Photo: Cyril and Chelle
Cyril and Chelle at 2010 Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila Festival. - Photo: Poohko Hawai‘i

The 12 Annual Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila will be held on April 20, 2019 at the Waimānalo Beach Park Pavilion dedicated in Gabby’s name by Mayor Frank Fasi.

“Ka wā ma mua, Ka wā ma hope” — the future is in the past.
~‘Olelo No‘eau. Hawaiian Proverbs

Kanikapila is a style of Hawaiian music produced in impromptu jam sessions, most commonly taking place at a beach, or family gathering. The term comes from kani which means sound and pila which means any string instrument. The park, located near the Waimānalo Hawaiian Homestead community is where Gabby lived with his family and where kī hō‘alu concerts were first founded during the 1980s.

Gabby’s son, Cyril Pahinui was arguably one of Hawai‘i’s finest slack key guitarists to ever live.

Raised in Waimānalo, he was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Cyril grew up playing with many of the best musicians in Hawai‘i in the backyard jams at his family home on Bell Street.

In 2007, Cyril Pahinui reestablished the kanikapila as a tribute to his late father acknowledging the musical heritage of Waimānalo as a focal point of kī hō‘alu the fingerstyle genre of guitar music that originated in Hawai‘i using open tunings. The festival is designed after gatherings remembered from Cyril’s childhood days, when weekends at the family’s home on Bell Street in Waimānalo were a continuous kanikapila. Since then, it has grown to become one of Hawai‘i’s premier celebrations Hawaiian music.

The park also a place where Gabby was given the opportunity to teach Hawaiian music inspiring Cyril to teach and initiate the Hawaiian Slack Key Masters Youth Outreach and Community Reinvestment program that brings Hawaiian music masters into the schools weekly to mentor and share their aloha for Hawaiian music traditions.

The history of the kanikapila and legend of the great jam sessions has a long-standing tradition with a serious pedigree, being equal parts breeding ground and proving ground. To grow up in Waimānalo in the 70s was to be part of the epoch-making movement now called the Hawaiian Renaissance. The deeply influential jam sessions in many ways represent the history of slack-key and are at the heart of and inexplicably tied to the history of the homestead. Music was Gabby’s life’s blood and as his sons grew to share his love of music, Gabby told them, “Play whatever you feel, whatever makes you happy, but always respect Hawaiian music and keep it in your heart.”

A welcoming pot of beef stew and rice always on the stove, made Pahinui’s home the perfect setting for a rejuvenation of Hawai‘i’s musical traditions. Starting out as a close-knit community of renowned musicians who came for the camaraderie and spontaneity. In the early 1970s the Hawaiian language like many other traditions and cultural arts had become endangered species, and here ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i found a voice in the music and helped to restore Hawaiian pride. The sessions were legendarily competitive where one-upmanship over multiple choruses were literally a layered experience. The most important thing to do was to come there with no preconception of what’s going to happen and not have anything planned to play.

As Pahinui’s fame grew, attendance at the weekend jam sessions mushroomed —involving hundreds of musicians and fans, with sessions starting early Friday mornings and wrapping up Monday mornings. Musicians came out to hobnob with friends and test their chops alongside the monumental innovators and masters of slack key.

With Pahinui’s sons’ skills and reputations budding, the sessions fostered a cross pollination between the generations. Gatherings attracted Intergenerational crowds and created the opportunity for a new generation of traditional musicians to come in to their own. It was here that Gabby first took a young Peter Moon under his wing giving birth to “contemporary” Hawaiian music.

The “back porch” music typical of slack-key retained its grassroots appeal but also became a popular commercial trend. Gabby’s recordings were among the most popular, and with brothers Philip, Bla, and Martin, Cyril performed on all five of their father’s extremely popular and influential Gabby Band albums for the Panini label. “There are so many ways to play a song,” Cyril says. “It all depends on how you feel or what tuning you’re in, or even who else is in the room.”

The Na‘alehu Theatre, Pahinui Productions and Outrigger Resorts are proud to carry the Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila forward to celebrate the musical heritage of Waimānalo, Gabby’s April 22nd, and Cyril’s April 21st birthdays. As in those days, this unprecedented event attracts hundreds of musicians and gives fans an opportunity to witness some truly unforgettable moments, amazing performances, and one of a kind all-star jams by some of Hawai‘i’s greatest musicians who get together to play music in the park.

The Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila is FREE and is supported through T-shirt sales. T-shirts are available for purchase at the event or in advance online. For more information about the performance schedule and T-shirts visit

Cyril and Chelle at 2010 Gabby Pahinui Waimānalo Kanikapila Festival. – Photo: Poohko Hawai‘i