Makana (musician)

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Makana (25731792631).jpg
Makana performing for supporters of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Phoenix 2016
Background information
GenresFolk-punk, rock
Years active1994-present

Makana (who is so named as it is the Hawaiian word meaning “the gift”), born Matthew Swalinkavich,[1] is an award-winning slack-key guitar player, singer, and composer.


Born and raised in Hawaii, his guitar playing has been featured on three Grammy-nominated albums, including the soundtrack of the Academy-Award winning film "The Descendants", starring George Clooney.[2][3] In 2008, he was second runner up in Guitar Player Magazine's Guitar Superstar competition eliciting praise from judges Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Elliot Easton.[4] In 2012, he was awarded one of Hawaii's top musical honors: a Na Hoku Ki Ho'alu (Slack Key) Legacy Award (Hawaii's “Grammy”) by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts.[5]

On November 12, 2011, Makana, who had performed previously at the White House,[6] turned a gig performing at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation dinner in Honolulu, attended by President Barack Obama and the leaders of 18 other nations, into a political protest. He started out his performance by playing traditional Hawaiian music, which then started to veer gently into more controversial territory. When nearing the end of his set, he opened his suit jacket to reveal a T-shirt with the words "Occupy With Aloha" handwritten on it and proceeded to play a song he had recently written called "We Are the Many", a folky protest song expressing Makana's dissatisfaction with the current disproportion of wealth and failure of democracy and his support of the Occupy movement.[6][7] “I started out very cautiously because my intention was not to disrupt their dinner. My intention was to subliminally convey a message that I felt was paramount to the negotiations,” Makana told CNN.[8] “Eventually I got enough courage to go into it for an extended period of time. And I ended my show with the line ‘the bidding of the many not the few.’ I sang it about fifty times in different ways for them to hear”, resulting in a song that lasted 45 minutes. Rolling Stone Magazine went on to call "We Are the Many" the "anthem of the Occupy movement."[9]


Makana began singing when he was seven years old, took up 'ukulele at nine and began learning the indigenous art of slack key guitar at eleven. A protégé of slack key guitar legends, including Bobby Moderow Jr. and the late master Uncle Sonny Chillingworth,[10] Makana has dedicated his life to perpetuating as well as evolving the traditional Hawaiian art form of slack key guitar.[11] From this tradition, Makana has evolved his own dynamic style, coined "Slack Rock": slack key infused with elements of bluegrass, rock, blues and raga. Makana's playing has garnered praise from such guitar luminaries as Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Pepe Romero (Spanish Flamenco Master).[12]

His debut album “Makana” was released in 1999; it won the Best World Music Album Award at the Hawaii Music Awards. It was followed by “Koi Au” in 2002 (“A landmark musical statement” – Star Bulletin) and “Ki Ho’alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key” in 2003. Soon thereafter Makana contributed to the Grammy-nominated albums “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings I & II”. In 2008, his first all-original release “Different Game” came out and in 2009 he released a 20th anniversary slack key guitar instrumental compilation, “Venus, and the Sky Turns to Clay”.

His latest album Ripe was released in 2013 and funded by fans through the online crowd sourcing platform Kickstarter.[13] It was produced by multi-platinum producer Ron Nevison (The Who, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones) and renowned producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt), with arrangements by Grammy-award winning keyboardist, composer, and arranger Jeff Bova (Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton).

Makana has toured with or opened for acts such as Jason Mraz, Santana, Elvis Costello, Paul Rodgers, Sting, No Doubt, Jack Johnson, Chris Isaak, John Legend and more.[9]

Business dispute[edit]

In 2013, Makana's former manager Tom Bunch filed a lawsuit against Makana for breach of contract and defamation.[14] Bunch claimed that Makana rejected work that Bunch had lined up, arranged for performances on his own, failed to respond to communications, was late in paying commissions, and "[refused] to work 'when planet Mercury is in retrograde ... approximately six months per year.'"[citation needed] Bunch reported that he received a letter from Makana's attorney terminating their contract in July 2013.


  • Makana. Honolulu, HI: Moon Room Records. 1999. OCLC 51876182.
  • Koi Au (2002)
  • Ki Ho'Alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key (2003)
  • Different Game (2006)
  • The Instrumental World of Makana: Venus and the Sky Turns to Clay (2009)[15]
  • Ripe (2013)
  • Twenty Five. Hawaii: Makana Music. 2015. OCLC 965391614. Retrieved 2017-06-20.


  1. ^ Collins, James H. "For Makana, slack-key is all about aloha". Associated Press. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  2. ^ Cooper, Jeanne (February 10, 2012). "Hawaiian music: The giants of slack key". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  3. ^ Woodhouse, Jon (25 February 2010). "Planetary Alignment MAKANA". Maui Weekly. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  4. ^ Matt Blackett (29 September 2009). "Concert Review Makana at Biscuits and Blues San Francisco Sept 25 2009". Guitar Player Magazine. Retrieved 17 September 2013. Some GP readers might be familiar with Hawaiian guitarist Makana. His Different Game CD was reviewed in the mag in 2008 and, that same year, he narrowly missed winning GP’s Guitar Superstar competition, placing third overall and eliciting glowing praise from judges Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and notorious tough customer Elliot Easton.
  5. ^ "Maui Makes Music at 2012 Nā Hōkū Awards". Maui Now. 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  6. ^ a b Horowitz, Alana (13 November 2011). "Occupy APEC: Makana, Hawaiian Guitarist, Makes Statement At Wakiki Event". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Man Occupies APEC world leader gala". CNN. 13 November 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  8. ^ Keilar, Brianna. "Occupy sympathizer plays APEC dinner". CNN politics. Retrieved 9 May 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Makana to perform at Palace". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  11. ^ Cooper, Jeanne (9 February 2012). "Hawaiian music: The giants of slack key". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  12. ^ "Award-Winning guitar prodigy Makana to wow Reno, Feb. 28". This is Reno. 2013-02-22. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  13. ^ "Review: Mahalo! Makana's new album 'Ripe' will soon be ready for picking". 2013-07-20. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
  14. ^ Cameron Langford (5 September 2013). "Former Manager Sues Eccentric Guitarist". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved 5 May 2014. DEAD LINK
  15. ^ Coleman, Audrey (2010). "In the Moment". RootsWorld. Retrieved 5 December 2011.

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