Lahaina News

Festival to Showcase Diverse Ukulele Masters
BY LOUISE ROCKETT

LAHAINA – Ukulele aficionados won’t want to miss the live entertainment lineup at the MauiFEST Hawai’i Lahaina Film Festival on Aug. 12 in Campbell Park, with the young, bold and virtuoso spotlighted on stage for more than two magical hours.

Sixteen-year-old Seabury Hall student Kristen Toda will set the pace with Hawaiian and island-style tunes at 4:30 p.m.

Toda won the 2005 Hula Grill Ukulele Contest in both the solo and group divisions. The ukulele is an extension of Toda’s personality, with her energy matching her talent. “I’ve been playing since before I can remember,” she said.

This isn’t her first MauiFest Hawaii performance. “I got to play at the Hana Film Festival last year,” Toda told the Lahaina News.

MauiFest co-producer and emcee Uncle Boy Kanae explained, “We like to highlight our young people who have excelled, to give them more exposure, to be part of the event and to help them grow in music as well as in themselves.”

Po’okela Wood, 15, a Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus sophomore, will join Toda for this gig. “He’s versatile. He plays the guitar as well as the ukulele,” Toda said. “We’re thinking of making a band, and that’s why we’re playing together,” she added.

Los Angeles player Tony Gamble will blast the slippers off ukulele traditionalists when he pumps the stage with his high-octane, heavy rock fusion mix at 5:10 p.m.

The 39-year-old instrumentalist isn’t shy about describing himself on the Internet (www.myspace.com/killerukulele) as “the first and only bad boy of ukulele? terrifying ukulele like you have never heard.”

The ukulele is a relatively new instrumental experience for the Rock City Award-winning guitarist: “Rock style (on the ukulele) I’ve been playing for one year, but have played other styles for several years? It’s fun to play, and I want to show people it’s a universal and versatile instrument,” Gamble remarked.

This is Gamble’s first trip to the islands.

Kanae looks forward to the “mind-bending” performance: “We, in Hawaii, like to claim the ukulele as one of our instruments, and it’s unique to have someone outside of our culture showcase the ukulele. This young man has chosen to portray his music in a rock style, and I look forward to see what he can do.”

With 60-plus recording experiences under his belt, the internationally acclaimed “Master of Ukulele,” Herb “Ohta San” Ohta, will take control of the stage at 6:30 p.m., lulling the audience to a slower pace with his smooth jazz styling.

The 72-year-old has been playing the ukulele since he was seven, and his diversity of style ranges from Hawaiian to classical, jazz, rock, pop and Latin.       

Ohta was one of five recipients of the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

He’s teaming up in Lahaina with accomplished guitarist Nando Suan, a protege of the legendary jazz musician Wes Montgomery, for a set to “tie in to the Jazz Alley TV Show,” according to event co-producer Kenneth K. Martinez Burgmaier.

Ohta is looking forward to his performance in Lahaina. “I haven’t been to Maui in a long time,” he said.

Set for 4 to 11 p.m., the free Lahaina Film Festival will also feature screenings of “The Land Has Eyes,” “Wa’a Ho’olaule’a (Festival of Canoes),” “Rolling Down Like Pele,” “Ipo Le Manu,” “Fish Bowl,” “Dreams of a Pagan Tattooed Warrior,” “The Red Hibiscus,” “Ki ho’alu-Keola Beamer,” and “Passing the Gift: Malama Honokowai.”

There will also be music with George Kahumoku and the Zenshin Daiko Taiko Drummers, hula and Fijian dance, and food booths. Visit www.mauifest.net