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Keola Beamer (born Keolamaikalani Breckenridge Beamer in 1951) is a Hawaiian slack-key guitar player, best known as the composer of "Honolulu City Lights" and an innovative musician who fused Hawaiian roots and contemporary music.
Beamer comes from a line of musicians five generations back, and can also trace his roots to the House of Kamehameha and Ahiakumai, 15th century rulers of Hawaii. His great grandmother was Helen Desha Beamer, an influential songwriter and hula dancer, and his mother, Winona Beamer ("Auntie Nona") has been one of the most important figures in the revival of Hawaiian culture since the 1940s: composer, dancer, educator, and coiner of the term "Hawaiiana," which describes the cultural-studies area she pioneered at the Kamehameha Schools.
Beamer's debut recording was 1972's solo effort, Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style. The following year, he and his younger brother Kapono started performing as a duo, mixing traditional materials and styles with mainland pop influences. In the seven albums they produced over the next decade, they played an important part in establishing the style that came to be called "Hawaiian contemporary," rooted in Hawaiian language and tradition but open to influences from elsewhere: rock, pop, Latin, folk-revival singer-songwriter, Hollywood soundtrack, and so on. The title song of the brothers' 1978 LP Honolulu City Lights was an enormously popular single in the Hawaiian local market, and in 2004 Honolulu Magazine placed the album first on a list of the fifty most important Hawaiian albums. In the 1980s, the brothers went their separate ways professionally, each producing award-winning records. After several pop-oriented albums, Keola connected with George Winston's Dancing Cat recording project for five releases between 1994 and 2002, emphasizing slack key guitar and Hawaiian lyrics, but by no means abandoning "contemporary" influences.
Beamer has also been influential as a teacher. He started offering lessons in the early 1970s, at a time when most players would only reveal their musical secrets to family members. About 1972, both Keola and Kapono provided slack key guitar lessons at the Guitar and Lute Workshop, a custom guitar manufacturer and recording studio located near Ala Moana Shopping Center on Piikoi Street. "In my early twenties, I was making guitars with George Gilmore and Donald Marienthal. We had the wild idea we could make nice guitars out of koa and mango wood so we took out a loan from the Small Business Administration and started the Guitar and Lute Workshop on Waimanu Street in Honolulu. People started coming in to ask about slack key. There were very few teachers back then, so I agreed to try it." Keola also published an instruction manual entitled "Hawaiian Slack Key." Teaching became his main job for several years until he turned to full time performing and composing.
In 1973 he published First Method for the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (which was in fact the first instruction book for the form), and in the 1990s he produced several more instruction books and videos and started offering lessons on-line via his website. Since 2001, he has run a series of "cultural immersion" workshops dedicated not only to slack key but other aspects of Hawaiiana. Meanwhile, he has continued to tour and to release CDs on his own 'Ohe Records label. He lives in Lahaina, Hawaii.
- Malama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love) (2012)
- Kahikina O Ka Hau (The Coming of the Snow) (2011)
- Keola Beamer & Raiatea (2010)
- Our Beloved Land (with R. Carlos Nakai) (2005)
- Ki Ho'alu (Loosen the Key) DVD (2003)
- Mohala Hou - Music of the Hawaiian Renaissance (2003)
- Ka Leo O Loko - Soliloquy (2002)
- Island Born (2001)
- Kolohane - From the Gentle Wind (1999)
- Mauna Kea - White Mountain Journal (1997)
- The Golden Lehua Tree (narrated by Nona Beamer) (1996)
- Moe'uhane Kika - Tales from the Dream Guitar (1995)
- Wooden Boat (1994)
- Sweet Maui Moon (1989)
- Honolulu City Lights (1978)
- Keola and Kapono Beamer (1976)
- Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (1972)