Ledward Ka'apana - Biography

In a career spanning more than 40 years, slack key guitarist Ledward Kaapana has become a legend of Hawaiian music. He is one of the few Hawaiian artists to receive Na Hoku Hanohano Awards from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts for work as a member of three different acts: as a solo artist, as a member of Ledward Kaapana & I Kona, and as a member of Hui 'Ohana. Two of his albums, Ki Ho’alu: Hawaiian Slack Key (2005 Rhythm & Roots) and Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar (2006 Rhythm & Roots), received Grammy nominations for best Hawaiian album.


Kaapana was born in 1948 and grew up in the tiny black sand village of Kalapana without electricity, TV, or radio. Everyone in his extended family played traditional music, and Kaapana quickly learned to play from his mother Tina Kaapana and his uncle Fred Punahoa. When he was finally exposed to country, jazz, and Latin music, he’d often drop a quote from another tune into the traditional music he played, much to the delight of his family. While still in his teens, he formed Hui’Ohana with his twin brother Ned and cousin Dennis Pavao. They were one of the first modern bands to play old time traditional Hawaiian music and helped kick off the Hawaiian music renaissance of the 1970s. The band released 14 hit albums, including Young Hawaii Plays Old Hawaii (1973 Lehua) — considered a classic of traditional music, Hana Hou (1973 Lehua), Ke Kolu (1974 Lehua), and Kalapana to Waikiki (1975 Lehua).


Kaapana’s next band was another trio, Ledward Kaapana & I Kona. Meanwhile, he was also busy with his solo career. His 1983 album Lima Wella (Lehua) won a Na Hoku Hanohano award for Best Instrumental Album. In the 1990s, he was a featured artist with the National Council of Traditional Arts’ Masters of the Steel String Guitar tours three years in a row. Kaapana is a musically adventurous artist who is always ready to collaborate and explore new territory. In 1994, he released Led Live Solo (Dancing Cat), featuring both slack key and electric guitar pieces. 1997 brought Kika Kila Meets Ki Ho`alu (Dancing Cat), a collaboration with Bob Brozman. 1998’s Waltz of the Wind (Windham Hill) is a Nashville jam session with Allison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, and Sam Bush that includes bluegrass, Texas swing, Cajun, and Hawaiian tunes. 2000’s Black Sand (Dancing Cat),which won a Na Hoku Hanohano Instrumental Album of the Year award, includes Tahitian and Hawaiian songs, plus one autoharp instrumental. The following year, Kaapana released In the Saddle (2001 Dancing Cat), another duo effort with slide guitar wiz Bob Brozman. Both 2005’s Ki Ho’alu: Hawaiian Slack Key (Rhythm & Roots) and 2006’s Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar (Rhythm & Roots) were nominated for Grammys. Ki Ho’alu: Hawaiian Slack Key was a Hoku Award winner for Instrumental Album of the Year.


Kaapana shared Grammys with fellow guitarists for two recent compilations, Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1 (Daniel Ho) in 2006 and Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (Daniel Ho) in 2008. Also in 2008, Kaapana released the solo album Force of Nature (Jus’ Press) on his own Jus’ Press label.

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