Ledward Kaapana said life was basic when he was growing up in the tiny village of Kalapana, on the remote southeastern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. “We didn’t have electricity, not television, not even much radio,” he said. “So we entertained ourselves. You could go to any house, and everybody was playing music.” In his letter of support for Kaapana’s nomination for the NEA honor, ethnomusicologist J.W. Junker noted, “As Led likes to joke: ‘People say that in Kalapana, the music got better as you went further down the road. We lived at the end of the road!’”
When Kaapana was in his teens, he and his twin brother, Nedward, and his cousin Dennis Pavao formed a group, Hui Ohana, which produced fourteen popular albums, made hundreds of live appearances and became a key element in the 1970s renaissance of traditional Hawaiian music. Subsequently, Kaapana formed the trio I Kona. One of its six albums, Jus’ Press, received a Hawaii Academy of Arts Na Hoku Award. Two of his solo albums, Lima Wela and Black Sand, were named Na Hoku Hanohano Instrumental Albums of the Year. In 2008, he formed his own label, Jus’ Press Productions, and released Force of Nature with twelve-string guitarist Mike Kaawa, which earned a Grammy nomination. The two were named Favorite Entertainers at the 2009 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. Kaapana has also received two other Grammy nominations and has collaborated with musicians ranging from Hawaiian icons Aunty Genoa Keawe and Barney Isaacs to country performers Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins and Alison Krauss.
Kaapana is unusual in that he has mastered both leading stringed instruments in Hawaiian music, the ukulele and the guitar, played in the slack-key style, which involves a number of alternate tunings. He is equally skilled as an accompanist and a hot, fleet-fingered soloist and also plays bass, steel guitar and autoharp, in the rarely heard Hawaiian style. In addition, he is an accomplished vocalist, in both the falsetto and baritone styles.
As a performer and teacher, Kaapana is dedicated to perpetuating the traditions on which he was raised. He has appeared in numerous festivals at home, on the U.S. mainland and abroad and has worked, often without compensation, with many of the leading cultural institutions and schools in Hawaii. He has taught privately and at workshops for years and, in 2003, established the Led Kaapana Slack Key Guitar Camp, the only such camp on the island of Oahu.
Kaapana, Ledward. Black Sand. Dancing Cat CD 2011.
_______________. The Legend – Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar. Rhythm & Roots CD 2010.
_______________. Kiho’alu. Rhythm & Roots CD 2005.
_______________. Waltz of the Wind. Windham Hill Records CD 1998.
_______________. Led Live – Solo. Dancing Cat CD 1994.
_______________ and Bob Brozman. In the Saddle. Windham Hill Records CD 2001.
Edward Kaapana, 'E Ku'u, Morning Dew,' courtesy Ledward Kaapana
Edward Kaapana, 'Koke'e,' courtesy Ledward Kaapana
The Hawaiian Legends: Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi and Nathan Aweau, 'No Ke Ano Ahiahi,' courtesy Ledward Kaapana. This is the first song from the first concert and is completely unrehearsed, courtesy Ledward Kaapana
Ledward Kaapana, 'Steel Guitar Rag (featuring Jerry Douglas),' Waltz of the Wind, Windham Hill Records, 1998, DC-38016-CD
Ledward Kaapana, '12th Street Rag/Sweet Georgia Brown,' Grandmaster Slack Key Guitar, Rhythm and Roots Records, 2006
Ledward Kaapana answers the questions 'Where did you grow up? And what was it like?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 7, 2011
Ledward Kaapana answers the question 'What is slack key guitar?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 7, 2011
Ledward Kaapana answers the question 'How do you create your musical compositions?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 7, 2011
Ledward Kaapana talks about the meaning of the slack key tradition for him. Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 7, 2011
Ledward Kaapana answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 7, 2011