Award-winning Hawaiian slack key guitarist Patrick Landeza appeared at Mission College Nov. 5 as part of the college’s Asian American & Pacific Islander Speaker Program. He mixed the story of his personal quest for identity with his guitar music and songs of Hawaii, opening his program with “Maori Brown Eyes” and closing with “Hele Au I Kaleponi.”
In 2012, the California native and graduate of Cal State East Bay, played Carnegie Hall as part of a concert promoting peace through music. In 2013, he became the first person outside Hawaii to win the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for slack key guitar album of the year for his sixth album, “Slack Key Huaka’i.”
“It’s the Hawaiian Grammy,” says Landeza.
Slack key guitar music, born in Hawaii the early 1800s, means loosening-or slackening-the guitar strings, which enables Landeza to “play slow with emotion” on his Goodall guitar.
“Forget fast!” he says.
Landeza was born in 1972 and raised on “the island of Berkeley.” He learned slack key guitar first from two uncles, then from top artists such as Raymond Kane, whom he met at Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, two blocks from the family apartment.
Landeza, who is part Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, and Irish, fits in perfectly at Mission College, where students are, according to August 2014 statistics, 34. percent Asian, 9.8 percent Filipino, 0.6 percent Pacific Islander, and 14.1 percent two or more races.
“Growing up, it was very difficult trying to understand who I was. I wasn’t enough Filipino. I wasn’t enough Chinese. I wasn’t enough Hawaiian,” says Landeza, one of only a few Asian kids in his neighborhood. “I was called a ‘fake Hawaiian.'”
“My mom would say, ‘Never mind what people say.’ She would tell me oral histories of our family,” says Landeza. His mother was raised in Molokai and his father was from Oahu, but they met in Berkeley.
“The key thing,” says Landeza, “is don’t give up. Discover who you are culturally. Just because you don’t speak the language doesn’t matter. The key thing is to know who you are and spread the aloha.”
While his mother was recuperating from a stroke five months ago, Landeza visited her at the hospital daily, playing his guitar and singing to her. Others would gather around to listen along.
“This is why Mama sang to you,” his mother told him after one visit.
The accomplished musician is something of a Renaissance man. He wrote a children’s book, “Danny’s Hawaiian Journey,” to share his childhood quest for his Hawaiian identity with his four children.
“Our identity is something we identify over time. But a sense of ‘aloha,’ we always have. It means unconditional love for each other,” he says.
Landeza also makes beaded jewelry. A Martha Stewart show inspired him to start making jam. His Kanikapila Jams have a double meaning, as the Hawaiian word “kanikapila” means a musical jam session. He runs Landeza’s Island Catering business. He teaches guitar. He produces a weekly radio program, The Hawaiian Music World on KAPU-LP 104.7 FM in Watsonville. And somehow in between all his activities, Landeza teaches middle school in Fremont.
“Aloha is reciprocal. You should be spreading it everywhere. Go out and spread aloha and discover yourself,” says Landeza to the Mission College audience of about 120.
“He was perfect. His music touched a chord with the students. He has the same background as some of them,” says Elaine Wong, Mission College reference instruction librarian.