”

He recently made a haunting music video, “Mourning Armageddon,” shot inside a Russian nuclear fallout shelter bunker, singing a song that was improvised on the spot.

“There is a phrase in Hawaiian: “Kū’ē i ka papau make” — resist annihilation,” Makana said. “It’s time for people everywhere to do that.”

Makana’s show, presented by Open Space and Debra Heesch, will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Open Space. Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 on the day of the show. For more information, visit To find out more about Makana’s music, visit

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