Gamiao’s Got Game

He’s among the rising generation of talented musicians in the Islands. In some corners of this paradise and in places beyond its shorelines, admirers are even beginning to refer to him as a virtuoso of sorts – and this designation comes at the tender age of 24.

And to think that were it not for a baseball injury, the Kalei Gamiao of today might be more proficient with a bat or glove in hand rather than an ukulele.

Here’s how the longtime resident of Haleiwa recalls his life-altering transition from athlete to ukulele wonder:

“It all started when I was 13. I had been playing baseball from the time I was about 4, and it was something I loved doing,” he says. “But one day, I injured my left arm while playing a game, and I couldn’t straighten it out. The joint in my elbow got so painful every time I tried to throw the ball that the coach told me he was going to hold me out for the rest of the season.”

Virtuoso Kalei Gamiao

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Virtuoso Kalei Gamiao releases his second CD this week. Thank goodness he was able to find life after baseball with the ukulele

Devastated at the prospect of losing time on the baseball diamond, Gamiao turned to his parents for pearls of wisdom. And that’s when fate intervened.

“My parents saw an ad in the newspaper for ukulele lessons one day and suggested I try it,” he tells me. “So I said, ‘OK.’ Little did I know I would never go back to sports. From the time I played my first chord, I was hooked on the instrument.”

Determined not to strike out with this newfound love, Gamiao poured every ounce of effort into mastering the ukulele. And as fate would have it, being home-schooled gave him even greater access to the instrument throughout the day.

“In the beginning, I would spend anywhere from two to eight hours each day practicing,” says the soft-spoken Gamiao, who does everything with his left hand – except when it comes to playing the ukulele. “I was so into it that I would sometimes fall asleep with it in my arms.”

Nowadays, he keeps fans wide-awake and mesmerized with his flawless command of the four-stringed instrument. His debut album Contemporary Ukulele hit stores four years ago, and this week Gamiao releases his sophomore effort Redefined, an 11-track CD featuring eight of his own compositions. With a growing fan base here and abroad, including faraway places such as Thailand and Taiwan, Gamiao appears ready to take his unique style of ukulele playing to the farthest corners of the earth.

“I’m excited,” he says. “Over the next few months, I’ll be traveling to so many different places – places where people know me and enjoy my style of playing. Basically, I’m at a point where I’ll go wherever the music takes me.”

Here’s what else Gamiao told Musical Notes:

MN: How was the recording process for Redefined different from your first album?

KG: For one thing, I came in more prepared (laughing). I remember having problems with the metronome the first time, and I had to do take after take until I got the timing right. It took months to complete the album. Also, this time I was able to practice with a metronome at my church before going into the studio. I also got to work with some really talented musicians, and we were able to iron out the timing issues and develop chemistry. So the whole process was easier, and that allowed us to limit the recordings to four or five days of studio time.

MN: Growing up, who were some of your ukulele influences?

KG: Troy Fernandez, Jake Shimabukuro, Alfred Canopin, Byron Yasui, Benny Chong – people like that.

MN: When you’re not performing, do you still listen to ukulele music?

KG: I know it may sound strange, but I don’t. I’ve found that I get so much more out of listening to other types of music, be it pop, jazz, flamenco or rock, and where there are different instruments involved. My feeling is that if I really want to create something new, I have to look to sources other than the ukulele.

MN: What is it about the ukulele that makes it so enjoyable?

KG: It’s just a great way to have fun! When I’m having a bad day, I play the ukulele and it makes me feel good. It has a happy sound, sort of like a child’s voice. I think that’s why it’s so universally accepted and loved.

small-kine notes:

Rocker Melissa Etheridge drops in for two shows in Hawaii this month, including a July 23 date at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets are still available for the 8 p.m. show. Call (800) 745-8000 … If you hear music coming from Kakaako Waterfront Park this Saturday, the source would be radio personality Sistah Sherry and the Krater 96 van, which will be providing the rhythms to Central Pacific Bank’s “Snowballs for School Supplies.” Aside from collecting school supplies for many of Hawaii’s keiki, the 9 a.m. to noon event will thrill youngsters with a snow machine that blasts shaved ice into the skies – a super cool way to cope with the dog days of summer, don’t you think?