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Off Track: Slack Key from Past to Present

April 19, 2020

From the ArcGIS StoryMaps website

Philip Kunia “Gabby” Pahinui

Kīhō‘alu, or slack key guitar, is a style of playing acoustic guitar that emerged in Hawaii in the early 19th century and experienced a revival in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Historically, slack key first arose in Hawaii around 1832 after “vaqueros”, Mexican and Spanish cowboys, were commissioned by King Kamehameha III to help locals manage the excess of cattle on the island. 

By night, the vaqueros played guitar in their Spanish tunings, music which eager Hawaiians absorbed. The vaqueros left some guitars behind for the locals, who adapted the instrument by loosening or “slacking” the guitar strings and inventing their own unique tunings.

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