'Wildest' emcee spreads hope, joy
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
When the Honolulu Zoo's annual summer concert series, "Starbucks Wildest Show in Town," starts up today with the theme of "Laughter, Love and Hope," a song by 'ukulele master Roy Sakuma will represent the "hope" component.
"I Am What I Am" was composed 38 years ago by Sakuma, who is the "Wildest Show" organizer and emcee. Sakuma featured it during a recent school tour, playing the uke and, yes, even singing.
"The response has been amazing," he said.
His song — not to be confused with one of the signature tunes from the musical "La Cage Aux Folles" — was composed nearly four decades ago.
Sakuma, the proprietor of Roy Sakuma's 'Ukulele Studios, said he wrote his take on the sentiment at a low moment of his life.
"My life was broken, I was lonely," he said, declining to elaborate. "But the song came pouring out. ... I grabbed a pencil and right away, the lyrics started coming."
And now, in reviving the song, Sakuma has been prompted to do the heretofore unthinkable: sing.
The lyrics, in part, go like this: "I am what I am, I'll be what I'll be. Look, can't you see, that it's me, all of me."
"I'm not a singer, but I try my best, and I ask the kids what this song means to them," said Sakuma.
The responses have been revealing and touching, he said. Schoolchildren have sent him gratifying scribbled notes.
Noah, a third-grader, said, " 'I Am What I Am' means to me that you are who you are and that you are no one else."
Another elementary school girl's reaction: "It means that it's OK to be who I am and I don't have to try to be who I'm not."
At a bank, Sakuma shared it with a teller. "The teller started to cry; she said she remembered the song and she now shares it with her grandchildren," he said.
In Sakuma's view, recent news about airline shutdowns, earthquakes, the war and gasoline prices have created a cloud of concern in the Islands — and if the song can turn a frown into a smile, he'd be happy.
That's why he'll close each "Wildest Show" event with the tune and share the simple message.
"It will help make the negative positive," he said. "If a song like this will bring laughter, love and hope to people, I'd be happy. They'll be happy, too."
Sakuma may even re-record the tune, and he said he's had support from a past "Wildest Show" guest performer, singer James Ingram — whose hits include "Just Once," "One Hundred Ways" and "Somewhere Out There," the theme Ingram recorded with Linda Ronstadt from the movie, "An American Tail."
"He heard the tune and said, 'Roy, you should record the song; I'll help produce it.' That was so touching."
TOKEN OF APPRECIATON
Recently, Sakuma received another valuable token of appreciation, as well. When Sakuma paid a visit to pal Alvin Okami, founder of KoAloha 'Ukulele, at the Kapalama 'ukulele factory, Okami surprised Sakuma with the gift of a brand-new uke called The Sceptre.
Sakuma plans to use the new uke for his regular uke visits with schoolchildren.
"You know, Alvin has a spiritual connection," Sakuma said. "I had told him about 'I Am What I Am,' and he said the 'ukulele was meant for me. It does have the happiest of sounds."
Okami said he was happy to gift Sakuma with the six-stringed Sceptre, a limited edition instrument valued at up to $5,000.
"I told Roy, 'You never play for the public; you are a virtuoso; you mastered the instrument.' With the new instrument, he can play for the people now. I think it had a profound impact in his heart," Okami said.
"I found out later that he's on a mission to go visit the schools, and he's accepting all the invitations, incorporating 'I Am What I Am' to give children hope and inspiration for the future. That is so Roy; so incredible. I only had a small part, to reawaken him, and the way I see him now, he's found his true career. At this time of his life, he's going to be the Roy Sakuma who plays."
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org.