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Inspiring player now teaches uke, too

By Greg Cahill

“I don’t even know how to describe how I play,” Nick Acosta once told a reporter when asked to describe his technique. Let’s just say a lot of determination has gone into honing his craft. Acosta was born with one fully developed arm—his right arm is developed only to the elbow. But that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing the activity that he loves most: playing ukulele. With guidance from legendary ukulele teacher Roy Sakuma, 72, Acosta has become a prodigious ukulele player and an inspiration to many.  “You think Nick has limits, but he just works around it,” Sakuma says. 

Acosta, 23, learned that “can-do” spirit from an early age. His mother, Kim, encouraged her son, saying, “You can do whatever you put your mind to.” He went on to play football and soccer, and has also earned a brown belt in karate.


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In middle school, he picked up the ukulele, later studying with Sakuma at his famous teaching studio (other students included Jake Shimabukuro). One of the biggest obstacles Acosta had to overcome was learning to hold the ukulele with his undeveloped right arm while strumming and picking with his right elbow. At first, that proved especially difficult when playing fast songs. But Acosta persevered and became an accomplished player in the process. Now, after years of practice, and several years as a featured performer at the annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii, Acosta is teaching others to play the uke at the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios in Aiea region of Honolulu.

“I’d like to prove to people that anything is possible in the world,” Acosta told Hawaii News Now. “You just have to put your mind and your heart into it and keep on pushing forward.”

About the Annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii

 Roy Sakuma started the first ukulele festival in 1971. Today the festival is an international event attracting performers, young and old, from around the world. It features a ukulele orchestra of hundreds of children and Sakuma offers free lesson workshops. It has expanded to a second location on the Big Island. Roy and Kathy Sakuma have dedicated their life’s work to preserving interest in the ukulele. The 50th annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii will be held July 19, 2020 in Waikiki, Oahu.

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