Growing up with ukes


POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

The ukulele is thought of as a little instrument, but if you're a little kid, it's a big enough challenge. Most kids in Hawaii get an introduction in elementary school, and many stick with it.

And some become Jedi masters of the uke before they're old enough to drive.

That was the case with the four girls who became the ukulele group Joy some years ago. Two members, Candyce Narimatsu and Nelly Toyama-Baduria have been playing so long they're now instructors themselves. They are among the strummers from Hawaii, California, Japan, Canada and Sweden at the 39th Annual Ukulele Festival, the world's largest ukulele event, this year newly sponsored by Target.

According to ukulele teacher and festival founder Roy Sakuma, “;Target has embraced our island culture and the spirit of aloha,”; bringing together kids as young as 5 and as old as 101.

The big finale brings together something like 800 ukulele players—Bill Tapia, Ohta-San, Ken Makuakane, Natalie Ai-Kamauu, Yuji Igarashi and Kolohe Imamura, Palolo and George Matsushita will all be at Kapiolani Park on Sunday. Mainland and international participants include California's Sunset Strummers, Canada's Langley Ukulele Ensemble, Japan's Lealea Ukulele Garden and Sweden's Ukulele 4 Ladies.

SO HOW did Narimatsu and Toyama-Baduria get interested in the ukulele in the first place? Something to do with small-girl fingers?





        Presented by Target

» Where: Kapiolani Park Bandstand


» When: 9:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Sunday


» Cost: Free (complimentary parking and shuttle service available from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kapiolani Community College)


» Info: 732-3739 or hsblinks.com/hv




“;My first memory of music takes me back to my kindergarten teacher,”; recalled Narimatsu. “;I remember singing along as she strummed her guitar.

“;Then my cousin signed up for ukulele lessons at Roy Sakuma, and my mom suggested lessons. Start with ukulele, and when I got older, learn the guitar if I wanted to.”;

Toyama-Baduria's parents enrolled her at the age of 5.

“;Like any kid I didn't practice too much, but as months went by I really took an interest and started,”; said Toyama-Baduria, who was soon asked to join Sakuma's Super Keikis.

“;We would perform at birthday parties and conventions, even Disneyland (California) and Japan. It was so much fun! Few years later, my cousin Candyce started playing in the Super Keikis. We never wanted to stop! That's how (the) Joy girl group was formed.”;

“;Joy's success comes from our passion for music,”; said Narimatsu. “;A wide range from Hawaiian to alternative to R&B, and I believe we've found our own niche. It's timeless because it spans the globe and is always evolving.

“;It helps to have a style that differs from the norm. How often do you see girls who can sing and play their own music?”;

Do you pack an ukulele everywhere you go?

“;Matter of fact, yes! I do always carry an ukulele,”; laughed Narimatsu. “;I'm blessed to have performed in places like Las Vegas, Japan, and the neighbor islands, Disneyland. The ukulele can be very rewarding to whoever chooses to learn it, regardless of how it is done.”;

Sakuma has been teaching ukulele to hundreds—no, thousands—of kids over the years, and still manages to keep them in line. One thing he recalls about Narimatsu and Toyama-Baduria is that they were so small that they passed for younger kids in Super Keikis.

“;I've been blessed working for Roy and Kathy Sakuma. They treat me like a daughter,”; said Toyama-Baduria. “;They have been there for me through some tough times.”;

“;Roy has definitely paved many roads for us, but he cannot teach us to love it,”; said Narimatsu. “;Our love for the ukulele drives us to be the best students of our craft. It keeps us grounded not just musically, but in our lives as well. The sharing of music brings people together.”;

Both girls teach at elementary schools as well as with Roy Sakuma's studio, getting together as Joy on occasion. Toyama-Baduria also plays with husband Daniel Baduria. Wherever they go, the cheerful melodies of the ukulele follow.

“;The ukulele has been a part of Hawaiian music for more than 100 years, which might be a reason this four-string instrument reminds people of Hawaii,”; said Narimatsu. “;The sweet sound of the ukulele hits a pleasure zone in the senses that almost tickles the soul.”;