By Jasmine Jackson-Richmond
Many Maui residents took the opportunity to strum along to a few tunes with Roy Sakuma at the 10th Annual Maui ‘Ukulele Workshop which was held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater on Saturday, Oct. 10. The event was free and open to the public; people of all ages and stages were encouraged to attend.
Among the large crowd gathered early outside the theater waiting to register for the ‘ukulele workshop was 11-year-old Harley Strain from Kihei. Strain, a first-year student at the ‘ukulele workshop said he has been playing ‘ukulele for three years and even takes lessons at his school.
“He is super into the ‘ukulele,” said his mother, Mercedes Strain. “So, besides the opportunity, this was the perfect chance for him to work with the best, Roy Sakuma.”
The workshop is part of the Annual ‘Ukulele Festival, which is an event that takes place every year throughout the state with the aim of keeping the love for the ‘ukulele alive. Sakuma always holds a free workshop for the community day before the festival. “It’s a way that I can continue to promote healing and love,” he said. Sakuma hosted his first ‘ukulele festival in 1971 on O‘ahu.
“I wanted the people of Hawai‘i to know that the ‘ukulele is not just an instrument to accompany hula,” he said. He explained that the yearly workshop and festival is an opportunity for the ‘ukulele to be “showcased as a true musical instrument on its own.”
To ensure that he could continue to share his love for the ‘ukulele by hosting the yearly workshops and festivals, Sakuma, along with his wife, Kathy, started the nonprofit organization ‘Ukulele Festival Hawaii in 2004. The nonprofit helps the Sakumas carry on with their passion of promoting and building public awareness of the ‘ukulele as a solo instrument and also ensures that the annual event can remain free.
During the annual workshop, students are taught a song that they are encouraged to perform as a group at the festival that takes place the following day at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. This year’s song of choice is “I Am What I Am,” a song that Sakuma said is one of his favorite songs, as well as a song that changed his life the first time he heard it at the age of 16. “[The song] brings comfort to children who feel they cannot communicate their feeling to the world,” he said.
When he’s not hosting the annual festivals, you can find Sakuma traveling to various schools throughout the islands teaching the art of the ‘ukulele to students of all ages. Sakuma said that he has seen how the ‘ukulele can being comfort, release stress and even healing to people and children in his 50 years of teaching. Sakuma also shared that he is working on a book titled “I Am What I Am,” which will help parents communicate better with their children; something he says is the No. 1 thing that children express to him when volunteering in schools.
“That is what’s wrong with today’s society,” Sakuma explained. “Parents don’t take the time to communicate and really hear their children.”
Along with “I Am What I Am,” participants of this year’s workshop also performed “Twist-n-Shout,” and “Jamaica Farewell” at the festival.
The Sakumas host the annual workshop and festival the second week of October. For more information, visit www.ukulelefestivalhawaii.org