By Virginia Beck
Traditional slack key and contemporary compositions were the sound track of the times. Luaus, beach parties, sit-ins, demonstrations and marches were part of the new movement for young Hawai’i.
“Our music was the social media of our time”, says Cindy Combs, as she relates the history of the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s. “How do you socialize? You go out and go to a concert, you go and make music. We didn’t have cell phones or Facebook, but we had guitars and ukuleles, and we were making the music all the time.”
The restoration of Hawaiian language, culture and values to their proper place, the center of island society; and the revival of Hawaiian arts, canoe building, kapa making, healing arts. All these blossomed simultaneously, along with Hawaiian Pride, and Comb’s music was part of the parade.
She fell in love with Hawaiian music as a child, after she found her mother’s ukulele. She was determined to play it. She wanted to learn slack key music, but no one wanted to teach her. Many families were reluctant to share their art. They felt their tunings and their compositions should only be played by them.
All that changed in 1971, when she saw an ad in the newspaper for slack key lessons. The instructor was Keola Beamer. Coming from the historic Beamer family of Hawaiian composers and songwriters, he had begun the transcription and notation of slack key music, to preserve it, and share it. His mother was the famous songwriter, Aunty Nona Beamer.
He taught her the craft and the basics, and she was launched into a new career. She loved what she was learning, and began to compose songs. “Cindy, too bad you aren’t a local girl!” Beamer said.
Her first performance was at Chuck’s Steak House on O‘ahu, where she met Jerry Santos, and the rest is history. She began writing compositions and songs, playing on his album hit “O Malia,” and she wrote a song that both he and Kalapana recorded, “So Free”. That song became hit in Hawai‘i.
I first heard her in the mid 1970s, in Koke‘e. She created a gentle ambiance for the dinners at Koke‘e Lodge, with Sharon Zugay. Their amazing harmonies, stunning compositions, fluid artistry and vocals, stole my heart. Her songs were jewels in the night, sweet and gentle, yet often spiced with saucy humor and jazz.
She has continued to play, write and compose, with Dancing Cat Studios. Her Sunny Rain CD is a favorite, followed by Slack Key Lady, the Land of Endless Summer, Kiss those Blues Goodby, and Moonrise Music. She was featured at the 25th Annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival on O‘ahu, and was cherished musician when the Hanapepe Cafe was at its peak.
Today, you can get her CDs at Paradise Music, and mele.com. Or you can book her for a wedding, an unbelievable romantic evening party, or perhaps, some clever restaurant owner will want to add authenticity to music, as Combs relates the history of Hawaiian music in enchanting song.
The Shops at Kukui‘ula will feature Cindy Combs for Koloa Plantation Days July 25 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Cindy Combs can be reached at 808-645-1266. It will be an unforgettable experience.
- Virginia Beck, NP and Certified Trager® Practitioner, offers Wellness Consultation, Trager Psychophysical Integration and teaches Malama Birth Training classes. She can be reached at 635-5618.