Shimabukuro Shines At HPAF Benefit


Jake Shimabukuro
Fairmont Orchid Ballroom, Puako
January 12, 2018

It was a special evening, not only for the audience who experienced a 90-minute stellar performance by ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, but also for a lucky young lady by the name of Wehiwa Donager..

Last month, two non-profits, the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival and the Music for Life Foundation, came together and donated 20 Kala “Waterman” ukuleles to Kealakehe Intermediate School in Kailua-Kona. (See our article “Ukuleles Keep Music Alive.”)

Wehiwa Donager.& Jake Shimabukuro (photo: Steve Roby)

In addition to their generous donation, HPFA conducted a drawing at the school to win a private lesson with Shimabukuro prior to his benefit concert at the Fairmont.  When Donager. was told she was the winner, she responded in disbelief, “Really?!”

With uke in hand, and proud parents in tow, Donager.arrived about an hour before Shimabukuro’s show. Donager. sat in the corner of a private room with the ukulele wizard as he guided her through some of the basics of playing the instrument. Although music is invisible, Jake’s hand gestures gave it form. The 12 year-old focused intensely and the 10-minute lesson quickly stretched to a half-hour. Later, Shimabukuro told the concert crowd, “Ten minutes? It takes me 10 minutes just to tune my ukulele!”

During a special segment of the show, Donager.was awarded an ukulele signed by Shimabukuro. From the stage he acknowledged her talent, and encouraged her to keep playing and follow her musical aspirations.

Jake Shimabukuro (photo: Steve Roby)

Shimabukuro divided his evening performance into two 45-minute sets, each with their own unique moments. “Go For Broke” is an original he wrote to honor the Japanese American WWII Nisei Soldiers, and also the theme song for the 2017 Hawaiian-produced film of the same name. The song begins with a military marching drum beat that Shimabukuro hauntingly recreated on his instrument.

Recalling the days of his youth when he was inspired by a cassette recording of the great flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya, Shimabukuro said, “Back then, we didn’t have YouTube, so when I listened to his recordings I imagined three or four people playing with him. I heard percussion sounds, bass lines… and then someone told me it’s just one guy!” He then played “Let’s Dance,” a beautiful tune he wrote while still in high school.

For the second half of the concert, Shimabukuro brought up his friend and local sound tech Paul Buckley to play bass and cajón, a wooden box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru. One of their standout numbers was “Dragon.” Shimabukuro said that he loved watching Kung Fu movies of his hero Bruce Lee, and then played a short snippet of a Lee inspired song that he wrote when he was six.

Before ending the show, Shimabukuro invited the packed house to look up the lyrics to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Many in the room knew the lyrics by heart, and it proved to be an epic sing-along.

In closing, Shimabukuro thanked the audience for attending the HPAF benefit. “You are changing lives, and inspiring young people with your donation tonight.”

Proceeds from the concert and fundraiser provided scholarships for HPAF’s 2018 Summer Festival, which brings young music students to Hawaii Island to study and perform with professional musicians from around the world.

Jake Shimabukuro (photo: Steve Roby)

Set One: Eleanor Rigby | 1-4-3 |  Akaka Falls |  Piano Forte  | Celtic Tune | Ukulele Five-O |  Go For Broke | What A Wonderful World/Somewhere Over The Rainbow | Let’s Dance | Hallelujah | In My Life

Set Two: Sakura, Sakura | Blue Roses Falling | 6/8 | Hi`ilawe | Kawika | Dragon | Bohemian Rhapsody

Encore: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

To lean more about the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, please visit:

To keep up with Jake Shimabukuro’s busy schedule, check out his website:


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