By Audrey Coleman

Barry Flanagan
Barry Flanagan with a Beamer Steel String.
Two pairs of Hawaiian guitarists, veterans of their genres, have injected their shows with fresh elements that should draw audiences to Little Tokyo’s Aratani Theater on Saturday, October 4 and to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, October 10. Experience George Kahumoku Jr. and Jerome Koko together on the first Saturday followed by the duo Hapa together with the Academy of Hawaiian Arts on the second. Here’s why.

First Delight

The October 4 performance dubbed Legends of the Hawaiian 12 String Guitar features George Kahumoku Jr. whose lush sound on the slack key guitar has graced multiple CDs in concert with Jerome Koko, known principally as the guitarist/master of ceremonies for the band that emerged from the Hawaiian Renaissance over 20 years ago, the Makaha Sons. Both winners in the Na Hoku Hano Hano (Hawaiian Grammy) awards, they have more in common than guitar virtuosity. George K.’s spontaneous, infectious humor has always been a hallmark of his shows and lends an intimate atmosphere to the weekly Slack Key Masters show he hosts on Maui when not on tour. One could use the same words to describe Jerome K.’s personality that for over 20 years has punctuated Makaha Sons performances with comic moments. As the Sons lost two of their principal members in the past two years – Jerome’s brother, bassist/vocalist John, who died earlier this year, and 6-string guitar player/arranger Moon Kauakahi, who announced his retirement– it is understandable that Jerome is exploring new ways to showcase his talents. As I understand it, the performance will also include gifted guitar and uke player-composer-arranger-award-winning producer Daniel Ho.

Jerome Koko
Jerome Koko has performed with the ground-breaking Makaha Sons band for over thirty years.

George Kahumoku Jr
George Kahumoku Jr. is an acclaimed slack key guitarist, humorist, author, and program host.

What I find especially refreshing is an event taking place the Friday night before the Legends performance in an intimate area beside the Aratani Theater known as U-space. George Kahumoko Jr. and Jerome Koko will be reminiscing –what the Hawaiian’s call “talking story” –Daniel Ho moderating. I have heard George K. talk story during performances and read his warmly hilarious and insightful book A Hawaiian Life, so I know to expect gems from this man. Putting him together with Jerome Koko and listening to them play off one another makes me expect the unexpected. That this pre-concert event is taking place from 8:00pm to 9:00pm the night before the concert is a tad inconvenient. I don’t know why it could not have happened from 7:00pm to 8:00pm on the Saturday, but there must be sound reasons. I will brave the traffic and hope many of you will take my recommendation and make the effort, too.

Second Delight

Barry Flanagan, New Jersey-born guitarist and founder of Hapa, discovered Hawaiian culture as a young man and made a deep commitment not only to master Hawaiian style slack key guitar but to learn the language well enough to compose moving poetic lyrics to his songs. The word hapa means “mixed,” usually referring to racial ancestry. By joining forces with a native Hawaiian vocalist, Flanagan created a mixed duo that thrilled audiences from the release of the debut Hapa CD in 1995. However, like Jerome Koko, Flanagan has suffered loss – from the recent departure of vocalist Nathan Aweau and the death of the chanter who graced most of their performances, Charles Ka'upu. Flanagan recruited a new partner, Kapono Na’ili’ili, who brings to the duo a youthful contemporary style along with his knowledge of Hawaiian culture.

Mark Hoomalu
Mark Ho'omalu has spiced up contemporary hula while maintaining respect for its traditions..

Daniel Ho
Daniel Ho is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer who will be accompanying the two guitarists and moderating their 'talk story'.

Inviting the Academy of Hawaiian Arts to share about a third of the October 10 performance time strikes me as a bold step. Ho’omalo’s troupe is known for interpreting traditional hula material with a contemporary twist – injecting mele (songs that are danced) with jazz, blues, and other genres. In fact, his choreography has ruffled some traditional feathers in the hula community but with stellar performances at the Merrie Monarch Festival, Hawaii’s Olympics of hula, and other high profile events, his influence on the art cannot be discounted. I’m eager to see the talents of Hapa and Ho’omalu share the stage.

Two Hawaiian delights, one happening downtown and the other in the South Bay, both worth the drive. 


Friday, October 2 – 8:00pm

Saturday, October 3 – 8:00pm 

George Kahumoku Jr. and Jerome Koko

Japanese American Cultural & Community Center - Aratani Theatre

244 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012



Saturday, October 10 – 8:00pm

Hapa and the Academy of Hawaiian Arts

Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center

1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90278


Concert information Tickets

Audrey Coleman is a writer, educator, and ethnomusicologist who explores traditional and world musics in Southern California and beyond.