celebrating hawaiian slack key guitar

Craig DeSilva
Fernando Pacheco
August 08, 2019

Guitarist Ian O’Sullivan tells stories with music.

“I write music for places and stories that mean a lot to me,” he says. “I convey the place, the emotion, and the kauna (hidden meaning) of the story.”

O’Sullivan’s album, Born and Raised, reflects his days growing up on Oahu’s North Shore with songs entitled Mokuleia, Haleiwa, and Waialua.


O’Sullivan will be one of the performers at the 37th annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival on August 10 at the Waikiki Aquarium. The festival, created to honor the late guitarist Gabby “Pops” Pahinui and perpetuate the art of slack key, will feature some of Hawaii’s top musicians.

Although he taught himself to play guitar by ear, O’Sullivan took lessons when he was a student at Kamehameha Schools and then later when he attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He’s the first from Hawaii to earn a master’s degree in guitar from Yale University.

Studies have shown that music can have many health and well-being benefits for both performer and listener. O’Sullivan's unique style of classical music techniques and Hawaiian slack key is just the right blend to put you in a good mood. “It’s Hawaiian classical,” he says. “My kumu (teacher) was classical composers like Bach and Francisco Tarrega.”

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