Ledward "Led" Kaapana is a master of the two leading string instruments in Hawaii: the Hawaiian ukulele and ki ho'alu, the slack key guitar, a finger-style guitar art form that originated in Hawaii. This talent, combined with his vocal skills in the baritone and leo ki`eki`e (falsetto) range, have made him a legendary performer who has been entertaining audiences in Hawaii and abroad for more than 40 years.
Kaapana grew up in Kalapana in the southernmost district of Hawaii Island in a family of musicians. His teachers included his mother, Mama Tina Kaapana, from whom he learned to sing leo ki'eki'e, and his uncle, Fred Punahoa. "We didn't have electricity, not television, not even much radio," says Kaapana. "So we entertained ourselves. You could go to any house and everybody was playing music."
Over the course of his career, Kaapana has dedicated himself to perpetuating the traditional style and repertoire of his home village, beginning in his teens when Kaapana and his twin brother Nedward and cousin Dennis Pavao formed the musical group Hui Ohana. The group produced 14 best-selling albums, made hundreds of live appearances, and became a key figure in the resurgence of traditional Hawaiian culture and music during the 1970s.
Kaapana later formed the trio I Kona, releasing six albums, including Jus' Press, which received a Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Na Hoku Hanohano award. He has also released solo albums, among them two Na Hoku Hanohano Instrumental Album of the Year winners: Lima Wela and Black Sand. Kaapana has earned Grammy nominations in 2006, 2007, and 2009. In 2008, Kaapana formed his own recording company called Jus' Press Productions. The same year, he released Force of Nature with 12-string virtuoso Mike Kaawa, earning a Grammy nomination and Favorite Entertainer Awards for the duo at the 2009 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
Kaapana has worked with Nashville musicians Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins and collaborated with Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and other bluegrass musicians for Waltz of the Wind. In addition, Kaapana has recorded with numerous renowned Hawaii musicians, including NEA National Heritage Fellows Aunty Genoa Keawe and the Ho'opi'i Brothers and Barney Isaacs.
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Sample: "I Kona"
Sample: "Mauna Loa Slack Key"