New Jersey, USA
by Lovena Harwood
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of Hawaii? For some folks, its tikis, hula girl dashboard dolls and pineapples. But there is more to Hawaii than souvenirs.
The heritages of the many diverse communities throughout Hawaii enrich the lives of Hawaii citizens. It is this diverseness that helps attract and keep Hawaiian culture alive, even throughout the world.
Finding Hawaiiana outside of Hawaii has always been a challenge but with more Hawaii-born citizens moving away from Hawaii, keeping in touch with one another and sharing their love for the Hawaiian culture has been made easy thanks to the Internet. Local Hawaiian and island flavor recipes are easily exchanged and coming together for kanikapila, pa’inas and luaus are just a couple clicks away.
This months’ feature is Andy Wang of Taropatch.net. I met Andy in the Fall of 2007 when he opened for the Makaha Sons & Hoku Zuttermeister concert in New Hampshire. Hawaiian music has taken Andy to many places with the advantage of meeting other Hawaiian musicians. He also values the opportunities he now has for learning Slack Key Guitar.
But it wasn’t that way when he first started out. In the mid 1990’s Andy was living in Boston, MA with no access to any teachers. He conducted research to seek out learning resources and recordings. Since he had no website-building knowledge, he decided to start a list of Slack Key Guitar learning resources. Says Andy, “My idea was to compile a list of books and videos so other students could find what was available. In turn, I also hoped that people would tell me about any resources that was missing from the list.”
It wasn’t until 2001 that the inspiration for building a website came about. He attended the first Aloha Music Camp on the Big Island hosted by the Beamer family. “This was a really unique opportunity to learn from slack key masters like Keola Beamer, Ozzie Kotani and George Kahumoku, Jr.”, says Andy. It was also the first time that Andy was able to get together with people from all over the world who were interested in Hawaiian music and hula. He returned home not only inspired to play his guitar, but also to start building the website.
Taropatch.net went live February 2002. And with the technology available, Andy was able to build more than just a website. He was able to build a forum for an online community. Since this forum would be interactive, the purpose of a website shifted. Instead of having a static page with lists of resources, Andy could now develop a place where folks could get together to share ideas. Andy’s original mission for the website was: 1) Show appreciation for Hawaiian music and for those who make it. 2) List and review resources for learning ki ho`alu. 3) Provide a community where music , song and Aloha can be shared in cyberspace. “And it was from that starting point,” says Andy, “that I let the online community decide what the website would become.”
Although Taropatch.net started as a slack key guitar website, the online community wanted more and as a result, the site has evolved. ʻUkulele, Steel Guitar and Bass forums were added along with a forum for people to post about recordings. A forum to announce upcoming performances and reviews were also added. But Andy’s favorite forum is the Kanikapila forum. “It’s a lot of fun talking story or sharing ideas on the internet, but there is no substitute for meeting people face to face. After all, this is a community focused on music so kanikapila is the best… getting people together face to face to play music.”
The website has grown to an extent that Andy never had expected. Originally, Andy thought that he would be satisfied to get 100 slack key players on the website. Today there are more than 1900 registered members from all over the world! Says Andy, “I love the diversity of the community. It tickles me every time somebody registers and introduces themselves. It can be anyone from a new fan, a new student or a professional perfomer.”
Born and raised on the east coast, Andy has family on O’ahu and his wife was born and raised on O’ahu. He has been lucky to visit Hawai’i many times but it was on one trip back in 1993 that he saw Uncle Eddie and Auntie Myrna Kamae’s documentary about slack key guitar on TV. “I thank them for sparking my interest in Hawaiian style guitar. I am grateful for all George Winston has done too with his Dancing Cat record label”, says Andy.
Working as an Investment advisor/portfolio manager and maintaining Taropatch.net keeps Andy busy. In addition, both he and his wife are actively involved in the Hawaii/New York community group Halawai – www.halawai.org.
Performing also keeps Andy busy. He never planned on performing and simply enjoyed playing slack key at home in his livingroom. The opportunities to perform came about because there weren’t many people playing Hawaiian music in the New York area. “I learned so much performing with Darin Leong for about 3 years, ” says Andy. Darin moved back to O’ahu in 2007 and was nominated for 2 Na Hoku Hanohano awards. Both he and Andy played at weddings, private parties, and even at a Staten Island Yankees pre-game show. “It was crazy to see myself up on the Jumbotron!” chuckled Andy. “I’ve played lu’aus at Columbia University, Boston University and University of New Haven. I joined some friends at the 15th Annual Taro Festival in Hana, Maui last year. I was in awe to be playing on stage with Pakelo Cosma, Kevin Brown, Sheldon Brown and others!”
Andy is quick to add that Taropatch.net is not a business but, a true labor of love. “I feel connected to the music of Hawaiʻi. The website is my way of giving back, to try to help perpetuate the music and culture in my own little way. I do not charge any money for anything.” Members clicking through links at Taropatch.net help defray costs a bit, but otherwise, all expenses are paid for by Andy to keep the site running.
Voluntering at Taropatch.net is guitarist Jesse Tinsley. Tinsely is the forum moderator. Also, the community at Taropatch.net are a great group of people. “I am so proud that people (myself included) use the website to meet new people. New and lasting friendships are made and many kanikapilas are organized,” Andy says of the online community.
And what amazes Andy the most is how far reaching Hawaiian music is. Adds Andy, “whether it’s transplants from Hawai’i or Hawaiians-at-heart, the music and culture have spread far and wide beyond the shores of Hawai’i.”
Andy’s past performances can be found at his website www.andywangmusic.com.