Weekend workshop honors 'ukulele legacy
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
KANE'OHE The 'ukulele has shaped people's lives in Hawai'i, launched careers and added a unique sound to the music industry here, but the world has had a different view of the four-string instrument.
"In Tiny Tim days, it was thought of as a toy," said Casey Kamaka, heir to a dynasty of 'ukulele makers dating to 1916. "But now as entertainers go out and share their styles people really believe it's a musical instrument."
'Ukulele masters, teachers and makers will gather at Windward Community College next month to offer a learning experience covering history, playing styles and the instruments taught by the people who play 'ukulele and make them.
The 'ukulele's history dates to the Portuguese immigrants, who brought something similar to the Islands, but it has since evolved into what is considered a unique Hawaiian instrument.
Kamaka said 'ukulele popularity has steadily grown in the past 10 years, and the family business has barely been able to keep up with the demand for the instruments, which start at $400. Young stars like Jake Shimabukuro attract young learners but the instrument is popular with all ages.
"It's an easy instrument to play and basically every family in Hawai'i has one," said Bryan Tolentino, a music professor who plays with Jerry Santos at Chai's Island Bistro. "At parties everybody plays."
Tolentino, 40, who will teach at the workshop, said being self-taught prepared him to be able to adapt to the different musicians with whom he has played, including Del Beasley, Karen Keawehawai'i and Marlene Sai.
Byron Yasui, who will also lead a class at the workshop, said he also learned to play 'ukulele by ear as a teenager, which gave him self-esteem and led to a career in music.
"I can feel the benefit of it even until now, all that self-instruction and research," said Yasui, 61, a member of the music theory and composition faculty at the University of Hawai'i. "It led me to playing other string instruments like classical guitar and bass."
The workshops, July 13 and 14, will be led by such people as Aunty Genoa Keawe, Bill Kaiwa, Melveen Leed, Kelly Boy DeLima, Brother Noland Conjugacion, Ron Loo, Gordon Mark, Bruce Shimabukuro, Michael Chock, Derek Shimizu, Alan Okami and Sonny Kamahele. It culminates with a ho'ike and lu'au.
Kamahele, who will turn 81 in August, plays two nights a week at the Halekulani Hotel. For 72 years he's made a living in music, playing the guitar, steel guitar and 'ukulele. He wants to impress on workshop attendees that people can make a living in music but they must have the right attitude, Kamahele said.
Playing music can't be a chore and musicians must be willing to mingle with the crowd. They have to smile and bounce around on the stage, something Kamahele said he still does from a chair.
"I play my rhythm," he said. "I play my guitar and the people just staring at me and they say, how this guy bouncing like that? They look at you and they paralyzed. They forget to go."
Kamahele said he'll share with workshop attendees what he has acquired about the music industry. After 72 years in the music business, playing isn't a job anymore, he said.
"It's my therapy," Kamahele said. "I get a real good feeling when I'm playing music."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at 234-5266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: To register for the "Ukulele 2002: A Weekend With the Masters" workshop, call 235-7433 or visit www.hawaiimusicinstitute.com. Information on where to register was omitted from an earlier version of this story because of an editor's error.