Born in 1950, Cyril Pahinui grew up in the small town of Waimanalo at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains on Oahu’s windward coast. His father, Gabby Pahinui, was one of Hawaii’s best known and most influential slack key guitarists. The Pahinui home and backyard provided food, shelter, rehearsal space, concert hall, and playground for many of Hawaii’s foremost traditional musicians. The jams sessions went on all day – sometimes, all week.
Cyril got started along the slack key path around the age of seven. His father offered encouragement, but mostly Cyril learned, in the traditional way, by observing. “I used to watch my dad, Atta Isaacs, Sonny Chillingworth, and my brothers when they would jam,” he says. “They were so awesome you didn’t want to miss anything. You didn’t even want to blink your eyes!”
A seasoned veteran at age twelve, Cyril began to play at concert performances, and by fifteen he was sitting in with his father’s group. As Beatlemania swept Hawaii in the 1960s, Cyril and his older brother Bla started a rock band, after which, Cyril joined Sam and the Samlins, and continued to sit in with his father at shows.
In 1968, Cyril made his first record with The Sunday Manoa, a loose association of like-minded young people intent on helping perpetuate the classic Hawaiian sound. Two years away in the army interrupted Cyril’s performing, though it gave him plenty of time to woodshed and to hear other styles of guitar. When he returned to Hawaii, his father was at the peak of his popularity. Cyril played on all five of Gabby’s groundbreaking albums on Panini, providing many of the distinctive, improvised introductions for the songs. He also joined Palani Vaughan’s project chronicling King David Kalakaua’s music and times.
In 1975, Cyril formed The Sandwich Isle Band, one of the first young bands to feature steel guitar and revive the jazz-inflected songs of the 1920s and 1930s. In 1979 he joined the Peter Moon Band, which also included brother Martin. Throughout the 1980s, he continued to expand his musical horizons, especially in the C major tuning he inherited from Atta Isaacs.
In 1988, after many promptings, Cyril recorded an album of traditional and contemporary songs, which won Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for Best Contemporary Hawaiian Album and Best Male Vocalist from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts. In 1992 he joined brothers Bla and Martin for a long-awaited Pahinui Brothers album. Cyril also began recording for Dancing Cat as a solo performer, and won the 1994 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Instrumental Album of the Year with his debut release on Dancing Cat, 6 & 12 STRING SLACK KEY. In 1999, Dancing Cat released the first duet album for Bob & Cyril, FOUR HANDS SWEET & HOT, which won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Instrumental Album of the Year in 2000.
Cyril’s touring schedule has increased in the past years, taking him to Japan, Europe, and across the Mainland frequently. But, he is always mindful of the influence of his elders. He comments, “All my music comes from dad, Atta Isaacs, and Sonny Chillingworth. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. They showed all of us young ones the way.”
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