“Aum Akua”: CD Review

May 7, 2022 Off By John Williams

Aum Akua is the latest release from Grammy winning slack-key guitarist Jim “Kimo” West and Billboard New Age Chart topper Joss Jaffe. This compelling new CD presents unique instrumentation including Indian tablas, Hawaiian percussion, African ngoni (harp), and a bevy of mellifluous guitars over sundry soundscapes. Many songs feel like dreamy ambient tapestries – eclectic mixes of Hawaiian and African music with jazz and world music reminiscent of John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein’s stellar compositions.

My favorite track from the CD is “No Rain No Rainbows” whose title is similar to the Buddhist expression “No mud no lotus.” The song has a moody, driving, meditative beat with intermittent sparkles and shades of light.

I also loved “Open Ocean,” which has a compelling 6/8 groove that creates a hypnotic feel. Percussion comes from an Ipu Heke Hawaiian gourd with layers of shakers for a trance-like vibe. The middle section brings in the Bansuri bamboo flute from India and the song ends with enthusiastic energy like clouds parting over the sea.

West won a Grammy Award last year for More Guitar Stories and is well known as the lead guitarist with “Weird” Al Yankovic for over 40 years. This year West will again hit the road for a massive six-month Weird Al tour. 

Jaffe is a Los Angeles based multi-instrumentalist known for his ambient album Meditation Music which reached #3 on Billboard’s New Age Chart in 2019. Jaffe studied with noted Indian music legends Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. He has toured the world performing at premiere events and transformational festivals including Bhaktifest, Beloved, Wanderlust, and the Korea Yoga Conference.

Aum Akua continues West’s longstanding love affair with the slack-key guitar style he first encountered in Maui in 1985. “Ki ho ‘alu,” or as it is more commonly called, slack-key guitar, is an old Hawaiian style of playing where the strings are loosened to different tunings allowing the bass, chords and melody to be played simultaneously.

Photo (c) 2015 David Bergman

Already a devotee of non-standard tunings, West quickly fell in love with the gentle spirit of slack-key and the great sense of discovery that comes with exploring altered tunings. He was greatly influenced by albums by Gabby Pahinui, The Sons of Hawai’i, The Sunday Manoa and Peter Moon from which he absorbed the “ki ho ‘alu” style by osmosis. He did not concentrate on learning standard riffs but instead developed his own slack-key vocabulary, which now defines his singular approach to this great tradition. Known as popularizer of and great supporter of the Hawaiian slack-key scene, West has even made slack-key tribute albums to Sublime and The Eagles. 

While not on the album but serving as a bonus track on Spotify, West and Jaffe also recently collaborated on a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a fundraiser for the charity Seeds of Peace whose mission of bringing regular people from nations at war together is even more pressing today. All proceeds from the song will be donated to the charity. 

If you are looking to hear some refreshing new music, I recommend checking out Aum Akua.




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