A Slack-Key Wizard | “Inikiniki Malie (Gentle Pinches of Wind)” by Kalama’s Quartet

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Mason Vore

I don’t really know for sure, but this week’s Throwback Thursday has to be one of the earliest throwbacks in the station’s history. Released in 1933, “Inikiniki Malie” is a Hawaiian folk song made by Kalama’s Quartet, led by Honolulu-based steel guitarist and singer Mike Hanapi.

The track combines a style of slack-key guitar made popular by Hawaii with Hanapi’s tranquil falsetto for a truly unique track, with an amazing and fitting title that translates to “Gentle Pinches of Wind.”

The steel guitar that would go on to become a staple of American folk music in the 20th century was actually pioneered by native Hawaiian Joseph Kekuku, according to this novel on Hawaiian music. This article tells the story of Kekuku’s creation of the slide guitar.

 “Joseph told me that he was walking along a road in Honolulu forty-two years ago, holding an old Spanish guitar, when he saw a rusty bolt on the ground. As he picked it up, the bolt accidentally vibrated one of the strings and produced a new tone that was rather pleasing. After practicing for a time with the metal bolt, Joe experimented with the back of a pocket-knife, then with the back of a steel comb, and still later on with a highly-polished steel [bar] very similar to the sort that is used today. 

It’s insane to think that Kekuku allegedly created such a significant instrumental technique purely by accident!

“Inikiniki Malie” and its mix of howling vocals with the fingerpicking rhythm afforded by the steel guitar resembles the guitar playing style that foundational blues musicians, such as Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Son House, utilized in establishing and furthering blues music. The combination of this exciting instrumentation and stirring vocal progression on “Gentle Pinches of Wind” makes up a standout track in a pivotal time for 20th century music.

“Inikiniki Malie” is a truly special track that, while written with the beaches of Hawaii in mind, feels comfortable playing next to the warmth of a fireplace or a candle at the beginning of this winter season.