(guitar strumming) – Playing Hawaiian
music, playing slack-key, and the Paniolo way of life goes together, because after a hard
day’s work on the ranch, you want to sit down and relax and listen to this beautiful music. My name is Leabert Lindsey. And I’m a fifth generation of
the Paniolo Hawaiian cowboy, and I play Hawaiian slack-key music. (twangy music) – [Chris] I’m Chris Funk. I’m a musician in a band
called The Decemberists, and I’m on a journey looking for the most surprising and extraordinary people in music. My next stop takes me to Waimea, Hawaii. There, I will meet up
with Leabert Lindsey, the unsung hero of Hawaii’s
forgotten cowboy culture. (gentle music) Hawaii offers so much beauty, from cliffs rising out of the ocean to rolling hills and lush green valleys. But what surprised me when I got here was the deep rooted community of cowboys, something normally associated
with the Southwest. – A lot of people, they don’t realize how far back we go, being Hawaiian cowboys. That’s part of our heritage. We had cowboys here on the big island before there was any states west of the Mississippi, including Texas. – [Chris] The influence
of Spanish cowboys, called vaqueros, is ever
present in Hawaiian culture. They came here in the 1800s to teach the islanders to herd cattle, bringing with them a lasting way of life, culture, and a unique style of music, called slack-key. – Hey, how’s it going? – [Chris] What’s up? Did I interrupt here? – [Leabert] You heard us from– – I just heard you from up there. – Okay well welcome welcome.
(laughing) – [Leabert] Welcome. – [Chris] Slack-key style
involves loosening the string, while tuning to create
a sweet soothing sound synonymous with the
aloha nature of Hawaii. – [Leabert] When the vaqueros came here, they brought the guitar. Along with them, they brought some open Spanish tunings. And they taught the Hawaiians
how to play these tunings. So the Hawaiians played it, learned it, and then they created
their own style of playing, vaquero always called slack-key. (guitar music) ♪ Paniolo ♪ ♪ Oh paniolo ♪ The cowboy does everything from A to Z, work the cattle, brand the cattle. Come on then, Paniolo. And when the job’s done,
they play slack-key and sometimes they play music right there where they’re at. I’ve never seen a Paniolo
without his guitar. It’s like a fish without water. ♪ Had a red banana ♪ ♪ Lauhala hat ♪ ♪ A bound gunny sack in his hand ♪ – The authenticity of
Leabert and the Paniolos blew me away. Modern day folk music is
rooted in historical themes like coal mining and railroad work, even though today’s musicians have never likely done these jobs. But Leabert embodies
everything about the lifestyle. He’s a true Hawaiian cowboy, who also happens to be one of
the best slack-key guitarists. (guitar flourish) (laughing) – Yes, sir. (gentle music) – That’s a good one.
– Alright, yeah great. – I’m very appreciative to
the vaqueros who came here to teach us Hawaiians how to be cowboys. And we created our own style of being cowboys, which is a Paniolo. ♪ Every time I looked at you ♪ ♪ I just don’t know what to do ♪ It’s something that is really valuable in our way of life. If you don’t pass this knowledge down to the next generation, it’s gonna be lost. This is a really, really important part of our heritage that we want to continue. – If somebody’s gonna call me Hawaiian, I’m not gonna say no. – Hey, you’re a Hawaiian. – Alright, good, yes, woo. (laughing) – [Leabert] You’re a Paniolo.