“A New Breed of Musicians”
Many months ago I asked Brittni Paiva to participate as one of the artists at EKK and she quickly obliged. I flew on Hawaiian Air to Honolulu and saw the issue of Hana Hou magazine featuring Kamakakehau Fernandez who will come to EKK on March 17; my return flight fell into the new month with a new issue of Hana Hou. I was surprised and pleased to see that both Brittni Paiva and Taimane were featured as the ‘ukulele stars on their cover story. Taimane, along with Aldrine and Kalei, topped off EKK 2013 with their brilliant ‘ukulele performance; EKK was privileged to share these up-and-coming young stars on Kaua’i.
Taimane, Kalei and Brittni opened up Na Hoku Hanohano Awards 2013 program with their collective ‘ukulele talents. These young stars are catching a lot of attention not only in Hawai’i but beyond our shores. Music is opening doors and connecting young folks the world over, and young ‘ukulele and slack key guitar artists are right in the thick of this phenomenal worldwide movement. Undoubtedly, like the perfect storm and the polar vortex, unimaginable changes will be resulting from these movements. It’s inevitable.
Monday, February 17, 2014
“Music — A sign of the times; Music — instruments of change; Music – passport to new dimensions”
It should be interesting to have a slack key artist along with an ‘ukulele artist, I thought, so I called Danny Carvalho to share the stage with Brittni. I was surprised to learn that Danny and Brittni were friends from way back. Brittni’s ‘ukulele teacher, Keoki Kahumoku, wanted Danny Carvalho to meet her when he visited Hilo. As musicians would, they took the introduction as an opportunity to jam together for hours.
Young Danny Carvalho, at age 23, had already presented at EKK when he was 17 years old, together with his teacher and mentor, the talented Ozzie Kotani. Danny was a kid back then, accompanied by his Dad, but on stage this time was a confident young slack key artist who had acquired singing skills, had expanded his knowledge of Hawaiian culture as a student of Hawaiian studies and was showing new directions in his style of slack key music and his own compositions.
He sang a song from his home island,Hi’ilawe, which was also the song he shared with his guitar circle earlier in the evening. To honor the host island, he sangKoke’e composed by one of his teachers, Dennis Kamakahi. He composed a beautiful mele inoa or name song for a dear friend with whom he spent much time studying Hawaiian culture, surfing, and sharing family time. Kaumoana was a song that he never had a chance to play for his friend who passed away too soon.
Hula o Makee, made famous by Gabby Pahinui, was played in a style that came out of his experiences and inspirations as a child born in the 1990’s. It shows that, although mentored by a number of outstanding traditional Hawaiian musicians, Danny was finding his own path and creating his own slack key journey.
His own story is impacted by his Japanese lineage and reflects the maternal side of his family who came generations ago to work on the sugar plantation. His Japanese American grandfather fought in WWII as a soldier while his cousins were sequestered in Japanese internment camps. The irony and the injustice of this situation affected Danny. A song he wrote two days after his grandfather passed is called Nissei, a poignant and emotional song written not only for his grandfather but for a whole generation of Japanese Americans who shared the Nissei experience. The influence of his mentor, Ozzie Kotani, could be seen in this quietly exquisite composition.
Danny introduced Brittni Paiva who, as earlier stated, he had met through her ‘ukulele teacher Keoki Kahumoku. Brittni performed at both a concert and EKK in 2007 when she was 18 years old along with Ledward Kaapana, Brother Noland and Mike Kaawa. She was every bit the virtuosa back then as she is today, but her current music now reflects her expanding world of influences and musical collaborations. Tell U What CD album and song, co-written with Tom Scott of LA Express, won both the Na Haku Hanohano 2013 Award for ‘Ukulele Album of the Year and Instrumental Composition. She was also invited to play with Carlos Santana on stage in Honolulu a year ago as seen on UTube.
She shared her ‘ukulele compositions as if we were all invited into her recording studio where she demonstrated how a “tech junkie” like herself can create multi-instrument songs by playing all the instruments herself on the Ipod and looping them into real-time performance on stage. She demonstrated these explorations with Teenage Dreams andFirework by Katy Perry, Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, and her Bela Fleck influenced Lochs of Dread, a combination of reggae, Irish and banjo rhythms.
After the intermission, Danny and Brittni showed their adventurous spirit with one massive improvisation including Alive by Krewella, the Brazilian bossa nova songThe Girl from Ipanema, Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, and Europa by Santana.
Clearly, the 18 year old ‘ukulele player back in 2007 has since taken giant strides in exploring new directions to see what the little instrument is capable of doing. Just as Brittni reaches out of her comfort zone to find her own voice, the journey of the ‘ukulele reflects diverse and colorful influences from all kinds of musicians in all parts of the world.
Over the years the ‘ukulele, a simple charming instrument with four strings and two octaves, has made indelible marks on the direction of music. Historically, it is relatively new and still seeking its place as a legitimate musical instrument in the world of music, but it has had an interesting and colorful development over the years.
Many of us grew up just strumming and singing Hawaiian and other songs in our backyard kanikapila with the ‘ukulele as the simplest and most direct accompaniment of choice. It’s very common to see folks gathered around picnic benches singing and strumming their ‘ukulele. Today school students walk around with their backpack and ‘ukulele hanging off their shoulders.
When they emmigrated to Hawaii, the Portuguese brought with them their culture among which was this tiny instrument resembling a guitar. The Hawaiians took to it immediately and called it “uku” (head lice) “lele” (jumping) because the fingers looked like “jumping fleas” or “jumping head lice”. Another story is that Queen Liliuokalani reputedly translated it as “uku” (gift) “lele” (come) or as the gift brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese.
Local luthiers took their instruments to the1914 Pan Pacific Expo on the west coast; its popularity took off with Tin Pan Alley featuring the new and exotic instrument; it made a hit in New York where the “ragtime band” was the rage in the 1920’s.
During the 1950’s the ‘ukulele enjoyed huge popularity in Hawai’i and everyone seemed to own one, but the tides of change brought huge shifts to the music scene, and the tiny ‘ukulele was affected with the ups and downs of popular taste. Popular music of the country has always influenced what is played in Hawai’i as many Hawaiian musicians love and play many genres of music.
Rock ‘n Roll and the electric guitar overshadowed the acoustic string instruments in the 1960’s, so the ukulele, banjo, mandolin, guitar found its place in the smaller music genres. The ‘ukulele experienced periods of attention when Tiny Tim went tip-toeing through the tulips, George Harrison of the Beatles loved the ‘ukulele, musical ambassador Bruddah Iz swept everyone away with his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
In Hawai’i, Sunday Manoa – Peter Moon, Palani Vaughan, Brothers Cazimero – called attention to the ‘ukulele as an important instrument in Hawaiian music. During the 1980’s, reggae-based Jawaiian music found the ‘ukulele perfect for keeping the beat. Eddie Kamae of the Sons of Hawai’i influenced scores of young students with his ‘ukulele workshops. One of them was none other than Jake Shimabukuro who showed the world the versatility of the ‘ukulele because he could play any genre of music on the simple ‘ukulele . . .not only Hawaiian. Today, Jake’s name is synonymous with the ‘ukulele and he continuously reaches out to encourage everyone to learn to play the instrument.
During the 1990’s, ‘ukulele festivals attracted huge crowds in Thailand, Rome, Japan, Korea, US, Taiwan, and today is still growing exponentially. Roy Sakuma has for over four decades produced the ‘Ukulele Festival in Hawai’i; it is now on every major Hawaiian Island. Cross cultural exchanges among young students is impacting the music of the younger generation.
Many young folks are introduced at a very early age to the ‘ukulele. With so many idol influences they are compelled to experiment with all manner of picking, strumming, chord changes, beats, rhythms, strokes, melodies, genres.
These young musicians can play many different instruments, often writing their own songs, increasingly producing their own CD’s with simple computer technology or sophisticated sound studios, performing under varied conditions and to many different kinds of audiences. The search for their own unique sound has resulted in an explosion of variations on the basic ‘ukulele.
Taimane never thought of it as a Hawaiian instrument but just as an instrument so she has the entire genre of music at her disposal…by not limiting herself to the idea that the ‘ukulele was a Hawaiian instrument.
Today, big pop stars such as Pearl Jam, Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz, Taylor Swift and others bring increased legitimacy to the very simple instrument that Jake says, “Anybody can play; all you need is to go out and get one.”
Who’s Coming Up Next at EKK?
(s) Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, www.gardenislandarts.
E Kanikapila Kakou 2014 Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, and the Garden Island Arts Council supporters with support from the Kaua’i Beach Resort.
Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Hawai’i State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.