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Celebrating Recent Work by Kevin Fellezs

New Books in the Arts and Sciences

September 28, 2021

Listen but Don′t Ask Question: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar across the TransPacific

by: Kevin Fellezs

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.

About the Author:

Kevin Fellezs is Associate Professor of Music, Ethnomusicology & AAADS at Columbia University. He is the author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk and the Creation of Fusion and Listen But Don’t Ask Question: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Across the TransPacific. He has also published articles in Jazz Perspectives, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and the Journal of the Society for American Music.

About the Speakers:

Jessica Bissett-Perea is Associate Professor in the Department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Perea also co-directs the “Radical and Relational Approaches to Food Fermentation and Food Security” research cluster, which seeks to advance Indigenous knowledges and performing arts processes as a means to unsettle and densify modes of knowledge production and research in academia. Her first book Sound Relations: Native Ways of Doing Music History in Alaska will be published in fall 2021.

Aaron A. Fox is Associate Professor of Music and Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He has published extensively on American country music and working-class culture. Aaron's book, Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture, was published by Duke University Press in 2004.

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Dr. West has worked in Papua New Guinea since 1996 and has conducted over ninety months of field-based research in the country. In addition to her position as the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Dr. West is the Director of the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

Chris Washburne is Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University and the founder and director of Columbia’s Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program. He has published numerous articles on jazz, Latin jazz, and salsa. His book, Sounding Salsa: Performing Latin Music in New York was published in 2008 by Temple University Press. He co-edited the volume Bad Music and is currently working on a book on Latin jazz which will be published by Oxford University Press.