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Playlist: Heidi Chang's Portfolio

Multimedia Journalist & Independent Producer Honolulu, Hawaii Credit:
Multimedia Journalist & Independent Producer Honolulu, Hawaii
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Remembering A Legendary Hawaiian Musician

From Heidi Chang | 05:38

Gabby Pahinui is a legend in Hawaiian music and is known as the “Father of Modern Slack Key Guitar.” He was a driving force behind the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s. Since Gabby died in 1980, three of his sons have been carrying on his musical legacy. A new statue in honors Gabby’s legacy in Waikiki.


Gabby Pahinui is a legend in Hawaiian music and is known as the “Father of Modern Slack Key Guitar” – a style of playing unique to the islands. He was a driving force behind the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s that began with the music, and helped revive interest in Hawaiian dance, language and other traditions.  Since Gabby died in 1980, three of his sons have been carrying on his musical legacy.  But one of them, Martin Pahinui, passed away last year, and now it’s up to the next generation to carry on the tradition.

A bronze statue now stands in Waikiki to honor Gabby Pahinui.  To celebrate its unveiling this spring, his grandchildren performed his signature tune, Hi’ilawe.

Their grandfather recorded the song in 1947, the first time slack key, which refers to the guitar’s open tunings, had been featured on disc.

“He’s sort of like the Louis Armstrong of Hawaiian music you might say. He just had that – he was right on top of the whole sound pyramid here,” said world-reknowned guitarist Ry Cooder, in a 1979 KHON TV special.  He ended up recording two albums with “The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band” and helped it reach an international audience. “Certainly the greatest guitar player I’ve ever met in my life. Just hanging around with the guy, I learned more about music and guitar in general than from anybody else I’ve ever met.” 

“Even today, when you listen to his music, it seems fresh. How do you do that?  That’s genius…” says Keola Beamer, who’s an acclaimed guitarist himself and comes from one of Hawaii’s most respected musical families.  He and his brother Kapono were also at the forefront of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance, but he says, Gabby Pahinui led the way. “We all looked up to him. You know, ‘cause he was “Pops,” he was the man. He had the stuff,” says Beamer. ” And I really regarded him as a cultural folk hero because he had the courage to be authentically who he was in the world and an incredible musician on top of that.” 

Gabby Pahinui passed on his unique style of playing guitar and his tunings to his sons, but he didn’t teach them. “They can watch us. That doesn’t mean we teach them. Any time of the day, any time of the night, any place–would be in the kitchen, down the beach. That doesn’t mean they gonna learn. But they can watch and they’ll pick it up from there,” he said in a 1979 interview recorded for his label, Panini Records. 

Gabby recorded his first album with his sons Bla, Cyril and Martin in 1972.

“The rhythm, the rhythm is so important to my Dad, without the rhythm, there’s nothing,” according to Bla. “So that’s why with my left hand and my Dad’s right hand’s rhythms, I’m going one way, that’s where you get the “Pahinui” sound.”

Bla Pahinui is now in his 70s.  His brother Cyril is in his 60’s and has tried to keep his father’s legacy alive by teaching younger musicians. “My father did pave the road in music, so anything he did help out a lot of musicians today,” says Cyril Pahinui.

For years, Gabby’s youngest son, Martin Pahinui, also backed up his father on guitar, bass and vocals.  In 2011, he told me that his father always said, play from the heart. “Because it comes out like magic. But if you’re reading from a book, it’s going to come out like the book,” he laughed. “But if you do it from here (points to his heart), then whatever’s in here… you know the song, it will come out from here. And that’s what I’ll always remember.”

Now Martin is being remembered for his contributions to Hawaiian music.  He died in May at the age of 65.  And now it’s up to the next generation.

“It’s going to be hard to find the same sound, my grandfather, as well as my uncles,” say Gabby Pahinui’s grandson, Kunia Galdeira, who performs on the Big Island of Hawaii. He’s also keeping his family’s heritage alive by passing its traditions on to his own children. “The responsibility is to teach them to be humble, to have an open mind about music.  And most importantly, is to continue to perpetuate the culture that comes along with that, the music,” says Galdeira.

“And that’s a part of our identity as Hawaiians,” says Keola Beamer.  “So in a sense, by keeping our traditions alive, we’re really preserving the heritage of our own families.”

A heritage that with any luck and a little practice will continue, even though the islands and their musical landscape are changing. 
Great story to air during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May.

Tyrus Wong: Chinese American Artist Broke Barriers, Reached Back Centuries to Create Bambi

From Heidi Chang | 04:59

Tyrus Wong, a pioneering Chinese American artist who created the look of the movie, "Bambi," left a great legacy and continues to inspire artists and filmmakers today. Wong was 106 when he passed away last year. He was an immigrant who who overcame poverty and discrimination, and made lasting contributions to American art and culture. Wong was named a Disney Legend in 2001. A documentary about his life airs on "American Masters" on PBS during the Fall 2017.


This week a documentary on the pioneering Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong premieres nationwide on "American Masters" on PBS on Sept 8, 2017. (Check local listings, dates my vary for stations.)

Wong is best known for his work on the animated Disney classic, “Bambi,” although recognition for that contribution was a long time in coming. He overcame poverty and discrimination to become a renowned painter and Hollywood studio artist.  Wong died in the final days of 2016. He was 106. Reporter Heidi Chang looks back at Wong's amazing legacy, which continues to inspire many artists and filmmakers today.
The movie “Bambi” has captivated audiences around the world for decades, and Wong's contribution is one of the reasons why. Inspired by landscape painting of the Song dynasty, he created the look of the film.  But that accomplishment would have been hard to imagine in 1919, when Wong left a poor village in China, and arrived in the United States with his father, and never saw his mother again. 
Anti-Chinese laws at the time, made it extremely difficult for Chinese immigrants to enter the country, but the Wong's eventually settled in Los Angeles. His father encouraged him to practice calligraphy.  Since they couldn’t afford ink or drawing paper, he’d dip his brush in water, and draw characters on old newspapers. 
Eventually, Wong attended art school, where he studied art during the day and worked there as a janitor at night.
But making a living as a fine artist wasn’t easy.  So Wong got a job at the Walt Disney Studio in 1938, drawing the frames “in between” the animator’s key drawings. 
When he heard Disney was making a film based on the novel, “Bambi,” he drew sketches of deer in a forest, and showed them to his supervisor.  Those images caught Walt Disney's eye and Wong’s artwork ended up inspiring the visual look of the film. 
But Wong was fired before “Bambi” was completed in 1942, after a labor strike, and his contributions to the film were never fully recognized.  Instead, he was credited as one of the background artists. 
Wong went on to work at other studios, and also created fine art, top-selling Christmas cards and paintings to decorate dinnerware.
Filmmaker Pamela Tom captures his life story in a new documentary called “Tyrus” and hopes it will inspire others who want to pursue their dreams.  "I think people just have to realize and remember how unusual it really was at that time for an Asian to be working in Hollywood and what he was up against, you know the prejudice and discrimination... For him to overcome that and endure, and to have a sustained career for over 30 years in the film industry at that time is just remarkable," says Tom.
Tyrus Wong's contributions to American art and culture were belatedly recognized in 2001, when he was named a Disney Legend.  And in 2013, the Walt Disney Family Museum mounted a retrospective of his artwork.
"When you look at these paintings, you can almost feel the morning dew on the forest, or you can almost smell the fresh air and the moss and the feel of the forest…  And that’s the beauty of Tyrus’s work, he tells a story and you get an emotion from the art," says Michael Labrie, who curated the exhibition. He says Tyrus’s innovative work transformed the art of animation.
"Because they (Disney studio) had been struggling with “Bambi” after doing “Snow White,” and everything was very detailed… the animals were getting lost in the forest… So the idea that he was able to create the depth and feel of these massive forests and meadows with a few lines.  I think that was revolutionary in the animation field.  Not only did you fall in love with the animals, you fell in love with the forest."
And many artists fell in love with his work, including Oscar-winning filmmaker Ralph Eggleston, a production designer at Pixar Animation Studios.
"He’s the very definition of someone who really understood the term inspirational art.  It was artwork that was meant to inspire an entire crew of people… Animation filmmaking is a very collaborative effort.  His impact to the artists at the time the film was made was also as strong as what it’s become in the minds of all of us since."
After retiring in 1968, Tyrus Wong continued to share his art with the world by creating whimsical kites… flying butterflies, flocks of birds and more than 100 foot-long centipedes.  As they soared over Santa Monica Beach, it seemed as if he was still painting… but this time, his canvas was the sky.

Tyrus Wong became one of the most celebrated Asian American artists in history and was recognized in the Oscars In Memoriam 2017 segment this year.  Great story for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May.

The documentary "Tyrus" premieres nationwide on "American Masters" on PBS on Sept 8, 2017. Check local listings, dates my vary for stations.

Tyrus Wong passed away on December 30, 2016. He was 106.

"Moana" Making Waves Around the Globe

From Heidi Chang | 03:14

Disney’s latest animated movie, “Moana,” is riding a wave of popularity around the globe. Nominated for two Academy Awards this year, Native Hawaiian teenager Aulii Cravalho stars as the voice of Moana. The film is inspired by the folklore of the Pacific Islands. "Moana" is now available on DVD. (It was released in March 2017.)

1 Disney’s latest animated movie, “Moana,” is riding a wave of popularity around the globe. It was nominated for two Academy Awards this year for Best Animated Feature Film and for Best Original Song for “How Far I’ll Go,” composed my Lin-Manuel Miranda. Native Hawaiian teenager Aulii Cravalho stars as the voice of Moana. Dwayne Johnson, who's part Samoan, is the voice of the demigod named Maui. 

The film is inspired by the folklore of the Pacific Islands. Scholars say for centuries, some of the world's greatest navigators discovered and settled the many islands of Oceania. But about 3,000 ago, those voyages mysteriously stopped for a millennium--and no one knows why. And that’s when “Moana’s” adventure begins.

In this piece, Manulani Alui Meyer, a respected Native Hawaiian educator, and Aaron and Jordan Kandell, who were part of the screening writing team, talk about some of the inspiring themes in the movie.

Great story for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May.

Ancient Hawaiian Farmers Offer Lessons in Sustainability

From Heidi Chang | 03:09

Explore Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where scientists believe the legacy of ancient Hawaiian farmers can show the world how to care for the planet.

Limahuli_taro-hale-mtmakana-1080_img_6171_ntbg-700x467_small In celebration of Earth Month (April) or Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), let’s take a look at how the state of Hawaii is incorporating indigenous culture into its conservation initiatives.  A shining example of this is Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the island of Kauai.

Kawika Winter enjoys introducing people to one of Hawaii’s natural treasures through guided tours.  He’s been director of Limahuli Garden and Preserve on the island of Kauai for more than a decade.  “When you first come into the valley, you see all these terraces that are remnants of the ancient agricultural complex that dates back almost a thousand years. So the original inhabitants of this valley built these walls and left them to be able to grow taro on the land,” says Winter, pointing to the evidence of successful, sustainable farming in valley.

Exploring the verdant tropical valley makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time. Winter notes while most of Hawaii’s food is now imported, once upon a time, valleys like this one nourished the whole community.  “If you’re to take the time to walk through the jungle over here, you’d find terrace after terrace after terrace, all the way down to the ocean. So this valley was definitely feeding a lot of people in the old days.” In fact, its name – Limahuli – in Hawaiian, means turning hands, and Winter says it might refer to the people who once turned their hands here to work the earth.

Ancient land management system

Limahuli Garden and Preserve is one of four gardens in Hawaii run by the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Winter says it’s also one of the few places in the state where people can learn how to manage resources based on the ancient Hawaiian ahupua`a system. He explains, “An ahupua’a is basically a land section that extends from the top of the mountains, out into the ocean and it’s within the borders of an ahupua’a that Hawaiian communities were developed and managed.”

Today, Hawaii is the endangered species capital of the U.S. Winter says Limahuli plays a leading role in saving native species with its approach to bicultural conservation.

“There’s upwards of 40 species that are on the verge of extinction that exist in our valley. And we’re working to do ecological restoration to prevent extinction of this precious biodiversity that exists in this valley,” Winter says. “Some of the species are only existing in this valley, and some of them are down to a few individuals in the wild.”

Lessons for sustainability

The Hawaii botanist says he hopes that by coming to Limahuli, visitors will learn some valuable lessons from the ancient Hawaiians who worked this land: whatever you do on the land affects the life and ecosystem of the ocean, and that fresh water is the secret to everything. These days, Limahuli Stream remains one of the last pristine waterways left in the Islands.

Kawika Winter believes Limahuli Garden and Preserve can show the world how to care for the planet. “You know a lot of us in Hawaii are trying to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s really big buzzword now, sustainability. But from our perspective, instead of reinventing the wheel, all we need to do is look back to a system that worked in Hawaii for at least a millennium and quite possibly more. And our hope is that we can be a model of sustainability and we can show that the ahupua’a system can offer viable solutions to our contemporary issues regarding sustainability in Hawaii and the globe.” 


Ukulele Legend Lyle Ritz Remembered

From Heidi Chang | 03:35

A tribute to Lyle Ritz, the "Father of Jazz Ukulele," who also played bass on many of the biggest pop hits in history as a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew in the mid-60s to early 80s. Ritz passed away at 87 on March 3, 2017. He's had a huge impact on ukulele players worldwide, especially in Hawaii, and remains an inspiration for generations to come.


When Lyle Ritz recorded the world’s first jazz ukulele album, "How About Uke?," in 1957, it didn't generate much interest on the U.S. Mainland. Back then, Ritz was living in Los Angeles, and had no idea his groundbreaking album had a huge impact on musicians in Hawaii. So he hung up his uke, and took up the bass instead.

Ritz went on to become part of the legendary Wrecking Crew, a group of Hollywood studio musicians who played on most of the pop hits that came out of L.A. in the mid-1960s to the early ‘80s, including The Beach Boys' “Good Vibrations” and The Righteous Brothers' “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling.”

In 1984, Hawaii’s foremost ukulele teacher Roy Sakuma tracked Ritz down in L.A. and invited him to perform at the annual Ukulele Festvial in Waikiki. Ritz was shocked to find out he had made such an impact on Hawaii with the ukulele, and eventually moved to the Islands, where he lived for 15 years.

In this piece, Lyle Ritz talks about how he fell in love with playing the ukulele and also demonstrates on his uke the famous bass interlude that he played on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Roy Sakuma explains how Ritz inspired ukulele players with his signature tune "Lulu's Back In Town" in the late 1950s.

The interviews with Lyle Ritz and Roy Sakuma were originally featured in a NPR profile of Lyle Ritz in 2007, that piece is also available here on PRX.  

Many will always remember Lyle Ritz as a humble guy with a sense of humor, who paved the way as the Father of Jazz Ukulele.

Ritz died on March 3, 2017 in Portland, Oregon, where he lived for nearly 14 years. A memorial service was held on March 18 in Portland.

Under "Additional Files," there's a 38 second-long music bumper of Lyle Ritz playing "Satin Doll" from his album "No Frills" which was released in 2006.

Ukulele artist played jazz, influenced isle musicians - Honolulu Star-Advertiser, March 9, 2017

Soundtracking "The Descendants" With "Real" Hawaiian Music

From Heidi Chang | 07:17

The groundbreaking soundtrack of "The Descendants," marks the first time a Hollywood movie has ever been scored entirely with Hawaiian music.
It features some legendary Hawaiian musicians including Gabby Pahinui, the Father of Modern Slack-Key Guitar, as well as some of Hawaii's finest contemporary musicians. In 2012, the film, starring George Clooney, won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay


In 2012, the movie, "The Descendants," starring George Clooney, won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.  Set in Hawaii, the film also won over fans worldwide because of its groundbreaking soundtrack.  It features some legendary Hawaiian musicians including Gabby Pahinui, known as the Father of Modern Slack-key Guitar, Ray Kane and Eddie Kamae, as well as some of the finest contemporary Hawaiian musicians making music today. This marks the first time a Hollywood movie has ever been scored entirely with Hawaiian music, showcasing a wide variety of Hawaii artists from the 1930s to today.

Reporter Heidi Chang interviews Alexander Payne, the director, co-writer and co-producer of "The Descendants," who also won an Oscar for "Sideways;" music supervisor Dondi Bastone; Panini Records co-founder Steve Siegried; and musicians 
Martin Pahinui, Cyril Pahinui, Keola Beamer and Jeff Peterson.

In 2013, this story won a National award from the Asian American Journalists Association.

Saint Damien of Molokai, Hawaii's First Saint

From Heidi Chang | 04:17

The Belgian priest, known as Father Damien, was recently declared a saint for his extraordinary service in caring for patients with Hansen's disease in Hawaii in the 19th Century. His spirit of compassion continues to inspire many worldwide today.

Father_damien_cropped2_small The Belgian priest, known as Father Damien, was officially declared a saint on Oct. 11, 2009 for ministering to patients with Hansen's disease who were exiled to a remote settlement in Hawaii in the 1800's.

During this tragic era, people in Hawaii were torn from their families and banished from their homes because of fear of the infectious disease. Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, affects the skin and nerves, sometimes causing disability and disfigurement.  Back then, there was no cure for it, so patients were quarantined by the government on the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokai.  They were treated as outcasts until Father Damien, arrived in the late 1800's to care for them.  He helped the patients regain their dignity, and brought global attention to their plight and fight for human rights.  Damien served in Kalaupapa for 16 years (1873-1889), before dying from the disease at the age of 49.

This piece explores how Saint Damien continues to inspire many worldwide, particulary those who were once exiled to Kalaupapa.  "He came in the worst years, and lifted up our hearts, do not despair. He gave us faith and hope," says Norbert Palea, one of the last remaining patients in Kalaupapa.

Father Damien is considered the patron saint of outcasts, including those with Hansen's disease and HIV/AIDS.

Saint Damien of Molokai (1840-1889)