Virtuosos featured on Big Island
When Brittni Paiva was 11, her grandfather played "Carly Rose" by the Kaau Crater Boys for her and asked if she could figure out the song's chords on the ukulele.
Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival
Place: Kings' Shops Center Stage, Waikoloa Beach Resort, Kohala Coast, Big Island
When: 4 to 8 p.m. March 11
Web site: www.waikoloabeachresort.com
Notes: Kings' Shops offers free ukulele lessons from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Monday. Free 30-minute lessons are also available at the Ukulele House at Kings' Shops from 3:15 to 3:45 p.m. and 3:45 to 4:15 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The store sells a wide range of ukuleles, from beginners' models priced at $80 to fine curly-koa instruments that cost more than $1,500. Call 808-886-8587 for more information.
"I did it in about half an hour," recalls the 17-year-old Hilo resident whose training in music began with classical piano at age 4. "I was fascinated by that four-stringed instrument!"
Since then, Paiva hasn't spent a day without an ukulele.
"It makes me happy," she says. "I practice about four to five hours a day. I guess I shouldn't call it practice, though; because I enjoy it so much, I don't consider it practice. In fact, sometimes I get scolded for playing too much, especially when I don't do my chores."
Last year, Paiva garnered the Na Hoku Hanohano Music Award for Most Promising Artist of the Year for her debut CD, "Brittni X 3," which she produced when she was just 15.
Her new CD, "Hear ...", recorded when she was 16, is the 2006 People's Choice Winner in the Ukulele category for the ninth annual Hawaii Music Awards. They honor the work of musicians living in Hawaii, Hawaiian and Polynesian musicians anywhere in the world, and international artists who perform Hawaiian or Polynesian-style music. (Festivities will take place March 15-18; call 951-6699 or go to www.hawaiimusicawards.com for details.)
Paiva's goal is to showcase the ukulele's diversity, "to play music on it that you wouldn't otherwise hear, really taking the ukulele to different heights."
Her repertoire includes jazz, folk, rock, traditional and contemporary Hawaiian, original compositions and a range of classics from the 1950s and earlier such as "Akaka Falls," "Summertime," "Hava Nagila" (a Hebrew folk song) and "El Condor Pasa" (an 18th-century Peruvian song).
"I would like audiences to experience the many possibilities of my 20-fret, four-stringed instrument," she says. "I want the strings to be my voice and portray as much feeling as a singer would."
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Vistors and residents can get a taste of being a musician during free ukulele lessons offered at Kings' Shops.
PAIVA, OHTA-SAN and Danny Kaleikini are among the seven ukulele virtuosos slated to perform at "The Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival" on March 11 (Kaleikini will serve as emcee). Presented by Starbucks, the event was created in 2000 as part of the celebration marking the expansion of the Kings' Shops, a 75,000-square-foot dining, shopping and entertainment complex at the Big Island's Waikoloa Beach Resort.
"The best part of the festival is watching the joy on people's faces as they listen to the incredible performances that are taking place," notes Debbie Parmley, vice president and general manager of the Kings' Shops. "For many, their only other introduction to the ukulele has been through the radio. At the festival they listen to and feel the music, embracing it with their hearts and souls. They also can learn how to play the ukulele. It's a fantastic evening all around in celebration of Hawaii's rich cultural heritage."
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At 17, Brittni Paiva, is already a Hoku Na Hanohano winner for her debut album showcasing her ukulele skills.
Last year, ukulele master Roy Sakuma taught more than 150 people how to play the ukulele in the ballroom of the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort. He will be returning this year to teach the lesson again.
"Every participant will be able to play along on an ukulele, whether it be their own or one that is borrowed from Kings' Shops," says Parmley. "Roy teaches the group chords and melodies and answers any questions they might have. That lesson alone spawns great interest in the ukulele, a precious element of Hawaiian culture, and ensures its music will be carried on for future generations to enjoy."
Parmley believes the festival's setting in historic Waikoloa -- which harbors ancient footpaths, fishponds, house sites and Hawaii's largest concentration of petroglyphs -- adds to its appeal.
"It has been very important to us at the Kings' Shops to host annual events like the Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival that not only embrace our host culture, but also capture the mana, or spirit, of this place," she said. "I believe our ukulele festival helps people more fully understand and appreciate the rich culture and history of Hawaii, whether they've just moved here or have lived here all their lives."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.