Talking Story with Ukulele Virtuoso Taimane Gardner

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Taimane is an international ukulele virtuoso who has been playing since the age of five. By 12, she was playing on the beaches of Waikiki with musicians several times her age. There she caught the eye of well-known Hawaiian pop icon Don Ho, who invited Gardner on tour and set her career in motion.

Gardner, a Hawaiian native, will offer a Big Island debut performance of Elemental – A Musical & Theatrical Odyssey at the Kahilu Theatre on Saturday, April 13. It first debuted on Oahu at the Hawaii Theatre Center in 2016, drawing over 1,000 concertgoers and receiving rave reviews. The production brings to life Taimane’s vision of the elements (earth, water, air, fire, ether) and related spheres through music, dance, narration and costume.

The show features two acts, the first being a concert-style performance featuring Taimane with her ‘Elemental’ band comprised of Jonathan Hearaux on percussion, Rachel Look on guitar and vocals, and Jake Staron on cello. In the second act, Taimane presents Elemental via seven original songs plus a closing number, all written by Taimane for this show: Atlantis, Water, Fire, Air, Earth, Pluto, Ether, and Oh Nah. Each of the seven Elemental songs is introduced by a spoken word piece written by Taimane and narrated by Kealoha. Ticket info below.

Let’s start by talking about your new musical odyssey called Elemental. I understand it’s quite an elaborate production.

It’s a performance that showcases the different elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and ether as a fifth element. I’ve always enjoyed productions because it creates a special experience for the audience. I like to incorporate all different types of art because I appreciate all of them. I’ve picked a certain artist to represent an element that I think is best for them. For example, for air, I’m going to have an aerialist. For fire, I’m going to have tango dancers to show that fiery passion. I love incorporating a whole experience for the person. And it’s really fun. This is my second production. The one before it was on the solar system. And I look forward to showcasing Elemental and working on another one.

What was the inspiration for Elemental?

Well, since the first production was about the solar system and the planets, it felt kind of natural that the next thing would be about the elements because they’re all connected to the planets in a way. That’s kind of what inspired me. It was just like this natural chapter. Like the next chapter from the planets, and then the elements, and even possibly the astrological signs after that, just because they all are interconnected and interwoven in a certain way.

Your upcoming performance at the Kahilu Theatre will also mark your debut at that venue. Have you always wanted to play there?

I’ve heard a lot about this theater, and I’m excited to debut this new production in a completely new theater. It’s going to be exciting for me, but it’s also going to be exciting for my dancers and the people involved. This is our very first time actually taking it “on the road.”  It’s just a huge experience – traveling together, going to see a new theater, and just seeing how it will all work together. It’s going to be really exciting!

Taimane in concert

It looks like you’re heading out on a world tour next month including Prague and Austria.

I’m starting off in the Washington area doing a couple shows. Then we’re hopping over to Austria and Prague. I’ve played in those places before, and it’s always nice to go back to Europe, because it’s totally a different mindset when you go to Europe. People are very different. There’s a lot of history there. There’s a lot of beauty and inspiration and a lot of good food.  I’m definitely excited to immerse myself in a new lifestyle and to share music there because they enjoy more originals than covers. They’re willing to spend money and support the artist in any way. I’m excited to go back there, do a little shopping, and just have fun.

How is the ukulele accepted overseas?

Europe is definitely open-minded. They love culture and anything from tradition. They appreciate whether it’s Hawaiian culture or just any different type of culture. They love anything from Hawaii and they definitely appreciate it and hold a reverence for culture.

Will be you be working on any new projects later this year?

I’m definitely going to take some time off, probably August or September. I’m moving on to the next production, the next show. That’s kind of how I like to work. I need to write a new album, which will most likely turn into another production. I’m really looking forward to taking some time off and becoming introverted.  It’s like a different part of being an artist.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

Yes! I have a very special music video that I will be sharing at the Kahilu Theatre next week. I filmed it on the Big Island before parts were taken over by lava. There’s some very special footage of the Big Island in this music video. It’s called “Mother Earth,” and I’m really excited about it. It’s not released yet, and the audience is going to be able to see this new  video because I think it’s perfect for the Big Island. It has a lot of fun, and special moments for the people to enjoy.


If You Go…

Taimane’s upcoming performance of Elemental – A Musical & Theatrical Odyssey takes place at the Kahilu Theatre Saturday, April 13, at 7 pm, and it’s only the second time this show has ever been presented. Tickets are $65/$45/$25 and can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela.


Find Taimane videos, performance schedules, and more at taimane.com.

Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

Concert Photos: Steve Roby

 

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