The 27th Annual Ukulele Festival Report
Annually held on the last Sundays on July, this year(1997) the 27th Ukulele Festival directed by Mr. Roy Sakuma was held on the 27th of July at the Bandstand in Kapiolani Park, Waikiki.
Because the Bandstand has been traditionally occupied by The Royal Hawaiian Band for concert every Sundays from 2:00PM, the Festival has to be over by 1:30PM at the latest. To start the Festival before 10:30AM, its official opening time, in order to provide the participants with as much opportunity to perform as possible, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Sakuma, and his students'parents, form early in the morning around 6:00AM, worked on setting up and decorating the stage and the site.
Mr. Takemoto and Mr. Fukuzawa, members of Nihon Ukulele Association (NUA), and Ms. Endoh, a member of NUA players performed at 25th Festival, stood by, saving their spots on the grass close to the stage.
The site was filled quicker than usual year because it was right after the announcement that Ka'au Crater Boys, became major from the Festival, and had lead the Contemporary Hawaiian Music, would dissolve their 7 year long unit, it's thought that a great deal of audiences had gathered expecting to see their last stage at the Festival.
Being prepared, the Pre-Show started at 10:00AM. The first performer was the members of the Canadian Langley Ukulele Ensemble lead by Mr. Peter Luongo, which have become a regular performing group at the Festival. The group is an ensemble with unique, triangular shaped ukuleles as the main instrument, and performance was wonderful with all member's chorus and ukulele solo. The audience cheered when the group introduced that the Ka'au Crater Boys is especially popular in Canada, and played Noho Paipai from the KCB's repertory.
Mr. Hirakawa and his students followed the stage and boldly played two songs, You Are My Sunshine and Your Cheating Heart.
Further, Mr. Igarashi and his students played Yellow Birds and medley of You Are My Sunshine and When The Saints Go Marchin' In; especially the second song was performed happily, being arranged in jam style.
Though off the topic, at the island of Molokai, the origin of Hula, an event called Ka Hula Piko which is to pursue the origin of Hula, in May every year, and nowadays many people from Japan have been participating in it. The main director of the event and a Kumu Hula (Hula master), Mr. John Kaimikaua and the members of his Hula Halau (Hula class) held the Molokai Festival at Ward Warehouse, Honolulu on July, John's birth month. This year the event took place a day before the Ukulele Festival, the event. The audience was satisfied with the history and actual dance of Hula illustrated by John's narration and chants for full two hours.
Among the participants was a boy around the age of 6, and Molokai Slide he sang along the band's play was especially remarkable that not only he received encore after encore, but also so many one and five dollar bills and further twenty dollar bills as tips at the end that his ukulele case was full with money, money, money......
Next performer of the Festival was that boy who received a lot of encore and money on previous day. He sang Molokai Slide again and though he didn't receive any money, he received big "Hana Hou"(encore) from the audience.
Next performer was the beloved daughter of Mr. Lyle Ritz, Emily with One-note Samba. She performed last year as well, and so much progress could be seen in her performance this year. It was a heartwarming stage with her father playing in the back..
The students of Mr. Roy Sakuma belong to several different groups. First, the group of 200 middle level students which sits on the stage from beginning to the end and plays ensembles during intervals, is called such as Ukulele Festival Band 1997 with the current year at the end. It seems to be said in Japan as if this group was the Super Keikis, but it is a mistake.
The word Keiki in Super Keikis means kid(s), and it refers to the group consisted of a few who is young and possess superior talent. Because in the last several years, the kids have grown to be adults, Roy organized a new group, Joy, consisted of four girls in Super Keikis; a CD by Joy has come to be released. Other than the ones mentioned, there are also groups consisted entirely of beginners (group 1-4), and a group consisted of adult beginners and middle level players, but they will not be referred further here.
Next came the two boys, Brad Watanabe and Alex Kawakami, who should become the main members of the Super Keikis since the key players of Super Keikis left the group and formed Joy.
The song they played was Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai; while playing, surprisingly, Alex did the unbelievable act of switching his ukulele from left to right. This must equal with Nerry Toyama who moved to Joy, playing the ukulele on her back.
Mr. Danny Kaleikini who has served as the M.C. for 25 consecutive times since the Third Festival, came to the stage accompanied with his theme song, and finally the main program began.
After the Festival Band played two songs, the program move to the duo performance by Mr. Igarashi and Mr. Imamura who are by now well known as the regulars in the Festival. First, Mr. Imamura played Lover, Come back To Me, then Mr. Igarashi played Maui Chimes with the support of Mr. Yoshida's bass play..
Following Little Brown Gal performed by the Festival Band was the Valley Boys. This group was falsetto oriented duo discovered in Maui by Mr. Troy Fernandez of the KCB, and it released a CD as the first artist from Dinosaur Mountain Production which Troy established.
This year as well, since Mr. Herb Ohta had gone to Japan therefore absent for the Festival, the main ukulele soloist was Mr. Lyle Ritz. Lyle demonstrated the true value of jazz ukulele by playing Just The Way You Are and Lulu's Back In The Town including jam sessions with the jazz group, The Out Takes.
Once again there was a performance by the Festival Band, then the Joy came to the stage. Out of Roy's works, it played Wish You Knew Just Why and Cumana Candis Narimatsu solely played skillfully. They are indeed Roy's favorite students.
Following the kid beginners' performance, Willie K and Amy Gilliom appeared on the stage. Willie K is well known as a Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner, but Amy has not yet won it. However, as far as I could tell listening to Haleiwa Hula she sang here, she seemed to acquire a competitive position with the leading female singers.
Another keiki beginner group appeared and was handling songs more challenging than ones played by the previous group.
Following the Festival Band, Chino of beach boy skillfully played My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua Hawaii with a grass whistle, and received a big hands, then came Mr. Hirakawa.
Being his best songs, Hawaiian Cowboy and Twelfth Street Rag he played were as stable as always, and I assume that the audience was satisfied with his performance.
Palolo which was formed last year by Troy Fernandez who has become as big as could be said to be the leading player at the Festival, with a different direction from the KCB in mind, demonstrated their wide repertory, starting from the classic, Hi'ilawe, then the Elvis Presley medley, Teddy Bear and Hound Dog, and to O Akua, a tribute song to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole who past away the other day.
Following it, Boogie-woogie and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious by the beginner kids, Ukulele Group Number Two, and Walk Don't Run and Ukulele Samba by the Festival Band, total of four songs, were played and the Festival went into the finale.
For the finale, Troy Fernandez and Ernie Cruz Jr. from the KCB as the leading performers, Nathan Nahinu, the bass player of Palolo, and the others played seven songs including Board Walk, Island Style, and Surf; as if they were reviewing their seven years' history. After long lasting applause, the Annual Ukulele Festival was closed for its twenty-seventh performance.
After the Festival was over, they who want Troy and Ernie's autographs, formed a long line next to the stage; even Roy was getting the autographs on his T-shirt.
One of the objectives of this trip was to present Mr. Roy Sakuma with the Honorary Membership of the Nihon Ukulele Association. The NUA has been keeping in touch with Mr. Sakuma for quite some time, but has been unaware of the fact we had not yet asked him to become the Honorary Member like Mr. Herb Ohta and Mr. Eddie Kamae, and remained unaware even when we visited him to celebrate the 25th Ukulele Festival two years ago. At the NUA general meeting in June, we officially decided to propose Mr. Sakuma to be an Honorary Member. I went to Hawaii with the certificate and handed to Mr. Sakuma; he received it happily.
I discussed with Mr. Sakuma about our view that the good time for us as the NUA to participate the Festival would be at the 30th Annual in the Year 2000.
If you are interested in Ukulele, please be in the atmosphere at the Ukulele Festival; you will love the warmth of it.
Each year, the Ukulele Festival receives many celebrities in the field. Standing next to Mr. Lyle Ritz is Mr. Jim Beloff, who wrote The UKULELE, A Visual History, a fabulous book about ukulele.
He was present for the Festival last year as well; then he demonstrated a song he composed himself, playing an ukulele on the stage.
Later, I visited his home and had a great time talking with him and his wife Liz.
Masami Kobayashi / Nihon Ukulele Association
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