Performed on an acoustic steel-string guitar with open tunings and a finger-picking technique, Hawaiian slack key guitar music emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. Though performed on a non-Hawaiian instrument, it is widely considered to be an authentic Hawaiian tradition grounded in Hawaiian aesthetics and cultural values. In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs listens to Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and non-Hawaiian slack key guitarists in Hawai‘i, California, and Japan, attentive to the ways in which notions of Kanaka Maoli belonging and authenticity are negotiated and articulated in all three locations. In Hawai‘i, slack key guitar functions as a sign of Kanaka Maoli cultural renewal, resilience, and resistance in the face of appropriation and occupation, while in Japan it nurtures a merged Japanese-Hawaiian artistic and cultural sensibility. For diasporic Hawaiians in California, it provides a way to claim Hawaiian identity. By demonstrating how slack key guitar is a site for the articulation of Hawaiian values, Fellezs illuminates how slack key guitarists are reconfiguring notions of Hawaiian belonging, aesthetics, and politics throughout the transPacific.
Kevin Fellezs is an Associate Professor of Music and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. His recent book, Listen But Don’t Ask Question: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Across the TransPacific (Duke University Press), is a transnational study of the ways in which Hawaiian belonging is articulated by Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and non-Hawaiian guitarists in Hawai‘i, California, and Japan. His first book, Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion (Duke University Press, 2011), is a study of fusion (jazz-rock-funk) music of the 1970s, and was awarded the 2012 Woody Guthrie Book Award. He has published articles on music from jazz to heavy metal to enka in Jazz Perspectives, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and the Journal of the Society for American Music, as well as in numerous anthologies.
Deborah Wong is an ethnomusicologist and Professor of Music at the University of California, Riverside. She specializes in the musics of Asian America and Thailand and has written three books: Louder and Faster: Pain, Joy, and the Body Politic in Asian American Taiko (2019, University of California Press), Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music, and Sounding the Center: History and Aesthetics in Thai Buddhist Ritual. She served as editor for Nobuko Miyamoto’s memoir, Not Yo’ Butterfly: My Long Song of Relocation, Race, Love, and Revolution (2021). She is a past President of the Society for Ethnomusicology. With Sherrie Tucker and Jeremy Wallach, she is a series editor for Wesleyan University Press’s Music/Culture series and has served on the editorial boards for the various journals and book series. She is a curator for the new Asian Pacific America Series for Smithsonian Folkways. Very active in public sector work at the national, state, and local levels, she recently joined the Board of the Chinese American Museum DC.