Looking to learn more about your favorite ukulele artist or group? Or are you looking to discover new artists? Checkout who we’ve covered starting with our quarterly Featured Artist!
Winter 2022 Featured Artist
Brittni Paiva, a multi award-winning instrumentalist, is known for her stunning articulation of what she can do on the ukulele. Brittni and her ukulele are a brilliant match: Both are humble in nature, small in size, and very powerful with proper delivery.
Brittni and the ukulele in general have gained notoriety, no longer confined by stereotypes about the instrument. There’s a global resurgence in the instrument’s popularity and she is part of the trend. Brittni is well-known in world music circles with millions of hits on YouTube. She has performed on stage with Carlos Santana when he appeared in Hawaii and has also joined famed guitarist Tommy Emmanuel on stage at the California WorldFest; she has become a 3-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner with numerous other awards and nominations throughout the years, including Most Promising Artist of the Year in 2005 for her debut release, Brittni x 3.
Releasing her 5th album with the legendary Grammy winner Tom Scott — who personally requested to play with her at a concert — thinks Brittni is the real deal, because of her ability to play all kinds of music without losing her identity. “She plays it like a guitar, giving her a wide range of possibilities. She adapts tunes to this instrument, and makes them sound full and rich. She’s doing a great job and has a great future…She’s got a really unique voice in music,” he raved.
Brittni received two nominations for her 5th album and won both categories: Ukulele Album of the Year and Instrumental Composition of the Year from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts (Na Hoku Hanohano Awards). “Brittni brings a whole new spirit to the music and to the instrument: pop sensibilities in a smooth jazz format,” says John Schroeter, music producer and author of Between the Strings: The Secret Lives of Guitars. “It’s got a new kind of energy—it’s infectious.”
She began her music career at the age of four, training in classical piano through the Suzuki method. Seven years later, her grandfather gave her an ukulele, a traditional 4-string Hawaiian folk instrument. It was “love at first touch”.
Artists You Know or, at Least, Should Know!
Check back regularly for more featured artists!
Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel
singers, songwriters, producers, instructors
Even though Craig Chee was born and raised on Oahu, he matured as an ‘ukulele player and musician on the mainland. Throughout attending and graduating from the University of Oregon, Craig focused on teaching a myriad of different styles with the tiny instrument. Craig has had the honor of working under Jake Shimabukuro and Troy Fernandez, and has become a renown instructor and performer around the world. Craig infuses his energetic and just plain “fun” style into many genres of music and is known for his collaborations at different music events.
Sarah Maisel was born and raised in Alabama and found herself working in San Diego, CA as the Lead Female Draper for the La Jolla Playhouse and the University of California San Diego. On walking into a local ‘ukulele jam, Sarah was both fascinated by the instrument and the joy that surrounded it. Studying under Frank Leong, Sarah dove into the jazz stylings of golden age Hawai’i songs and arrangements inspired by ‘ukulele legends like Lyle Ritz, Benny Chong and Byron Yasui. Sarah found a passion of teaching and performing with the ‘ukulele and was quickly featured at many ‘ukulele festivals around the world.
Craig and Sarah discovered a similar passion and work ethic and as of September, 2015 are now married! They have made an incredible splash in the ‘ukulele scene with their complementing styles and vocal harmonies. Craig and Sarah have been truly blown away by the support of Kanile‘a ‘Ukuleles (at festivals, music events and even with helping put music programs back into schools!) and have been amazed by how their custom instruments completely match the tones and sounds that they try to achieve.
Award winning artist
musician, writer, mentor, producer, minister, instructor
Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner
singer, songwriter, producer, instructor
The Bearded uke
A man on a musical mission
James grew up nearly three thousand miles east of Honolulu in the town of Langley, British Columbia, where ukulele instruction has been mandatory in many schools since the late 1970s. To his fourth grade classmates, the ukulele was a means to an end, a way for them to dip their toes into the vast ocean of music. For James, the uke was a sea of possibilities unto itself and inside its tiny wooden shell he saw his life in music. He was hooked.
During his teenage years James honed his skills as a key member of the renowned Langley Ukulele Ensemble and as a student at the Langley Community Music School. He continued his study of music at the University of British Columbia where he earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in 2003. In a full-circle plot twist, James – also a passionate teacher – went on to co-author the Ukulele in the Classroom method book series with J. Chalmers Doane, the trail-blazing teacher who pioneered the use of ukuleles in Canadian schools. In 2010, James and his father Barry, a retired school teacher, launched the JHUI Teacher Certification Program, the first of its kind in the world. His most ambitious educational offering to date is The Ukulele Way, a ground-breaking learning method that combines print, video, audio and its own social media platform.
A singer, songwriter, educator and virtuoso instrumentalist, James Hill is a man on a musical mission. It’s a mission that reaches beyond the concert stage and into communities, homes and classrooms around the world. After all, when the applause fades and the stage goes dark you can still hear the sound of ukuleles strumming happily into the night.
One Of The Most Successful Musicians Hawaii Has Ever Produced
Daniel Ho beams with music—you’ll find him enveloped in the next melody for an original composition or tapping out a rhythm on just about anything within reach. He is an ‘ukulele virtuoso, slack key guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, singer-songwriter, producer, audio engineer, and record company owner. He is a six-time Grammy Award winner, twelve-time Grammy Award nominee, six-time Taiwanese Golden Melody Award winner, and recipient of multiple Hawaiian Music awards.
His collaborations transcend genres – from traditional and contemporary Hawaiian Music to World Music with Taiwanese aboriginals and Mongolian nomads, to duets with Pepe Romero the maestro of classical guitar, to contemporary jazz and rock with Tak Matsumoto of the Japanese supergroup, B’z. Daniel’s music has been featured in film and television in projects such as The Descendants, Soul Surfer, the TV series Hawaiʻi Five-O, and NHK (Japan). A notable mention is his performance of a Hawaiian-language rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” for the end credits of the 2008 movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Always looking to inspire and share, Daniel performs concerts and teaches workshops throughout the US and internationally. As an American Cultural Ambassador, he has toured Japan, Australia, Brunei, and Thailand. He is the co-designer of the Romero Creations Tiny Tenor ‘ukulele, the Ohana Bongolele and Shakerlele line of percussion instruments, and his ‘ukulele is currently on display at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. A new skill picked up during the pandemic: music video production! Daniel has been channeling creativity into filming and editing music videos that add a new and energetic dimension to his repertoire.
Brought up in Hawai’i embraced by beauty from the mountains to the sea, Honoka has grown an admiration for the nature that surrounds her. This connection to nature, in all of its diverse vibrancy, is what inspires her as a person and a musician – To live every second of life brimming with passion, integrity, and harmony. As an ‘ukulele musician, Honoka brings a virtuosic competency to her work – spanning across a wide range of genres and eras, Honoka’s music is expressive, poignant, but always rooted in authenticity. Honoka hopes to live a life that is inspired, and with music as her voice, inspiring others along the way.
One of the most respected jazz ukulele players in the world
As a young boy growing up in Hawaii, ukuleles were all around Kimo. Yet, it wasn’t until his Uncle Richard took him under his wing at age 5 that Kimo learned to play and love the ukulele—a love that has only grown over time. As Kimo says “Emotion is the key in nurturing ukulele because people around the world enjoy the instrument because it is fun, first and foremost, and therefore provides a moving emotional reward.” His music is deliberately slow, a style that he is often sought out for as a teacher and instructor. For Kimo, however, he “grew up with this ukulele sound all around me. It was somewhat characteristic to all those local ukulele players to whom I ascribed a ton of respect.
A musician with a small instrument but a big heart, Kimo is a former director of the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, previous Board Chair for Sounding Joy Music Inc., a non-profit organization specializing in clinical music therapy, and the Board Chairman and Founder of the Pacific Music Foundation, a non-profit organization specializing in Hawaiian music that soothes the listener.
The one and only 'Bruddah iz'
On May 20, 1959, in the final days of Hawai’i’s territorial era, three months before the Hawaiian Islands would become America’s 50th state, a baby was born in Honolulu’s historic Kuakini hospital whose voice would unite the Hawaiian people and be heard all over the world. He was the third child of Evangeline Keale Kamakawiwo’ole, a Hawaiian woman born on Ni’ihau, and Henry “Tiny” Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwo’ole, a part-Hawaiian born on O’ahu. His proud parents knew he would be special even before he emitted his first bold vocals.
They named him Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole. In Hawaiian his last name translates “the fearless eye, the bold face.” Tiny and Evangeline would spoil Israel far more than his brother and sisters; he could do no wrong. This native son was a rare breed, an almost pure Hawaiian of unusual lineage; he could trace his ancestral roots to an island that even today remains the most Hawaiian of all, the so-called “forbidden” island of Ni’ihau.
His first taste in performing was at Steamboats in Waikiki, where his father was a bouncer and his mother was the manager. He got to meet everybody and spend time with Gabby Pahinui and the Sons of Hawai’i. As early as 10 years old, they would call him up onstage with his ‘ukulele. Israel won the admiration and praise of his elders. All the musicians thought Israel was something special. They knew someday he would be somebody. For now, they called him “the kid with the ‘ukulele.”
Israel, now in his early teens, resisted a move to the country. Israel had no idea, nor could he have ever known, how the move to O’ahu’s Wai’anae Coast would cause fundamental change in his life. In Makaha, he would form a band that would rock the islands.
The chance encounter of two truant schoolboys (Israel and John Koko) at the beach was the beginning of a band everyone would soon know as the Makaha Sons of Ni’ihau. The Makaha Sons went on to record 21 albums, win many Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and change Hawaiian music history.
In 1993, following a successful run as one of the members of the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau, IZ decided to venture out on his own. He reached out to me because of my success as a producer of contemporary Hawaiian music giants like the Brothers Cazimero, Brother Noland, Rap Reiplinger and many more. Our meeting would set the stage for the rest of Israel’s career. IZ made it known that he wanted a solo career and wanted my help to chart this new course in the music industry. IZ felt that my track record as a producer and the strength of the Mountain Apple Company organization perfectly suited his needs. Our relationship blossomed and for the rest of his life, I was IZ’s producer, confidant and musical mentor. Our first release was his remarkable solo CD Facing Future.
The production focused on Israel’s stunning voice and launched his incredibly successful solo recording career. Facing Future was followed with the release of another five remarkable recordings, E Ala E (1995), N Dis Life (1996), IZ In Concert: The Man and His Music (1998), Alone In IZ World (2001) and Wonderful World (2007). Facing Future remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. In 2002 it was certified gold by the RIAA, a first for a Hawaiian record label. In 2005, it was certified platinum for sales of over 1 million units. Then Alone In IZ World was certified gold. With each passing year, IZ’s presence in the music industry and the sales of his recordings continue to grow despite the trends that surround the industry. An amazing story about an amazing man, the man referred to by some as the “Hawaiian Suppaman”. While IZ has always been revered in Hawai‘i, his worldwide influence came later. IZ’s music first gained national attention in the mid 1990’s. Billboard Magazine writer Doug Reece writes: “In 1997 there were only seven weeks when Hawaiian musicians–citizens of a state whose population is a fraction of all others–did not appear on the Top World Music Albums chart. Even more impressive was the individual tally scored by cherished, recently deceased vocalist Israel Kamakawiwo`ole. His (most recent) album N Dis Life ran a remarkable 39 weeks on that chart…” Listeners around the world were becoming aware of the power of the music, including those involved in film and television. These great fans were insistent in their desire that IZ’s music be used in their projects. The more IZ was exposed to the world, the more fans responded. Universal Films contacted The Mountain Apple Company about an exclusive license to use IZ’s recording, “Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” in the movie “Meet Joe Black”.
The call was the result of director Martin Brest’s (“Scent Of a Woman”, “Beverly Hills Cop”), love of this remarkable version. Next, eToys.com adopted IZ’s music for a series of national television commercials. Israel’s sweet voice was matched perfectly to these television commercials, which celebrate the innocence and beauty of childhood and the discovery of a world filled with wonder.
This success prompted feature articles in the Washington Post and TV Guide. More exposure led to more fans, and the fans were truly passionate in their support. In December 2000, best-selling author Dean Koontz honored Israel in the front of his new book “From The Corner of His Eye”. Koontz’s quote pays tribute to the power of this music: “As I wrote this book, the singular and beautiful music of the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole was always playing. I hope that the reader finds pleasure in my story equal to the joy and consolation that I found in the voice, the spirit, and the heart of Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole.” Koontz followed this tribute by yet another kudo to IZ in another best-selling book “One Door Away From Heaven” released in December 2001 by saying: “For the second time (the first having been as I worked on “From the Corner of His Eye”), I have written a novel while listening to the singular and beautiful music of the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. When I mentioned Bruddah Iz in that previous book a couple thousand of you wrote to share your enthusiasm for his life-affirming music. Of his six CDs, my personal favorites areFacing Future,In Dis Life, and E Ala E.” Once a presence as large as IZ gets moving, it’s very tough to stop, and it didn’t. The momentum continued into late 2000, as once again his music was featured in a major motion picture, “Finding Forrester” starring Sean Connery and directed by Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”). The only vocal track included on the film’s soundtrack with Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Bill Frisell, it exposed IZ to jazz fans world-wide, and respond they did. In July 2001, IZ’s music hit the big screen once again, this time in the movie “Made” starring Vince Vaughan and Jon Favreau. On January 29, 2001, America On Line (AOL) included information on IZ on their welcome screen, unheard of for a Hawaiian musician. Millions of AOL subscribers were introduced to IZ and his music as they logged on-line.
2001 also saw the release of IZ’s CD Alone In IZ World, which debuted #1 on Billboard’s World Chart and #135 on Billboard’s Top 200. This CD is one of only 12 to ever debut at #1 on the World Chart. It has remained consistently in the Top 10 of Billboard’s World Chart until it was required to move to the world catalog charts where it has remained a fixture ever since its release. Indeed, Facing Future has remained on the World Chart for an astonishing 493 weeks, with Alone In IZ World staying there for 300 weeks (all in the top 5), each with no hint of faltering. To this day, IZ’s music is still on Billboard’s charts. Facing Future is bearing down on 700 weeks in the top 10 of the World Chart, Alone In IZ World has been on the chart for 423 weeks and Wonderful World enjoys 150 weeks on the chart (at the end of 2009). The release of Alone In IZ World garnered articles in the prestigious Washington Post and Chicago Tribune and again, more fans followed. In May 2002, producer John Wells selected IZ’s music for the top-rated television show “ER”. Wells placed it in the season finale that was viewed by 50 million people. Following the exposure of his music in “ER,” IZ was featured in People Magazine and Parade Magazine.
Again, more exposure brought more loyal and passionate fans. The result was even further exposure when the music was used in the hit film “50 First Dates” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The music served to highlight the final emotional scene, drawing raves from viewers. Immediately following the release of the film, “Over the Rainbow” hit the R&R (Radio & Records) Adult Contemporary Chart as well as the Billboard AC Single Chart, climbing steadily as AC radio stations across the country started adding the song to their playlists. The ability of Israel’s vocal to make an immediate connection with the listener has made him a favorite of major advertising agencies. His recordings are featured in commercials throughout the world, which remain in rotation because of Israel’s unique ability to connect. For reasons that cannot be adequately explained or understood, people feel good when they hear his voice, they feel safe and they feel happy. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from. It doesn’t matter whether you are a truck driver or a movie star. That indefinable unique characteristic which is at the core of all great music burns bright in Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s voice. It is for that reason that Hawaiians worldwide consider him their standard bearer. It is why his fans include Bette Midler, Adam Sandler, Jim Carey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean Connery, Drew Barrymore, Dean Koontz, Paul Simon, Jimmy Buffett, Jon Favreau, New York Mets’ Benny Agbayani, director Martin Brest, producers John Wells and Zalman King, Japan sumotori Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru, and people of good will throughout a world sorely in need of it. What a Wonderful World, indeed it IZ.
'Ukulele player & instructor
Mika Kane is a professional ‘ukulele player and Kamaka artist from Maui, Hawai’i. Mika received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music with an ‘Ukulele focus and a Masters Degree in Educational Foundations from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Mentored by many of Hawai’i’s finest musicians, including Dr. Byron Yasui, Benny Chong, Bryan Tolentino, and Ian O’Sullivan, Mika has a prolific background in Classical techniques and interpretation, musical awareness, and music theory with Jazz harmonies. He mostly specializes in fingerstyle playing, adding relevant music theory concepts from his university studies to create a clean, one-of-a-kind sound.
Currently, Mika teaches ‘ukulele at The Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility, lectures at Windward Community College, does side work for The UkuleleSite and Ukulele Friend, and provides private one-on-one ‘ukulele lessons on Zoom. He also occasionally gigs professionally with Kala’e Camarillo at various hotels around O’ahu and at private weddings and functions.
“THE HAWAIIAN GRATEFUL DEAD” - Bill Kreutzman, The Grateful Dead
Herb Ohta Jr.
Herb Ohta, Jr. is just one breed of ‘ukulele players. Herb’s interest in music was very evident at an early age. Herb’s grandmother taught him his first song on the ‘ukulele at the age of three. The song was “Happy Birthday.” His father, Ohta-San started his early instruction on the ‘ukulele and Herb continued to study music playing the viola in high school. Herb was also a member of The Honolulu Boys Choir, The Honolulu Children’s Opera Chorus, and The University High School Select Choir.
Herb continued to take formal lessons from his father until he was 12 years old, because he started to have other interest. After being inspired by listening to the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau and other local musicians at the age of 17, he became a devotee of Hawaiian music and the ‘ukulele. The ‘ukulele is in his genes and Hawaiian music is in his blood. Herb enjoys listening to all types of music, Classical, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Country, Hip-hop, Rap, Latin, Salsa, and Reggae. But Herb’s favorite songs to perform are anything Hawaiian and any types of ballads. He feels that Hawaiian songs and ballads bring out the natural purist sound of the instrument. Herb’s style is reminiscent of his father, but distinct and recognizable as his very own. There is a graceful “Nahenahe” quality that is very Hawaiian, reflecting the inspirations of ‘ukulele virtuoso’s Eddie Kamae and of course Ohta-San.
“The Jimi Hendrix of the ‘ukulele”
Over the past two decades, Jake Shimabukuro has proved that there isn’t a style of music that he can’t play. While versatility for any musician is impressive, what’s remarkable about Shimabukuro’s transcendent skills is how he explores his seemingly limitless vocabulary – whether it’s jazz, rock, blues, bluegrass, folk or even classical – on perhaps the unlikeliest of instruments: the ‘ukulele. Responding to the urgent calls of his fervent imagination, the Hawai’i-born virtuoso has taken the ‘ukulele to points previously thought impossible, and in the process he’s reinvented the applications for this tiny, heretofore underappreciated four-string instrument, causing many to call him “the Jimi Hendrix of the ‘ukulele.”
Humbly, the good-natured musician, who first picked up the ‘ukulele at the age of four, says, “From the time I started playing, I was just doing what came naturally and what felt like fun. I love all types of music, so I never thought, ‘Oh, I can’t play that on the ‘ukulele.’” He laughs and adds, “If you don’t know the rules, you don’t need to follow them, and then nothing can hold you back.”