S2E18 – Max Angel Interview

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All about Hawaiian language and lifestyle with Slack Key Show co-host, Max Angel.

Episode resources:


Edited for clarity.

Brad Bordessa (00:01):
Aloha! Welcome to the Live ʻUkulele Podcast. My name is Brad Bordessa, I’m your host. In this podcast, we explore the depths of the ukulele, how it affects our lives, how to become better players, better musicians, and better people. How to think about music in a more positive way. This episode was recorded on site at Uncle George Kahumoku, Jr.’s Slack Key and Ukulele Workshop, which I attended from late August into early September. I got a chance to get away for an hour from teaching and catch up with a friend over the past n number of years, Max Angel Becarra. And talked about Hawaiian culture and ukulele and sustainability and all kinds of different Hawaiian stuff. He’s not Hawaiian by blood, but you wouldn’t know it the way he acts. He hangs out with all these uncles and plays Hawaiian music beautifully and sings just absolutely lovely. And so we took you guys along for the ride.

Brad Bordessa (01:22):
The Live ʻUkulele Podcast is published on the first and third Saturdays of every month. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or bookmark the link on liveukulele.com/podcast to keep updated with the latest episodes. If you like what you hear and the messages I present, you might like some of my eBooks or courses. A lot of my manaʻo – or my thoughts – are presented from this standpoint that we share here on the podcast and these different resources help support the effort that I’ve put into the free content on the site and also this podcast. So thank you so much for your support and thank you for tuning in let’s get right to the interview. I’ll pass it over to past Brad and past Max having a grand old time over on the island of Maui.

Brad Bordessa (02:31):
We are live at the Napili Kai Resort, and I’m joined here by Max Angel, who is a fixture at the Slack Key Show. He’s one of Uncle George Kahumoku’s students and a good friend. We’ve been jamming out and hanging out at the workshop here in Napili for a number of years. It’s a very blustery day. It’s the last Friday. How’s it going, Max?

Max Angel (02:51):
Hey, welina mai. Aloha mai Brad. Nice to be joined by you, man. One of my favorite ukulele players in the whole world, all the way from the Big I. The Big Island.

Brad Bordessa (03:02):
Yeah, you introduced yourself and you introduce me!

Max Angel (03:04):
Yeah. My name Is Max Angel Becerra. I’m from the island of Maui. Originally from Lahaina. I now live in Wailuku, Waiʻehu. And I love to play the ukulele and I love all kinds of music, but especially Hawaiian music, Hawaiian.

Brad Bordessa (03:18):
And so you’re going, or you went through the Institute of Hawaiian Music.

Max Angel (03:22):
I did. I graduated from the Institute of Hawaiian Music under the direction of Kumu Donaghy in 20-… I want to say it was 2019. I officially graduated from the course in the fall of 2019, somewhere around there. Maybe it was 2017, 18. It’s been a long ride. I graduated from high school in 2016, fresh out of high school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to play music, but I had a deep love for agriculture and actually got a scholarship to go to college through the medium of agriculture. So I got a very, very generous scholarship to go to school to learn anything I wanted to. It was directed towards agriculture, but I decided that I didn’t necessarily want to do ag full-time. I wanted to learn more about the Hawaiian language, because I love playing Hawaiian music. And being that I’m not Hawaiian by blood, I’m not kanaka maoli, I said to myself, and to other people that have asked about this topic, they said, yeah, you should probably go and learn how to do it the right way. That way you don’t, you know… You gotta do it justice. You know, you got to try your best to always give it your all. Don’t half ʻokole. Don’t half-ass.

Brad Bordessa (04:32):
And honor those music styles.

Max Angel (04:35):
Honor the kupuna and all the mānaleo that came before and all that.

Brad Bordessa (04:38):
Nice. And so how did you transition from being part of the Institute of Hawaiian Music to the Slack Key Show?

Max Angel (04:45):
Well, funny you ask. Actually I joined the Slack Key Show in 2014, officially as a staff member. I started rolling up Uncle George’s cables and carrying the speakers. I pushed the mute button on the song board, stand up for “Hawaii Aloha” and press the record button on the Tascam and anything they needed. I was the general overall like, Hey, I need this done. Can you do it? And I’m that guy. So I started testing 14. I was actually a sophomore in high school, sophomore or junior in high school at the time. And yeah, that’s how it all started. Garrett Probst brought me in and Peter DeAquino. I knew him since I was a little kid and always looked up to those guys and he said, “Hey man, you know, Uncle George, he needs help. You like come help?” I said, “Yeah, I like come help.” So he said, just come. So I came and he said, k, every Wednesday, this is what you going do, you going come. So I just kept coming.

Brad Bordessa (05:31):
Nice. Well, just so people get a little bit familiar with you. You want to jam a song? Get things started off?

Max Angel (05:41):
All right. We’ll do a song for the island of Maui. Song called “Pua Mana”. Lahaina.

Max Angel (08:41):
Something like that. Oh, man. You know, this week, Brad has been so awesome to hang out with all the uncles. You know, like Uncle Led. We have uncle Sonny Lim in the house with Jeff Peterson, Herb Ohta, Jr. And of course yourself, Brad Bordessa. And I’ve always looked up to you and the way you play your ukulele and especially the way you teach about ukulele. Because I love teaching ukulele even more than I love to play the ukulele, which is kind of a lot. But it’s been so awesome to hang out with you guys and rub shoulders and talk story and talk shop, you know, about ukulele and pedals and strings. And you know, it definitely is somewhat overwhelming to be surrounded by such great masters of the instrument and of Hawaiian music that I have brain farts today. All day today. I was teaching a class earlier and I was singing a song, I think it was “Henehene Kou ʻAka”. I just was like, ho brain fart, brain fart, brain fart. I forget the words, sing the wrong verse. So you can smell them, the brain farts. Stinky, yeah? So kala mai aʻu i noʻu ka hewa.

Brad Bordessa (09:39):
So we’re at the George Kahumoku, Jr.’s Slack Key and Ukulele Workshop.

Max Angel (09:45):
Yes, we are.

Brad Bordessa (09:46):
And we’re almost through the week. The last Friday. We’re done tomorrow. Tomorrow’s the finale day. But I’ve been coming to this workshop and teaching for probably around five years. And I’ve known Max about since then. And the whole time that I’ve been watching you. You’re an amazing spokesperson on stage. Like I can tell now you’re like, you’re performing, you’ve got your showman face on.

Max Angel (10:18):
No ways, brah. I’m just honored to be on your podcast. I’ve been a big fan of you and everything you’ve got going on. And we’ve always said that, Hey man, we should try to do this. We should try to do this. And I’m just happy that it all… The stars aligned and somehow some way we both don’t have class right now, so Hey man, let’s go do it. Even though it’s howling. When he said we had the Hāmākua wind. You know, Brad, you the storm bringer, brah. You brought the Hāmākua winds with you, bro. Nui Ka Makani! Yeah, lots of wind today.

Brad Bordessa (10:42):
But you do. You get on stage and you always seem to know exactly what to say to make people comfortable and to kind of capture the moment. And sometimes you run your mouth a little too much. Sometimes. Is that something you’ve practiced? Were you just kind of born with that? Have you cultivated it?

Max Angel (11:01):
You know, I probably should honestly practice it more to avoid the over telling. Yeah. So sometimes it’s good to tell, but you got to leave something for other people to tell too. And I got to give credit where credit’s due. I got to say Peter DeAquino is a big reason of why I am the way I am. And in multiple facets, not just the way I play ukulele and not just the way I am on stage, but really just the way I am as a person, as a fishermen, as a man. He’s my big brother. And I’m very honored to be in this Kahumoku ʻohana with everybody here at the workshop. Our students, our co-teachers and faculty. And you know, everybody definitely played a part in raising me to the man I am today. It takes a village to raise a child. And I’m very lucky that Hawaiʻi and Maui is my village.

Brad Bordessa (11:45):
Right. Yeah. It is amazing to be here and to be a part of it and to be, you know, not necessarily an equal, but a member of the family.

Max Angel (11:55):
You rub shoulders, man.

Brad Bordessa (11:56):
It’s amazing. Cause these guys are the best of the best and here we are.

Max Angel (12:03):
Yep. We’re just here.

Brad Bordessa (12:03):
Just here coming up through the ranks.

Max Angel (12:05):
I don’t know, man. You’re pretty good. I think you’re very humble and that’s good too, but you get em, Brad. You bad, bro.

Brad Bordessa (12:12):
Well, thank you. But you know, it’s the time, right? Once, you know, when we’re that age maybe we’ll be all that.

Max Angel (12:22):
I hope I’m half as good as Uncle Led, half as good as Uncle Sonny. I’ll be happy with that. Even a quarter. I’m good with that. Yeah. But you know, always reach for the stars. And I think that there’s always something more to learn. And I was talking with Peter earlier, talking about how he wanted to get a private with Herb and we’re kind of joking. And I was like, “What Peter, you think maybe time for Herb to take a private with you?” And he’s like, “No, brah, there’s always more to learn.” And I think that it’s true. I did a lesson yesterday with one of our students and I was teaching him, obviously. And he ended up showing me something and I took that away. It’s about diminished chords and I never knew that. He talked about music theory. And so I think it really comes down to that. You know, you learn in all facets. From your students you can learn, from other teachers you can learn. And even yourself, sometimes you make mistakes and say, oh, that’s actually kind of cool. Like a Bob Ross, yeah? Happy accidents.

Brad Bordessa (13:09):
Yeah. Well going through the Institute of Hawaiian music and studying Hawaiian, I was wondering if maybe you could share a little bit about how to pronounce Hawaiian. Like real crash course, quick basics for folks who maybe don’t have that Hawaiian background, but still want to sing Hawaiian songs and participate.

Max Angel (13:28):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that a big part of the reason why I chose to go down the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi route and go into the Institute of Hawaiian Music is because I love this music and I love the culture, but I’m not Hawaiian. I’m not kanaka maoli. I don’t have Hawaiian blood in me. And so it’s really important that – especially if you aren’t to Hawaiian by blood – if you choose to enter this as a career or even as a hobby, it’s very important to pay respect to those who have came before and paved the way and made it to what it is today. It’s nothing new, we’re just taking the torch and running with it, you know? And so I think it’s really important to start at the foundation and go back to the roots and say, okay, well, what do I need to know to be the best I can be? And to give, you know, to make the music the best it can be. Cause that’s what it deserves.

Max Angel (14:11):
So for me, where I kind of started with my Hawaiian language journey was in college. When I took Institute of Hawaiian Music, you’re required to take at least two years of Hawaiian language. And I obviously have been going on a lot more now. I have a associates degree in Hawaiian studies and one in liberal arts and I’m pursuing an associate’s degree in Hawaiian language and kind of working on a directed studies in the Hawaiian music route. But more so my goal is to go and teach kula kaiapuni or Hawaiian immersion. That’s my main vocational goal. What I want to do when I’m not playing music is go into the classroom and teach Hawaiian immersion where you send your kids from kindergarten to 12th grade and they learn exclusively through the medium of Hawaiian language.

Max Angel (14:51):
Yeah. So my recommendation to those out there who want to sing Hawaiian music, especially Hawaiian lyrics and things like that is to practice your pronunciations of when, to glide your vowels, when to pause and have that ʻokina, the glottal stop in there.

Max Angel (15:06):
And one thing I do is… Memorizing the Hawaiian alphabet is a good way and kind of running through it, especially your vowels. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the vowels in Hawaiian, it’s A E I O U, or IOU, and the way you pronounce it in Hawaiian would be, ah, eh, ee, oh, oo. So A makes an “ah” sound. And then you have your E which makes an “eh” sound. Now you have your I, which makes an “ee” sound. And then you have your O, which makes an “oh” sound. And your U makes an “oo” sound. And if there’s ʻokina anywhere in there. Like maybe there’s ʻokina before the U, so it’d be ʻu. Like, ʻuʻu, you know, like you really want to put the emphasis on the ʻu and kind of punch it in rather than if there’s no ʻokina before a U, per se, any vowel or any word, any part of the word, you just want to just glide it. So u.

Brad Bordessa (16:05):
So no stops between.

Max Angel (16:07):
No stops. One breath, preferably.

Brad Bordessa (16:10):
So give an example of what the ʻokina would introduce to those vowels.

Max Angel (16:15):
An important thing to say before that is that there’s 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, A E I O U and then he, which represents “H,” ke represents “K,” la represents “L,” and then mu is “M,” nu as in Nancy is “N,” and pi which is obviously a “P,” and we, which is a “W.” And ʻokina is actually the 13th letter of the Hawaiian alphabet. Brad is shaking his head like, yeah, I know brah. But you know, you’ve got to break them down, break it down.

Max Angel (16:42):
So that’s the first step is understanding that it’s actually a letter in the Hawaiian alphabet. Even though it looks like a backwards apostrophe, it’s really important to recognize it and learn how to navigate life with it, you know? And I believe… I might be mistaken on this because I’m far from a Hawaiian language expert. I don’t even consider myself fluent, but I know a little bit. And one of my kumus, his name is Kui Gapero. One of my first Hawaiian language teachers shout out to braddah Kui, good friend of mine. And he actually told me that the ʻokina was actually once called an ʻuʻina and the word uʻi means to be beautiful. And usually it’s only applied to living things like people. Like a person. If there’s a beautiful woman, I’d say, oh, uʻi ka wahine. Beautiful the woman. If there’s a flower per se, it’s not living in a sense that, you know, it is… It’s alive too. Right. You know, plants lives matter. But it’s not living like a person would be living. So it’s nani. And you never want to say nahni where you drag out your A. You know, they say, keep your nani tight. And right there… Anyways, keep your nani tight and say nani. Nani ka pua. The flower is beautiful.

Max Angel (17:51):
So living things get uʻi, non-living these get the nani. And the ʻuʻina is actually what the ʻokina used to be called. ʻUʻina, which means to beautify. And so the glottal stop is more recognized as a beautifier than it is a glottal stop or a cut. ʻOki is to cut. And the na, ʻokina stands for ʻana. ʻAna is a gerund or ing. So ʻokina is ʻoki ʻana. ʻOkina. You put it together and it’s a stopping or cutting. So the ʻokina, it’s really important to understand. Like, for example, ʻukulele. The word ʻuku is a flea or headlice and a uku is a payment or a debt. So if you say ukulele, it’s not quite the same manaʻo. It’s not the same thought then if you said, ʻukulele, the jumping flea or the jumping headlice. Yeah. Lele is to jump. ʻUku meaning the flea or the headlice. So it’s important. It’s really important. It’s the difference between life and death sometimes, really. Literally, and, you know, non literally.

Brad Bordessa (18:52):
So is there any kind of like mouth exercise you could give folks?

Max Angel (18:57):
Like I said, practicing your vowels is a good one. Just going through them. A E I O U. To practice the gliding. As far as like practicing a stop. What I do is if, like, say for example… A good one to use is like hauʻoli. Hauʻoli. There’s a ʻokina before… H A U ʻokina O L I. And so what I do there is I would say hauʻoli. And I’m sorry, I’m coughing. It’s not COVID, it’s just ‘okinas. So if you say it and cough, it kind of forces your mouth or your throat, especially to recognize that there’s a pause there and it kind of helps you to really emphasize that. Yeah. Rather than haole. Right. You don’t want to be saying haole. That’s not happy, which nothing wrong being haole. I’m haole. I’m sure you haole too, but you know, you don’t want to be a pardon my French an effing haole. Yeah. That’s the main thing. And no entitlement here, we’re all one race, the human race.

Brad Bordessa (19:51):
Right. So I remember from school, we used to go through the vowels and attach the consonants to them. So it was like, haʻa, heʻe, hiʻi, hoʻo, huʻu.

Max Angel (20:02):
That’s good. That’s a good one. I’d say that would definitely help you a lot.

Brad Bordessa (20:08):
Just, yeah. Just having those different combinations and variations to work through. So your mouth gets familiar. Cause that’s a lot of times for folks who are just getting into the language, getting the words out and being comfortable with what they’re supposed to sound like is kind of one of the hardest things.

Speaker 4 (20:25):
I gotta give a shout out to you know, Larry Kimura, kumu Larry, for all of his work that he did with Kaniʻāina. They have such great like recordings.

Brad Bordessa (20:36):
Uncle Larry is part of ʻUlukau?

Max Angel (20:36):
Yeah. They have Kaniʻaina. Kaniʻāina is a website that’s branched off of ʻUlukau and you can go on there. Just Google Kaniʻāina. Kani is the sound, ʻāina the land. So Kaniʻāina, the sound of the land. And so basically what Kaniʻāina and the whole mission was, I think they started back in the seventies. They used to have a radio program at UH Manoa and I think it was Larry Kimura and a couple other people in the Hawaiian language community would have this radio show. And they’d have, manaleo like first language, native Hawaiian language speakers call in. And they would just have little interviews with them, like, you know, 30 minutes or maybe even some 10 minute conversation just saying hello and goodbye. And even that alone was a big help. Because you listen to the monoleo, the native speakers. Hawaiian language is their first language. And you listen to how they talk. Their emotion in their voice and how they kind of put emphasis on certain places or they even break some of the rules. And it’s like, you don’t want to correct them. But at the same time, it’s interesting to see where they are allowed to play with it. Because like, oh, well maybe you can sneak away with it too. But it’s always good to play it safe, play by the rules. Don’t break the rules unless you’re a monoleo you do what you like. Yeah.

New Speaker (21:39):
So Kaniʻāina is a great way to do that. And it’s really hard too, because they talk fast and they talk real… Like for example, the word pololei means correct. There’s one interview – and they kind of have it highlighted in the sense that they have some of them broken down into different segments of like, so you can kind of chew it a little better. You can kind of digest it like 30 seconds segment out of a two hour long conversation. And they just talk about highlighting one part. So this part that I listened to, I forget who was in the interview, but I know it was Larry Kimura and somebody, maybe two other people and the monoleo in the conversation was saying pororei. Like, he had a roll on his Rs. His Ls were Rs. Instead of pololei, he was saying pororei. And it’s just the way he talked. Maybe he no more teeth, maybe he ʻelemakule is old man already. I don’t know what the whole deal was, but just the way they talk is so… So nani, yeah? It’s hoihoi. It’s very interesting and very yeah, it’s just beautiful.

Max Angel (22:30):
So I’d recommend listening to people like that. There’s a younger guy out there on Instagram and YouTube. His name is Ka_alala. I don’t know his real name, but that’s his handle on Instagram – Ka_alala. And he has been doing interviews today with people who are considered to be manaleo or really, really immersed in the Hawaiian language. One that I really enjoyed watching was his interview with Keao Nesmith from the island of Kauaʻi. And I believe he has ʻohana too on Niʻihau and Keao Nesmith is actually the guy I talked about earlier, Kui Gapero, that was his Hawaiian language teacher. And so I was really interested to see that interview and listen to how he talks and, you know, in Niʻihau they talk with the T. So it was really interesting to see how he could play with the Ks versus Ts. So instead of saying like, kakahiaka, he’d say tatahiata. It’s not like a real T, you don’t say tuhtahiatah. It’s real soft. And a lot of songs kind of do that too. So if you ever have a hard time pulling off all the Ks in your song, sometimes you can get away sneaking in some Ts. Real soft T sounds. So like, you know, like Kealiʻi Reichel I think did it a lot in some of his mele. One that I can think of is… The name is escaping me. See? Brain farts, brah. You smell them? Stink yeah, the brainfarts? I’ll think of it later on to the interview and maybe I’ll bust it out. But yeah, it’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Max Angel (23:46):
But yeah, so listening to like, monoleo, like native speakers, interviews. Yeah. So that guy Ka_alala, he has a great program he runs on YouTube and Instagram. I think he’s even on Facebook. But he does like little reels on Instagram, like little 30 second stuff where he actually has subtitles on there. And I challenge myself personally, not to look at the subtitles. I’ll cover the subtitle on the screen of my phone or the computer, whatever I’m on. And I just listen, I close my eyes. I just listen to how he talks. He has a real interesting puana. His pronunciation. He listens to a lot of Kaniʻāina. You can tell he listens to a lot of native speakers because of the way he talks. He has that pororei. He really has a funky way of speaking, but it’s real Hawaiian. It’s not college Hawaiian, which is what people struggle with today. Learning and in schools, it’s, sometimes it can become college, Hawaiian, where you’re, you sometimes speak English through Hawaiian language, but you’re not really using the Hawaiian looking lens. Yeah. From the perspective of a Hawaiian… And even if you’re not kanaka maoli, there’s a difference between being kanaka maoli, which is like native Hawaiian, right. Which is an interesting term, but really we’re all Hawaiian. If you’re born in Hawaii, you are Hawaiian by nationality. Because the Hawaiian kingdom exists. There is no treaty of annexation. We’re still are a sovereign, independent nation under an illegal occupation by the United States of America. Without getting too political. It’s just facts. It’s not fiction. It’s the real deal. So we’re all Hawaiian by nationality. We live in the nation, the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Brad Bordessa (25:16):
Still there.

Max Angel (25:17):
Yeah. Still going, still going.

Brad Bordessa (25:20):
Got to get the license plate.

Max Angel (25:21):
Yeah. Brah. Reinstated Hawaiian government. You know, da kine. But, you know, even like I said, it’s interesting because I don’t feel as if I am privileged enough to be sovereign. Like I don’t consider myself a sovereign Hawaiian because I’m not Hawaiian by blood. But it’s my kuleana as a Hawaiian practitioner, as a musician here in Hawaii, playing Hawaiian music to make these things known and to speak it into fact and not just make up stories, but to tell the truth. Yeah. The real, the meat and potatoes, as people would say. Here in Hawaii it’s SPAM and rice. Yeah. Tell him the spam and race, the real deal. No extra toppings. Just the real deal. So we all have a kuleana. We all have responsibility. More like a privilege to share this information and this ʻike with these people, this knowledge. Because we have many malihinis that come to Hawaiʻi that have no idea. And it’s not their fault. You know, they don’t have anyone to tell them. Or they don’t have any programs on the airplane on the ride over that tells them, Hey, you’re entering a foreign country, even though you’re part of the… You know, it’s the 50th state, technically. Legally, it’s not, if you look at the palapala, the documents, it’s not. But , like I said, without getting too political. They don’t have any real understanding that it’s a different place, even though we’re still the 50th state, we’re part of America, we use American money, pay taxes. You know, we have grocery stores and hotels and nice golf course. We are a different place. And that’s what I think draws people here is because there’s nowhere else like Hawaiʻi. Yeah.

Brad Bordessa (26:49):
Well, and that’s like you said, also the responsibility of keeping that place, the place. Furthering the knowledge and the culture that makes Hawaiʻi Hawaiʻi. And playing the music and telling the stories and understanding the local agriculture and the different plants and everything. It all ties together. Cause that’s one of the main things that I took away from my time with Uncle George is he always said, you know, I can’t remember what the percentage was, but it was something along the lines of like “life and farming is like 90%, but the music’s only 10%.” And this is a man who is so accomplished. He’s got Grammys at his house, you know, just amazing. But his emphasis was always about…

Max Angel (27:41):

Brad Bordessa (27:41):
The context. Yeah. And the sustainability and the things that make the rest of life possible. And that the music is kind of like the cherry on top for that enjoyment.

Max Angel (27:50):
I think that, yes, it all comes down to being sustainable. And that’s what Uncle George loves about Hawaiʻi and what he loves about, I think, his life is that he has accomplished this goal of being mostly sustainable. He lives, I mean, he has electricity, he has running water. So he’s not completely off the grid. He lives in a pretty nice neighborhood, but he’s out there, he’s in Kahakuloa, but it’s, you know, it’s not like rugged in the valley. Like if he could, he would. But you know, he got to tend to his wife. Happy wife, happy life. He got to keep her happy enough so he can go out and play in the dirt a little bit. But I mean, he takes his food and he literally will take barrels and barrels of good food, like not throw away kind – he takes good food and drops it off at all the parks to the homeless people. He doesn’t care about the money. You know, Uncle George, he farms, because that’s what we do as Hawaiians.

Max Angel (28:36):
And not just kanaka maoli, but everybody here in Hawaiʻi that eats, drinks and, you know, use the bathroom. We all have kuleana to go out and farm and grow what you eat. The more we can do that, the more that everybody can just, you know, have a little mala, a little outside garden area right outside their front door. Even if it’s just like four by four, two by two, like a little small spot. Nobody really realizes how much food you can grow in just a little, you know, two by two little garden area, you can grow so much. And all this different variety and that will sustain you and save you a lot of money. Cause, you know, groceries here in Hawaii is not cheap. We live on an island and we have all this land is great volcanic soil that you can grow all this awesome food year round. Like we’re one of the only states – “states” – in America – quote unquote states – in America that we can actually grow bananas. You know, we grow bananas. We grow all kinds of stuff that people can’t grow other places because of our location. And it’s just so sad, minamina nō that we don’t capitalize on it more. And not for economic senses where we make money off it. But so we can all just be full and eat food fresh, locally grown non-GMO you know, like organic food that we all had a role in. Like the old days, you know, we had – at one point Hawaiʻi had over a million people in population with hardly any ships. No ships actually. You know, before Captain Cook, before the arrival of whaling ships and stuff, there was no ships here in Hawaii. If you didn’t farm, you didn’t eat. Yeah. When it came the time for collection to come, everybody pitch in what’d you got, if you didn’t have anything to pitch in, you didn’t get anything to eat, you know? So it’s a big part. I think that if we wanted to go back to that way of life, it’s possible. It’s all there. But everybody got to work. And not everybody wants to go out and work. But once you realize, once you get the ball rolling, it’s not that hard. You know, once you plant the seeds. I mean, it’s work. It is. Just like anything in life.

Brad Bordessa (30:25):
But it’s fulfilling.

Max Angel (30:25):
It’s fulfilling. And it’s so ono. When you plant something from a seed and you harvest the fruit or you harvest the vegetable, you harvest the crop and you eat it after. Like, that’s you, you did that. You made that happen. Or you raise an animal, you care for that animal. You give it the best life it can and it has a really bad two minutes, you know, really bad, two minutes. And then it’s so delicious, you know? Cause you raise that animal. That’s like your keiki in a way, but you going eat them. So not really. But you know, don’t ever name your animals that you raise for food. Yeah. Don’t ever do that. That’s a bad idea.

Max Angel (31:01):
But yeah man, I mean, that’s just Uncle George style. He just, he loves to take care of people and care for them. And he doesn’t care about the money. If it was up to him, he would give away the shirt off his back. You know, he’d gladly probably trade places with all the homeless guys. Cause he loves working. He never stops. You know, he sleeps maybe a couple hours a day and he’s back up and working, you know. He’s a hard working guy with a big heart. Bigger than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s one of the most genuinely loving people that drives you insane because you never understand what he wants you to do, you know? He’ll tell you 10 different things all at once. And you don’t know which one to start with so you’ve got to kind of break it down. “Uncle, which one you want me to do right now?” K. Right now you gotta do this. Next, you gotta do that. So you gotta kind of ask him to command you. What do you want? So yeah, so just got to work with him, you know. Hard head, most kupunas, they get hard head, they like them done their way and it’s their way or the highway, man. Hit the road.

Brad Bordessa (32:00):
So true.

Max Angel (32:02):
And Mahalo told the listeners out there, you know. I think that it’s cool to have listeners, but I think it’s even cool just to have a couple of minutes with Brad and just sit here face to face and just talk story, man.

Brad Bordessa (32:11):
Well, it’s a busy week. We’ve all been teaching. Got three to five classes a day and maybe plus private lessons and Max is working pedal to the metal, balls to the walls in the kitchen.

Max Angel (32:23):
And I’m very thankful this go around I was smart. And I actually since the pandemic is kind of not over, but we’re working through it and the whole state of Hawaiʻi is strangely open right now, which is kind of controversial. But the cat’s out of the bag and it’s of hard to put the cat back in the bag. Cause it’s a mad cat now it’s going to scratch you. So we’re trying to work through it. And I’m actually busier now than I was before the pandemic, which is a huge blessing.

Brad Bordessa (32:48):
As far as gigs go?

Max Angel (32:49):
Yeah, I’m working six nights a week. I have some nights where I’m doubled up and you know, it’s really fulfilling. It’s really nice because I just bought a new Kamaka. I still love my KoAloha family. Shout out to the KoAloha crew. And you know, I think that there’s no such thing as enough ukuleles, I have 15 and a half ukuleles. I’ve been playing for about 15 years. So I’m trying to stick to the one ukulele a year kind of trend. So I think my next one’s gonna be a custom from somebody. Maybe. Yeah. I really want a Chuck Moore. Really want a Moore Bettah. I always look at your ukulele, I’m like man. I’d love to have that.

Brad Bordessa (33:23):
Yeah. Chuck does good work. Love you, Chuck.

Max Angel (33:26):
Love you, bruddah Chuck. I always admire the ukulele that he made from Uncle Led – the two ukuleles he made for Uncle Led. And now Peter is graciously holding onto one, the spruce top with the red Led boot on it and sound hole. Beautiful. I think it’s solid spruce top with Ebony sides and back. I don’t even know. But it’s just unreal. Beautiful ukulele. He lets me play it once in a while. Only when I’m on my best behavior.

Brad Bordessa (33:54):
So you have all these gigs going on. What is that like? You’re like a full-time professional musician.

Max Angel (34:02):
I wouldn’t say professional. I just make sound.

Brad Bordessa (34:05):
That’s your main gig though.

Max Angel (34:06):
It’s my main source of income, but I don’t see it as a job. I see it as a blessing that I get to go out and just do what I love to do. I sit down and jam out for a couple hours and I make people happy, you know? And I don’t just play songs that I know will make me tips. Sometimes. You know, you got to throw some of those in there, like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” you know, four times a night, five times on Saturdays. But you gotta throw in some other stuff too. Like I love jamming like “Hawaiʻi 78” and teaching people that Bruddah IZ never just sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He sang so many beautiful songs and “Waimanalo Blues” and all these songs that really hit the core that Hawaiʻi is struggling in a way that we’ve never seen before, because we’re losing it. Not in a sense where we’re losing the island, but we’re losing the Hawaiian feel.

Max Angel (34:55):
And now luckily, because of the resurgence of the Hawaiian language that was started back in the 1970s, it’s coming back. We have more language speakers out there and more people that can speak Hawaiian. And I think that the more you speak Hawaiian, the more that you think Hawaiian. Yeah. The more you see things from the Hawaiian perspective. Even if you’re not Hawaiian, you weren’t raised in a Hawaiian household. My mom, love her to death. She’s one of my best friends. But you know, she get hard head. She brunette hair, blue eyes, haole girl, she doesn’t understand. I open up a poke bowl in the car with her and she starts gagging. You know, she’s not any… No drip of any, you know, even hapa style, like nothing. And it’s hard, you know, if you grew up in a household like that, where you’re not used to doing things like going to family parties. You’ve got a honi all the uncles and aunties. “Eh, what’s up?” Shake hands. “How are you guys doing? Aloha.” Give all your aloha to everybody. Like you’re not raised that way. So then when you get introduced to that, you’re kind of like, wow, this is how things are? Like, yeah. That’s how you better do them. Or else. Shame. You know? So it all comes down to just being open-minded and finding a way to make it through. And teach the malahini, teach our visitors that too. When you’re here in Hawaiʻi, this is how we do things. This is how we operate. You know, we like to have fun, we like to party. We like to be serious when we need to be. But most of all, we love to respect everybody. Aloha kekahi i kekahi. Love each other. Yeah. Malama kekahi i kekahi. Take care of one another. It’s all about community and oneness. Yeah. Everyone is one. Like I said, there’s no race except for the human race. Something like that.

Brad Bordessa (36:23):
Something like that. Yeah. I wish I had your talking chops.

Max Angel (36:32):
You know, I blame… It’s just the Poudagee in me, you know what they say, yeah. But I’m actually Mexican, the best kind of Portuguese.

Brad Bordessa (36:39):
Mexican Portuguese.

Max Angel (36:40):
I’m not Portuguese at all, just Mexican, brah. Mexican/Caucasian. Not eve Portuguese at all. That’s why I say, Mexican the best kind of Portuguese.

Brad Bordessa (36:48):
I didn’t know that.

Max Angel (36:51):
Peter always used to get a kick out of that one, Peter and Sterling. Because they actually are Portuguese. You can tell. It just rubs off on me, you know. Hang out with Portuguese, you are what you associate with, right? Powdagee, brah.

Brad Bordessa (37:06):
Want to play another tune?

Max Angel (37:07):
Sure. I’ll play that Kealiʻi Reichel song I was talking about earlier. I found it. It’s a song called “E O Mai.” And I think, I believe if I’m not mistaken, Kealiʻi told me a story when I was in IHM, he came and talked with us in our class. And he said he wrote this song when he was taking a Hawaiian language – or like a haku mele class, how to write songs in Hawaiian. And he was flying to the island of Oʻahu pretty much on the daily to go to this class, or maybe it was once a week or something like that. But he had homework and he didn’t do his homework and he was on the flight going to going over to the island of Oʻahu. And he said, oh man, I had to write a song for this class and I didn’t write it. So I better write it on the Plane. He had twenty-five minutes or so approximately on the airplane, he pulled out the barf bag from the seat in front of him. That’s how I remember this story. Kala mai iaʻu e kumu Kealiʻi if this is hewa, but you know, this is how I remember it. He pulled out the barf bag and he wrote it on the barf bag.

New Speaker (38:03):
And so this is a beautiful song called “E O Mai.” A love song for the lovers out there. So hope you guys enjoy it. And then notice in the song, you know, in the recording, if you ever listened to the recording, he actually, in some parts, the tagline of every verse is “E kuʻu aloha e o mai.” But he says “E tuʻu aloha.” So he throws in that T in there. Cause I think maybe easier for him to pronounce, or maybe he just trying to be poetic and stylish. I don’t know. I mean, you got to ask the composer for that kine ʻike, but so here goes nothing.

Max Angel (40:52):
Something like that. And I, you know, I’m playing with these D’addario strings right now. They’re the fluorocarbons from D’Addario. The low G. And I love them. I love them on my KoAloha, but for some reason I just… I also cut my finger making laulaus this morning. So that might be the trick on my left hand on my middle finger, which is one of my most important fingers on the ukulele besides your index. And so it’s a little tricky, a little tricky.

Brad Bordessa (41:17):
Got the duck tape bandaid.

Max Angel (41:20):
Yeah. I put my bandaid on because I was making laulau. But then I figured, Hey, my bandaid might come off in a laulau so I’d better put some duct tape for really paʻa that buggah. Paʻa ka ʻili. Stick them to the skin, stick them to the skin. So hoʻopaʻa i ka ʻili, make them stuck to the skin. So that’s kinda what I was figuring with the nice little duct tape over the bandaid. But yeah, anyways, the D’addario strings, I’m playing with right now, I love them on my KoAloha, but on my Kamaka they’re a little floppy. I think I need some higher tension strings. And so actually, Herb Ohta, Jr. Here this week as well. And he graciously gifted me a set of his Worth strings, his custom set of Worth strings and even a pair of Jake Shimabukuro strings. So if I didn’t like the Worths, cause he said the Worths, he tried mine, he said, oh my Worths are even more floppy than this. But then I tried his ukulele and I was like no they’re not. They’re nice. I want to try them, but I didn’t get to put them on yet. But yeah, so I get some, for some reason, my g-string kind of goes off the edge. And so the duct tape on my finger also doesn’t help. So I’m a lot gentler when I can actually feel what’s happening with the tip of my finger. So anyways, kala mai aʻu. Forgive me, forgive me.

Brad Bordessa (42:24):
Nice. Well thanks so much for joining me, Max. Time to start shifting gears back into class mode here.

Max Angel (42:30):
Cool, man. Ua lawa paha. Enough already for today. And hopefully maybe we can have another conversation again in the future sometime, maybe out in Hāmākua. I’d love to come check out your land over there and see you.

Brad Bordessa (42:40):
Anytime. Where can people find out about your music and gigs?

Max Angel (42:43):
Hey man, if you want to stay in touch with me a great way to do it is on Instagram, Facebook you know, @maxangel808, maxangel808[at]gmail.com. You can just send me an email if you ever have any questions or you know, anything like that. You want to just talk story. I love to meet new people and discuss ukulele, Hawaiian music or you know, anything.

Brad Bordessa (43:04):
Nice. Well, thanks so much for your time and catch you on the other side.

Max Angel (43:09):
See you on the other side, Brad. Aloha.

Brad Bordessa (43:10):

Brad Bordessa (43:17):
It was a lovely week on Maui. So glad to catch up with all of the uncles and the students and the kitchen crew, everybody over there. We managed to execute a pretty clean operation as far as staying within COVID guidelines. Auntie Nancy and Uncle George did a great job, making sure that we did everything we could to be safe. And it was just really super lovely to see these people. Of all the people you could see after a year and a half of hiding out and kind of on and off lockdown status to catch up with these folks. It was really great. And every year I go to the workshop, I always create so many memories and moments that, you know, I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life. And you know, it’s nice to have peers along for the ride that you can enjoy those with. Guys like Max who are able to share in that enjoyment and the awe of being in the presence of people like Uncle Ledward Kaapana, Sonny Lim and Kevin Brown, Herb Ohta, Jr. Jeff Peterson and all these guys. Uncle George Kahumoku, of course. But every year is really a gift and such a privilege.

Brad Bordessa (44:50):
Thanks again to Max for taking the time out and joining me and talking story, sharing some of his manaʻo. It’s all great stuff. And I love hearing such similar ideas and concepts on the emphasis of importance of Hawaiian culture and lifestyle in relation to the music. Because I got that from Uncle George, Max obviously got that from Uncle George and it really is an important thing. And I’m glad that we’re able to share that with you folks through mediums like this podcast.

Brad Bordessa (45:25):
So be sure to subscribe. We’ve got more great content coming down the pipe for you here at the Live ʻUkulele Podcast. I’ve got Jeff Peterson on the line for a possible interview, along with Joel at Hawaii Music Supply and Uke Logic strings. Going to come on here and maybe get nerdy about his process of developing those strings. Looking forward to both of those. And in the meantime, I’ve certainly got some thoughts to share and maybe we’ll do a decompress episode after the workshop and share about some of my experiences there in this week that we spent at the Napili Kai, which was very lovely.

Brad Bordessa (46:09):
Anyways. I hope you’re all well, stay tuned. Don’t change that dial. We’ll be back here the first and third Saturdays of every month. My name’s Brad Bordessa. Signing off. Be safe out there, play your ukuleles and yeah. Keep on making that music. Aloha.