Strummin’ Siren

December 4, 2012 | By Jason Black

‘Ukulele virtuoso Taimane will carry you away.

Tori Richard ‘Murano’ long-sleeve wrap dress in Mediterranean $135. Shot on location at Hilton Hawaiian Village. Photos: Leah Friel

The sweet, signature scent of plumeria wafts through the air as her long dexterous fingers dance along the ‘ukulele fretboard like sunlight playing across the rolling ocean waves. At the moment, 23-year-old ‘ukulele phenom Taimane, accompanied by classical guitarist Jasmine Skurtu, are jamming through a 20-minute medley of classic 1960s surf music including Dick Dale, The Ventures, a smattering of Japanese pop, and, finally, the classic Ventures’ 1969 hit “Hawaii Five-0” as a finale. While strumming, she passionately sways back and forth like a wild palm standing barefoot in a loose black jumpsuit while closing her eyes and, at times, losing herself in the music.

Out in the comfy, open-air SWIM Bar, it’s a challenging listen for the merry mix of residents and visitors. But the crowd pays close attention to the cascade of chord changes while enjoying a radiant Waikiki skyline and their happy-hour drink of choice: the Mai Tai.

Later, after her looping roller-coaster hour-long set, it’s clear how much she relishes playing here at the Hyatt Regency. Over the past five years, it’s been her home and it shows. She’s poised.

Confident. Comfortable. “This was my very first show where I got to play for an hour,” remembers Taimane, smiling of her start. “That was a big deal for me at 18. And now, it feels like it’s my living room where I can try out new things. I always enjoy seeing familiar faces of both visitors and locals who always come back.”

It’s no wonder she’s so at ease performing for massive, ever-swirling crowds in Waikiki. She’s been doing it for almost her entire life. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Taimane (whose name means “diamond” in Samoan) started strumming at the tender age of five. A year later, she won her first youth contest. By age eight, she was a seasoned professional, standing out on world-famous Kalakaua Avenue, entertaining visitors and locals passing by on the street. The busy concrete strip became an early proving ground for this blossoming musician.

Actually, that’s where she met her destiny. One of Don Ho’s close friends saw her performing and invited her to meet the famous Hawaiian entertainer himself. He liked what he heard and incorporated her into his regular show.

Tiffany & Co. Frank Gehry ‘Fish’ necklace in sterling silver with onyx, jade and wood $2,150 and Frank Gehry ‘Torque’ wide bangle in brown-banded agate $2,150

First, she contributed one song, then two. Soon, she was winning the crowd over with her youthful exuberance and stealing the show with her ample ability. She was a natural. But she’s quick to point out that she owes a lot to her talented uncle. “He taught me how to connect with the audience,” she fondly recalls. “It’s really shaped the way I perform and knowing which songs will work.”

In addition to her weekly Friday evenings at SWIM, you can catch Taimane and her magical uke at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and other select venues throughout town. At her show, she favors a broad spectrum of music including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Beethoven, Brazilian bossa nova, Phantom of the Opera flourishes, and even Spanish flamenco music. Taimane is quick to point out that her playing owes much to flamenco’s energetic, staccato style. “It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. But I’ve grown up playing in Waikiki so I know what works. My audience loves songs that are recognizable and familiar to them.”

Her talent has also afforded her the unique opportunity to travel abroad extensively. A few recent destinations include Japan, Canada and New York City. And she jets to the neighbor islands all the time for performances. Next up, she’s off to the mainland for the annual San Diego Uke Festival. “I really enjoy traveling because it’s always an adventure. But I always love to return home to Hawai‘i and my family.”

As if her rigorous touring schedule weren’t enough to keep her occupied, she recently signed to local label Mountain Apple Records to produce her recently released album ‘Ukulele Dance and its companion DVD. The album is filled with half original material and half popular covers. Lately, she’s even been writing songs for each planet in the solar system for a special performance entitled Taimane’s Universe in Chinatown, Honolulu’s emerging local arts and entertainment district. “I have a couple original songs. I enjoy doing more visual music and having a theme when I play. It’s fun and challenging to put a story to it.”

For Taimane, it’s clear—the best is yet to be written.

Taimane’s newest CD, ‘Ukulele Dance. Photo courtesy of Mountain Apple Company.

The Details:

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa
[C:9 Waikiki Map]
Fridays 6-7 p.m.
( for details)

Rockin’ Hawaiian Rainbow Revue
Hilton Hawaiian Village
[D:4 Waikiki Map]
Fridays 7:30 p.m. (one song)

‘Aha ‘Aina A Royal Hawaiian Lu‘au
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort
[C:8 Waikiki Map]
Mondays 7:15 p.m. (one song)

Tori Richard
Hilton Hawaiian Village
2005 Kalia Road
[D:4 Waikiki Map]
(808) 943-9472

Hyatt Regency Waikiki
2420 Kalakaua Ave.
[C:9 Waikiki Map]
(808) 924-1811

Royal Hawaiian Hotel
2259 Kalakaua Ave.
[C:8 Waikiki Map]
(808) 921-2702

Tiffany & Co.
Luxury Row
2100 Kalakaua Ave.
[B:6 Waikiki Map]
(808) 926-2600