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Kainoa Kamaka: Deep In The Heart of Texas

In a city of Spurs basketball, Conjunto music, Tex-Mex food, and Pee-Wee Herman looking for his bike in the basement of the Alamo, who would have thought that I would find the "Ambassador of Aloha" (as recognized by the Lt. Governor of Hawai'i) in my hometown of San Antonio. This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Kainoa Kamaka (or also known as Kai). Kai was born on the Big Island of Hawai'i but now calls San Antonio, Texas home. He is also a brand ambassador and featured artist of KoAloha 'Ukulele. Hailing from a family rich in Hawaiian music history and culture, I was excited to sit down and talk story with him.

Who inspired you to pick up the 'ukulele, and learn to play?

Kainoa has an incredibly talented family with many great musicians. His uncles were one of Hawai'i's leading music groups called Hui Ohana, from the rural Hawaiian village of Kalapana. Hence, Kai always had music and a 'ukulele around while growing up. The musicians in his family mastered their instruments through self-instruction and informal lessons from other relatives. It was while he was in school, Kai decided to learn the drums and start a band. He and his bandmates traveled throughout the Hawaiian islands to gig and perform. However, his bandmates soon discovered Kai also played 'ukulele and decided to make him the band's frontman. The band's popularity grew and gained a following until Kai decided to move to the mainland.

Photo Credit: Kai Kamaka

What brought you to San Antonio?

One of Kai's cousins had joined the military and was stationed in San Antonio. During a visit to the River City, Kai immediately fell in love with the city and found himself visiting multiple times over the next four years. Finally, a job opportunity became available, and Kainoa felt San Antonio would be a perfect place for a change in scenery. Since then, he has found a community to share his love of music, Hawaiian culture, and 'ukulele with. Since moving to San Antonio, Kai has traveled throughout the state of Texas playing the 'ukulele.

Who inspires you as a musician?

From Stevie Wonder to Elvis Presley, from Prince and Bruno Mars to Hawaiian music icons and his family, Kai has many musical influences that spark inspiration in his playing style and performances. When performing, Kainoa enjoys playing all types of music and rearranges the songs to put his personal touch on them. He has also written his own original music, including a song about living in San Antonio.

Alvin "Pops KoAloha" Okami of KoAloha 'Ukulele and Kai Kamaka

Photo Credit: Kai Kamaka

What is the best advice you have been given?

Jus' press. This advice was given to Kainoa by his uncle, Ledward Kaapana. He advised Kai that if you love it, play and do your best. When Kai was growing up, his ohana would kanikapila during gatherings. His family members would form a circle, and the best of the best would play for hours, one song after another. Kainoa wanted to one day be able to play in that circle, so his uncle encouraged him to "jus' press." Kaapana defined his mantra as just play, practice, listen, watch, and observe other players, and the 'ukulele will come to you. However, you must put in the time and effort.

Kai Kamaka, Alan Okami of KoAloha 'Ukulele, and Brian Benavente of KoAloha 'Ukulele

Photo Credit: Kai Kamaka

What is some advice you would give to someone who has never played or would like to play 'ukulele?

Just put a 'ukulele in your hands. It does not matter what kind, how much it costs, or where you got it from…if you have never played, just put it in your hands. This is the first step to becoming comfortable with the instrument and seeing how committed you are to playing it. Also, keep playing and practicing. No one ever masters the 'ukulele; you are always learning, so jus' press.

Photo Credit: Kai Kamaka

Be sure to connect with Kai online. You can find him on YouTube, Instagram @kainoakamaka, Facebook Kai Kamaka, or through his website, kainoakamaka. Until next time, happy strumming!

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