Vocalist and ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner was born on February 13, 1989 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Taimane – which means “diamond” in Samoan – began playing the ukulele at age 5. At 13, while playing on the beach with local musicians, she was discovered by Hawaiian music icon Don Ho and invited to be part of his Waikiki variety show. There, she quickly became a weekly regular, attracting audiences with a mix of rock, flamenco, pop, classical and traditional Hawaiian melodies.
Under the guidance of modern ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, Taimane further focused her style and began composing music.
In 2019, she won the “2019 Favorite Entertainer of the Year Award” from Nā Hōkū Hanohano.
Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.
Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?
I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.
Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.
My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.
How did this experience affect you?
I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.
Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?
Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!
The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?
Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.
Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?
I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.
Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.
Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.
I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.
Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?
I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.
For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.
What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?
I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.
The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at RomeroCreations.com.
Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?
No I haven’t. I’d like to though.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.
What music are you currently listening to?
I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.
What new projects are you working on?
Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.
Widely recognized as the world’s top ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro (shee-ma-BOO-koo-roh) is internationally renowned for lightening-fast fingers and revolutionary playing techniques. He views the ukulele as an “untapped source of music with unlimited potential.” Jake’s virtuosity defies label or category. Playing jazz, blues, funk, classical music, bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and rock, Jake’s mission is to show everyone that the ukulele is capable of so much more than only the traditional Hawaiian music many associate it with.
Jake was born November 3, 1976 in Honolulu, Hawaii. At just four years of age, Jake’s mother gave him his first ukulele lesson. “When I played my first chord I was hooked,” says Jake, “I fell in love with the instrument.” That love grew into a deep passion to create and innovate. Experimenting with various techniques allows Jake to create sounds never thought possible on the tiny four-string, two-octave instrument.
A spectacular showman, his performances captivate audiences with intricate strumming and plucking, electrifying high-energy grooves and smooth, melodic ballads. His covers of tunes by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are interpretations that have dazzled and delighted audiences worldwide.
From a modest beginning performing at a local Honolulu café, Jake has gone on to play famous venues such as the House of Blues and The Knitting Factory (Los Angeles), The Birchmere (Alexandria, VA), Tipitina’s (New Orleans), Joe’s Pub and B.B. King’s Nightclub (New York City), The Bumbershoot Festival (Seattle), The Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) and many others. Occasional tours with Jimmy Buffett since 2005 have given Jake the experience of a lifetime, regularly exposing his virtuosity and amazing stage presence to crowds of over 50,000.
Jake toured with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (2002, 2005, 2006) and recorded on the band’s Little Worlds (2003) album. Jake is also featured on Ziggy Marley’s Grammy Award winning album Love is My Religion (2006) and contributed to the soundtrack of the Jimmy Buffett-produced film, Hoot. This was a rewarding experience for Jake and gave him the confidence to score the Japanese independent film Hula Girl.
The album Travels came out in 2015. The recording featured original compositions by Jake as well as modern interpretations of cherished Hawaiian standards and two 1970s’ pop hits, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, and “Low Rider” by War.
Also in 2015, Jake returned home to Honolulu to participate in the world premiere of Campanella, the first-ever concerto written for the ukulele. The piece was composed by Dr. Byron Yasui for Jake to perform with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. “It was a great moment for the ukulele, because it was the first time that the ukulele was presented as a classical instrument,” said Jake. “It was, by far, the most difficult piece of music I have ever performed.”
In early 2016, Jake released Live In Japan (Hitchhike Records/eOne), a two-CD set featuring career-spanning musical pieces, including a 10-minute classic reworking of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
A few months later, Jake released Nashville Sessions (2016), his first album of all original songs. what was conceived as studio jams evolved into beautifully structured compositions. The lineup incliuded Nolan Verner on bass and Evan Hutchings on drums.
Acclaimed Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Julio Pereira released an album titled Cavaquinho 30 years ago. This was a tribute to the small guitar called cavaquinho. Thirty years later, he revisits the potential of the cavaquinho with a new album titled Cavaquinho.pt featuring new musical pieces composed or arranged by Pereira.
The original ‘Cavaquinho’ album had a significant influence and defined Julio Pereira’s career as a musician. The new recording, Cavaquinho.pt is part of a larger project around the cavaquinho that includes research, inventorying the different variations of the instrument, scores, players, composers and builders around the world. The cavaquinho is related to other small guitars in the Iberian Peninsula and the predecessor of the ukulele. It has traveled around the world over the centuries, leaving descendants in Brazil, Cape Verde, Hawaii and Indonesia.
The music on Cavaquinho.pt incorporate various folk traditions from Minho in Portugal as well as the increasingly popular fado. In addition, it reflects the travels of the cavaquinho, featuring influences that go beyond the various regions of Portugal. For example, Sara Tavares, a singer of Cape Verdean descent appears on one song. There are also traditional songs from Brazil and Galicia (Spain).
The lineup on Cavaquinho.pt includes Julio Pereira on cavaquinho, viola braguesa (Braguese guitar), synthesizers and backing vocals; Miguel Veras on acoustic guitar; Fernando Araujo on bass; Quiné on percussion; Laurent Filipe on trumpet; Guto Lucena on flute; Daniel Pereira on gaita de foles (Portuguese bagpipe); Sara Tavares on vocals; Uxia on vocals; Luanda Cozetti on vocals; Sofia Vitoria on vocals; and Joao Afonso and C.R.A.M.O.L. on backing vocals.
The physical edition of Cavaquinho.pt is exquisitely packaged in a 112-page hard cover book, with extensive liner notes in Portuguese and English, photos, credits and beautiful illustrations by Pedro Sousa Pereira.
Julio Pereira started as a rock musician, playing electric guitar with progressive rock bands Petrus Castrus and Xarhanga. He later picked up the mandolin, braguesa guitar, Portuguese guitar and bouzouki. Encouraged by Zeca Afonso, the cavaquinho became his main focus.
Cavaquinho.pt is a remarkable recording dedicated to the cavaquinho recorded by one of the essential musicians in Portugal’s contemporary folk music scene.