BY LAURENCE VITTES
After a busy concert season, playing music in all genres including her own compositions in brilliant, innovative ways on the ukulele, winning new fans for her and her instrument wherever she goes, Taimane returned home to Honolulu for some well-earned R&R.
Taimane interacts so intensely with the audience, if the ukulele hadn’t been around for her to play she probably would have made one by cutting down a guitar herself to suit her needs. For an artist who gives so much with every strum, the ukulele and Taimane are a perfect match.
Her instrument? A custom-made, five-string Kamaka outfitted with Savarez classical guitar strings, including two low G’s, and a pedal for reverb and delay to color her sound.
Aside from an appearance at the VegFest Oahu in Honolulu on September 21, Gardner will lie low until October, when she visits the mainland at Pepperdine University in Malibu (October 17), the Soho Restaurant & Music Club in Santa Barbara (October 22), and Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub in Sacramento (October 24).
How do you tour without stressing out?
For me less is more when you travel, so I try not to have too much stuff to lug around. The biggest thing for me is getting my ukuleles on the airplane. Recently, I’ve been using a Gretsch double ukulele bag.
Do you feel comfortable onstage?
I have always have loved being onstage, even before getting my first ukulele at five, I’ve felt more comfortable on stage than off.
Any tips for those don’t?
Practice with your eyes closed, so if you do get scared onstage you can close your eyes and picture yourself practicing at home. You can also look over peoples’ heads. And always, go to lots of open-mic nights—they’re great places to get comfortable in front of an audience. Wherever you can play.
I played on the streets of Waikiki to hone my craft. And sometimes I got so nervous I would have anxiety issues. Now when I get a little self-conscious, like when talking between songs, I tell them what’s going through my head. It’s a good way to connect with your audience.
What’s your relationship with the audience like?
Over years and years, and thousands of concerts, I can say that every audience has a different energy; so I never write my setlist until I see them. Some are more mellow, some more feisty; but I don’t care just as long as the audience is into it. One thing about the ukulele audience: They’re very open minded, and happy to see the ukulele played in so many different ways.
Practice with your eyes closed, so if you do get scared onstage you can close your eyes and picture yourself practicing at home.
It must be a powerful combination for the audience.
People come up to me after performances and start crying because they loved it so much. That’s why I like to play music, creating those connections. It’s also fun to see inspiration in the eyes of the next generation, and to be a part of mesmerizing all generations.
Tell me about the ukulele and you.
I started singing before I was five when my dad gave my first ukulele; I also played the guitar and piano, but the ukulele was my first love. It was a positive way to make friends in school, and whenever I played, it opened doors and connected me with people, even when people didn’t speak English. And musically it’s always an underdog so there’s no expectation, and people are always surprised. And, of course it’s helped me to express myself artistically.
What’s coming up for you? Are you touring?
In mid-October I’ll be playing a little California tour starting in Malibu at Pepperdine and working my way up to Palo Alto. My second tour will take place on the East Coast around the end of January; New York and Washington, and Philadelphia for the first time, are for sure, and we’re working on other cities.
Have you been making changes to your basic three-person show?
I have been incorporating more dancers into my show; for the October tour we’ll have a Hawaiian hula dancer, and for a couple of shows a violinist. In New York, I’m planning on having more dancers and more production elements. They’ll definitely always have me, a guitarist, and a percussionist at every show.