Island Mele: ‘Over the Rainbow’ by Ku’ulei Mamo

Apr. 6, 2015 | 0 Comments


Make a list of the ukulele players who record as instrumentalists rather than as vocalists and almost all the names on the list are men. The list of female instrumentalists is a short one.


Ku’ulei Mamo (Sma’Kine Recording)

For years it seemed like that list began and ended with Brittni Paiva and Tai­mane Gardner. Ku‘u­lei Mamo now makes it three.

Born and raised in Hawaii but currently a resident of Japan where she teaches English and ukulele, Mamo has a noteworthy debut album filled with tunes that represent a variety of eras and locales.

The set opens with the title song, the Judy Garland hit known to many these days as recorded by Israel “IZ” Kamaka­wiwo­‘ole. From there Mamo zigs and zags through early-20th-century pop (“Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”), Hawaiian (“Ku‘u­lei ‘Awa­puhi”), Top 40 (“Winchester Cathedral”) and Broadway (“My Favorite Things”). Most of them she plays with one additional studio musician adding guitar and bass. Steel guitarist Greg Sar­dinha and Hawaii ukulele player Bryan Tolentino sit in with her on others.

Several of Mamo’s students join her on “He Puna­hele no ‘Oe.” The additional instruments create a sound that is distinctly different from everything that has preceded it, but it fits in well. Two songs that make heavy use of electronic instruments are jarring departures from the sound and general style that prevails elsewhere.

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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at

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