Berkeley-born Patrick Landeza has spent his musical career in the Hawaiian “slack-key guitar” tradition. Starting as a roadie and then opening for some of the slack-key masters, Landeza, 45, developed into a award-winning performer. He talks to The Bee about the “Spirit of Aloha” he’ll bring to Harlow’s on Sunday.
Q: What is a slack-key guitar?
A: The slack key guitar was introduced to the Hawaiians in the 1830s by the Mexican vaqueros. The Hawaiians needed help learning how to handle cattle so they went over to California and brought over help. The vaqueros taught them how to rope cattle in the day, and at night they’d play the guitar. When it became time for the vaqueros to leave, they left their guitars with their Hawaiian friends. The problem is, they never taught them how to tune the guitars. Hawaiians came up with the tuning by loosening and slacking the strings. And that’s what slack-key guitar came from. It’s a regular standard guitar with open tuning.
Q: How did you learn to play one?
A: My parents are from Hawaii so when I was a little boy, my household was filled with awesome music. As a child, you don’t think anything of it, but as you get older and understand who you are as a Hawaiian born on the mainland, it just resonates. My uncle – a musician – introduced me to all the slack-key masters who took me under their wing. It was very uncommon because I was from the mainland, but they accepted me. I was in the right place at the right time. I was a roadie for them at first, then an opener, then a producer for their shows. They taught me how to book shows and handle a lot of their business. They said that one day I would discover my own path. Through slack key, I have found not only my path, but who I am as a Hawaiian born on the mainland.
Q: How has finding your path influenced your sound?
A: I play the traditional way with a Berkeley twist. For many years, I wanted to be just like my teachers, but they said that in time I was going to develop my own style. Now I incorporate old-school Hawaiian songs but bring them up-to-date. Growing up, I was surrounded by bluegrass, Mexican music and soul. I incorporate these things within the slack key.
Q: How do fans describe the slack-key guitar sound?
A: They say, “It reminds me of home.” It takes them to a relaxing place – a happy place. But most importantly, it reminds them of the islands. My music isn’t just about the islands. It’s about my life experience as well. It’s in the whole Spirit of Aloha. Aloha is love, relaxation and being with family. That’s what I bring, and I treasure that. It’s wonderful that I can come in and do my music and be welcomed with open arms. I appreciate seeing old friends and am looking forward to making new friends.