Mark Kailana Nelson

Mark Kailana Nelson


Music from islands real and imaginary. Soothing Hawaiian slack key guitar, jaw dropping `ukulele, virtuosic dulcimer. A performer of wit, skill and exceptional audience rapport.


In demand as a session musician, touring artist and workshop leader, Mark is an outstanding player of the the Hawaiian slack key guitar, `ukulele and Appalachian dulcimer.

Ki Ho `alu, or slack key guitar, is a uniquely Hawaiian music. Legend has it that Spanish cowboys hired to teach cattle handling in the 1830's brought the first guitars the Polynesians had seen. Until very recently, slack key was almost unknown
outside of the Islands.

Mark's lifelong interest in slack key led him to write "Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" (Mel Bay Publications), with legendary Hawaiian musician Keola Beamer – the first widely available instruction method for this gentle art. Keola and Mark co-host the Aloha Music Camp – an immersion into the music and culture of Hawaii held in the Hawaiian Islands.

His “Learn To Fingerstyle Solo’s for `Ukulele” (Mel Bay Publications) has introduced thousands to the joys of playing fun, complex music on the instrument. Aunty Nona Beamer gave him the name Kailana, which means “floating gently on the surface of the sea” - not a bad description of the sound of the sound of slack key guitar.

In the early 1970's Mark was one of a handful of free-spirited musicians who created a whole new vocabulary for the Appalachian dulcimer. He created a driving flatpicking dulcimer style, playing the instrument with a force and passion seldom heard before. A first place win at the National Mountain Dulcimer Championships in Winfield, Kansas in 1979 led to appearances at festivals, colleges and coffeehouses across North America and Europe, and a recording career spanning over 25 years. In recent years his involvement with the Aloha Camp has precluded touring, but he's kept his hand in with workshops, festivals and music camps.

He's an engaging performer, artfully weaving stories and humor with heartfelt music to transport the audience. Mark has performed just about everywhere – from Barrow to Boston; Sligo to San Diego. He's shared the stage with performers as diverse as Grover Washington, Jr.; Norton Buffalo; Phoebe Snow, Doc Watson, George Winston and many others. And yes, he once worked as a banjo playing gorilla in Dublin, but that's another story...


Funtime Uke-A-Rama (acme arts)
Ke Kukima Polinahe (acme arts)
Old Time Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (acme arts)
The Water is Wide (acme arts)
autumn.... (Wizmak/acme arts)
The Faery Hills (Wizmak/acme arts)
Southern Light (Flying Fish/Rounder)
After the Morning (Kicking Mule)
The Rights of Man (Kicking Mule)

Instructional Books
Fingerstyle Solos for `Ukulele (Mel Bay)
Learn to Play Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar (Mel Bay)
Hawaiian and Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer (Mel Bay)
Favorite Old Time American Songs for Appalachian Dulcimer (Mel Bay)
Complete Collection of Celtic Music for Appalachian Dulcimer (Mel Bay)

Set List

Sets vary by the theme of the festival. Folk festivals & general gigs feature slack key guitar, `ukulele and Appalachian dulcimer. Songs include traditional and original Hawaiian slack key ("Sanoe," "Opihi Blues,"), Hawaiian and Celtic music arranged for dulcimer ("Sweet Leilehua," "The Frost is all Over/Delahanty's Hornpipe"), fingerstyle and ragtime `ukulele ("Sleepwalk," "Movin' Day") and generally music from all over the place.