Social Encore: Honoring the Ukulele
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
The ukulele was the first instrument I had learned how to play as a child. The first song I learned how to play? “Come Sail Away” by Styx.
The ukulele is a part of Hawaii’s culture and has become a symbol for music. This weekend, the Ukulele Foundation of Hawaii presents the sixth annual Ukulele Picnic and invites everyone to three family-friendly events honoring the instrument.
Ukulele Picnic in Hawaii co-founders and co-executive producers Kazuyuki Sekiguchi and his wife, Hisako, originally started the Ukulele Picnic in Japan, where it was created to be an outreach event for the ukulele and players of the instrument.
After a successful 10-year run in Japan, however, the couple felt it would be a good idea to expand the event to Hawaii. Around the time they were ready to launch here, the seventh anniversary of the Ehime Maru’s sinking took place.
“I really felt for this sad accident, and I wanted to bring an event that was positive and peaceful for both Japanese people and local (residents),” he said. “Through the power of music right by where the Ehime Maru monument is located … the Ukulele Picnic Hawaii did not just become an outreach event but also an cultural event.”
The celebration kicks off with a benefit concert happening on Friday at the Hawaii Prince Hotel. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. with complimentary pupus and music by Don Tiki, Raiatea Helm, Bryan Tolentino, Benny Chong, Byron Yasui and Aidan James.
James, 12, is the youngest musician performing at the benefit concert. He learned how to play the ukulele from Roy Sakuma when he was four years old and became a YouTube sensation when his video cover of Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” went viral. He said the ukulele is more that just an instrument to him.
“It means everything to me,” said James. “It gave me direction and now I know what I want to do for the rest of my life: play music!”
His love for music and the ukulele has allowed him to travel to places around the world such as Japan and New York. Throughout his young career he has also been able to meet artists he looks up to, people who soon became friends and mentors.
“I won’t forget my ‘first’ real performances at the age of 8,” said James. “I played the keiki stage at Jack Johnson’s Kokua Festival.
“My parents had taken me to all of his concerts since I was three years old, so it was super cool to meet and perform with him. He really inspired me to keep playing music.”
James was also able to meet Train lead singer Pat Monahan, who pulled James on stage to sing the song that helped launch his career with the band during a concert at Blaisdell Arena.
“I also ran into him again at the Pro Bowl last year and he even put me in his ‘Mermaid’ video,” said James. “He has been so supportive of my career! I am so grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way.”
James recently released his first ukulele single on iTunes, “Ones of The Ones,” in three different versions and founded a band called The Rising Sons.
Following the benefit concert is a live ukulele competition on Saturday at Ala Moana Center’s Centerstage. Finalists in three categories will pluck their way to the top between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. First place winners from each category will receive an ukulele and one of their original songs will air on KZOO-FM for one year.
One winner will also be selected to join the all-star lineup of entertainers onstage at the Ukulele Picnic in Hawaii the following day at Kakaako Waterfront Park.
Sunday’s Ukulele Picnic at Kakaako Waterfront Park will wrap up the weekend with tons of activities to partake in, like Hawaiian crafts, free ukulele lessons, hula workshops and a luxury ukulele giveaway. There will food from vendors such as L&L Barbecue, Kiawe Pizza, Shigalicious, Hokulani Bakery, Il Gelato and more. Well-known ukulele players from around the world will also provide music until sunset.
“The more people that know about the ukulele, the more happiness there will be all around,” said James. “I support any effort to spread that joy! It’s a cool instrument that can be played by anyone.
“But, it’s what you make of it – create your own sound and style that becomes your own.”
Said Sekiguchi: “I would like the participants from other countries to just relax and enjoy the music and Hawaiian culture. For locals, please be reminded how lucky we get to live in Hawaii, and how great the ukulele is.”
Admission to the Ukulele Picnic is free; all money raised from the event will benefit the Ukulele Museum. Complimentary shuttle bus service between Waikiki and Kakaako Waterfront Park will also be available. For more information about tickets and schedule, visit the Ukulele Picnic website.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.