Kawika– A Moment Etched in My Memory

Some twelve years ago, I was a beginning ‘ukulele player at a Hawaiian music workshop on the Big Island. One rainy afternoon, I walked into the front foyer of the Pahala Plantation House, where the workshop was taking place,  to find Dennis Kamakahi (on guitar) and his son, David (on ‘ukulele), playing “Kawika.”

Even then I knew this was a moment that would live with me for a long, long time. I just didn’t know how or when it would come back to me.

Why David and Dennis were playing “Kawika” that afternoon, I don’t know. Most of us think of Dennis, who passed away in 2014, in reference to the popular songs he wrote: “Wahine Ilikea,” “Koke‘e,” and “Pua Hone.” But Dennis was, among other things, a gifted scholar of Hawaiian history and culture. And “Kawika,” recorded by Sunday Manoa in 1969, is considered by many to be the spark that ushered in the second Hawaiian Renaissance—a revitalization of the traditions, culture, and language of the Hawaiian people. Maybe it was part of a story Dennis was telling about King David (Kawika) Kalakaua, whom the song was written about. Maybe he just really liked it. It is a powerful piece of music.

Looking around the room on that rainy day in Pahala, I also saw (a very young) Brad Bordessa sitting on the stairs, listening intently to Dennis and David and soaking it all in.  This was where I first met Brad, who was thirteen at the time—a serious musician even then. (A few years later, Brad posted an excellent ‘ukulele tutorial for “Kawika” on his blog, Live ‘Ukulele.)

That rainy afternoon in Pahala, the Kamakahi’s playing “Kawika,” and Brad listening on the stairway. . . . .all that musical magic came rushing back a few weeks ago when Brad suggested creating and teaching an ‘ukulele ensemble for “Kawika” at the 2018 Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat, October 14 – 20. And with Kaliko Beamer Trapp also on the staff, to teach Hawaiian percussion, language, and pronunciation, there was no question in my mind that “Kawika” was simply meant to happen. And so it will.

Below is a link to “Kawika,” as recorded by Sunday Manoa. Enjoy. And while you do, imagine taking part in the musical ‘ukulele magic that happens each year in Hawi, at the northern end of the Kohala Coast. Registration is still open and the Kohala Village Inn still has a few rooms available.

If you can’t wait until October, you can get a quick lesson from Brad right here:

Introducing Kaliko Beamer Trapp

Kaliko Beamer Trapp will always hold a special place in my heart.  He is the instructor who took this faltering, struggling ‘ukulele beginner with six thumbs on each hand, and got her to the point where she could change chords, strum, and sing (in Hawaiian). . . . .all at the same time. . . . .and with a certain amount of ease!  So Kaliko was a natural choice to teach our beginning ‘ukulele classes at the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat last year, and, of course we had to bring him back.

Kaliko’s fun-loving approach to ʻukulele and his ability to make everyone feel at ease as they chart new territory will be a huge benefit to all beginners at this year’s retreat. But what he brings for everyone else is every bit as valuable: a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiian music, culture, history, language, and tradition . . . . . a very welcome addition and important piece of the puzzle that makes up the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat.

Kaliko, is the hānai (adopted) son of the late Aunty Nona Beamer and brother of famed Hawaiian slack key guitarist, Keola Beamer. He is an avid student of Polynesian culture and language and is a lecturer in Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo.

In addition to teaching ‘ukulele for beginners, Kaliko will be teaching a workshop on rhythm (something we all can use) with traditional Hawaiian percussion instruments and another workshop focusing on “Hawai’i Aloha,” the beautiful song that traditionally closes any Hawaiian gathering or ceremony. His students will also  learn the meaning and correct pronunciation of the Hawaiian words.  (Imagine if you heard a visitor enthusiastically singing “Tinkle, tinkle, little star!”. . . . .Don’t be that person!)

And he will tell us stories.  Kaliko is a fabulous and gifted story teller who lovingly, and respectfully, recounts the ancient tales of his adopted homeland in the most entertaining manner. (Last year,  Kaliko’s  “story time” was the highlight of the afternoon for many of us.) Time permitting, he may also be our personal guide for an optional visit to Pu’ukoholā Heiau, a temple built by King Kamahameha and dedicated to Kū, the Hawaiian war god, and other local historic sites.

We couldn’t ask for a more informed, compassionate, or entertaining guide as we explore the music, culture, and history of Hawai’i. 

We sincerely hope you can join us.

Register Now

Guess who’s coming to Hawi?

No doubt about it, some of the folks who come to the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat are hankering for ways to expand their musical repertoire beyond the ‘ukulele. Consequently we will be extending this year’s offerings by bringing in the “King of Swing,”  the inimitable Gerald Ross, who will be teaching not only ‘ukulele, but Hawaiian lap steel guitar, as well.

For many years now, Gerald has been one of our favorite ‘ukulele instructors, always bringing new advanced techniques and tunes (and occasionally a few new jokes), and delivering them all with a relaxed, easy-going style (bordering on mischievous) that only someone with his years and years of musical experience can deliver.  (He did, after all get his start on “Captain Kangaroo.”)

Not only are Gerald’s workshops top-notch, but he is also an amazing band leader with a propensity for putting together some stellar bands on the fly, and bringing out the best in everyone!  He is a jam master extraordinaire and his musical repertoire seems limitless, from tunes of the Big Band era to the slinky tones of surf music. . . . . and beyond.

Gerald joins a stellar cast of characters already committed to this year’s retreat, including Hawai’i Island’s own KonaBob, Brad Bordessa, and Kaliko Beamer. So, you know we’re in for a week of wonderful ‘ukulele instruction, camaraderie, and good-hearted fun.

There’s more to come, including a few additions to the staff, but in the meantime you should know that registration is  now open and we’d love to have you join Gerald and the rest of the crew at the Kohala Village Inn, in the lovely little town of Hawi, October 15 – 21.

Click here for rooms and rates

Why you should learn to play the ‘ukulele in Hawai’i

And it’s not the reason you think!

You may have been expecting a discourse on the ‘ukulele’s Hawaiian origins, but you’d have been wrong.  Of course, most people do associate the ‘ukulele with Hawai’i, and justifiably so. For it was the Hawaiians who adapted, re-designed  an instrument brought to their shores about 125 years ago by Portuguese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane fields. Renamed ‘ukulele (jumping flea) by the Hawaiians, it quickly rose in popularity in the islands,  and when it showed up on the mainland as part of the Hawaiian Exposition at the Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, the ‘ukulele helped launch a craze that lasted well into the 20’s and early 30’s. topAnd when it seemingly fell out of favor on the mainland, the Hawaiians continued to embrace the ‘ukulele and are perhaps responsible for its most recent incarnation–who can forget the iconic images of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, or “Iz,” a giant of a man, coaxing such lovely tunes out of his relatively tiny ‘ukulele?

But that’s not why you should go to Hawai’i to learn to play your ‘ukulele or to get further instruction. You should go for the immersion. For the camaraderie. As a gift to yourself.  To lose yourself for 5 magical days into the wonderful sensation of making music with others in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

260218_526178320779043_151622472_nThere is nothing quite like an immersion experience to get your head wrapped around anything.  Sure, you might take weekly music lessons, attend every ukulele workshop that comes your way, join your pals for a weekly or monthly sing-along, and have a rollicking good (but short) time at an ‘ukulele festival.  But then, life gets in the way.  You forget some of the little tips you learned. You don’t have time to practice. And the pals you play and sing with just aren’t available when you’d like them to be.

But come to the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat and you’ll find yourself walking out of a workshop with a little time on your hands and the opportunity to sit and practice what you just learned. And if there’s something you forgot or need help with, other students and the instructor are right there, at the ready.  You don’t have to stop to make dinner or clean the house or go to work or pick up the kids from school or take the dog for a walk or do anything at all! There really is no better way to get your head (and hands) wrapped around those 4 strings than to attend the  retreat and immerse yourself in learning, practicing, and playing.

379638_4856273366670_1706906658_nBut learning new skills and techniques is not the only reason you should come to Hawai’i to play your ‘ukulele.  It’s also the new friends you’ll make with people from all walks of life and from all over the country (and beyond), people who will become near and dear to you over the course of five days. And then there’s all the health benefits born from the lovely camaraderie that evolves through a shared experience. And what can be more invigorating and relaxing, than making music with your friends? Whether you come by yourself or with friends or loved ones, you will leave with your heart full.

hawaii-hula-wahine-ukulele1Immersion?  Camaraderie? Sure. But why Hawai’i? Because it is Hawai’i, and there is no other place like it on the planet. There’s a reason the Hawaiian Islands are often called “paradise.” Sugar-sand beaches to walk along while dolphins spin out of the water offshore. Crystal clear water to swim in, along with beautiful tropical fish and the occasional curious sea turtle or honu. Trade winds to gently blow your cares away and palm trees to settle under and relax. Tropical plants and flowers that help awaken all the senses, waterfalls to refresh your soul, and volcanoes to remind you that the planet is alive. And music, music, music everywhere you turn. And people who live aloha.

So why should you learn to play your ‘ukulele in Hawai’i?  Because at the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat, it’s all about you!  Choose to give this gift to yourself. You deserve it.

Registration for the 2015 Hawai’i Island Ukulele Retreat is open, and we’d love to have you join us.