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Ukuleles for India: Beamers hold benefit concert

Local musicians to travel to India in October to donate instruments, teach children

Jeff Peterson (from left), Keola Beamer and Moana Beamer will perform a benefit concert on Maui on Aug. 13, with the goal of traveling to India in October to donate ukuleles and teach children how to play the instrument. Keola Beamer said he remembers the joy that music brought his family even when they didn’t have much. “We were poor but didn’t know it, and part of the reason was we had music and the ukuleles. Kapono and I would play our ukuleles and laugh. It brought joy into our lives,” he said. — MICHAEL FISH photo

On a mission to provide ukuleles to underprivileged children in the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, Keola and Moana Beamer will perform a benefit fundraiser joined by multi-Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Jeff Peterson and guitarist Tom Lunneberg at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Friday.

The special “Evening of Aloha” event also features the screening of the Oscar-nominated Bhutanese film “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” along with the auction of a handmade ukulele by master luthier Steve Grimes.

The Beamers, Peterson, Lunneberg and Maui filmmaker Tom Vendetti will travel to Sikkim for about three weeks in October to donate ukuleles and teach children the basics of the instrument. The musicians had also planned a similar project in Bhutan, but COVID-19 concerns have temporarily delayed this segment.

“I think of ukuleles as little vessels of joy,” said Keola Beamer. “We’ve been blessed with bringing ukuleles and we want to provide a foundation for them to explore their own music. Once we teach the kids the basic chords in different keys, then they can go anywhere with it. That’s where the acculturation comes in. The ukulele is not a Hawaiian instrument, it’s a Portuguese instrument that we acculturated.”

The Beamers previously traveled with Peterson and Vendetti to Cambodia in 2016, where they successfully delivered 40 ukuleles to impoverished children, along with bringing in teachers from Hawaii to instruct them.

“They made videos of kids playing in town squares in Cambodia with parents and kupuna all around them laughing and singing and clapping, and that’s what we want to achieve this time, for them to play their own music,” he said.

During an earlier trip to Cambodia, Beamer felt inspired to gift ukuleles to children in poverty after witnessing impoverished conditions.

“In the really rural areas of Cambodia there was such a heavy weight of oppression and sadness,” he said. “It felt pretty grim to me, a lot of darkness, and sad children peering out of the gloom. They were still rebounding from Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge and cultural trauma. Pol Pot killed millions of them.

“Coming back from that trip, I was thinking, was there a time in our lives when we were similarly challenged? My brother and I were raised by our mom and no help from my father. It was a struggle. One time, she told me she didn’t have enough money for a postage stamp. We were poor but didn’t know it, and part of the reason was we had music and the ukuleles. Kapono and I would play our ukuleles and laugh. It brought joy into our lives. So I thought what if we did that, give them a little bit of aloha? It turned into a phenomenal success. It brings tears to your eyes.”

A couple of years ago, this Hawaiian music legend also raised funds to provide ukuleles for kids in poverty with the benefit CD “Himalayan Sessions.” It featured tracks by Beamer recorded in Nepal, along with music by flutist Paul Horn and Christopher Hedge, and inspirational quotes by the 14th Dalai Lama.

In previous years the Beamers, in tandem with Peterson, traveled around the world performing Hawaiian slack key guitar and hula, and collaborating with local musicians under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. The trio journeyed to Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Peterson just won two 2022 Hoku awards for Instrumental Album of the Year for “Mele Nahenahe, Soothing Sounds of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar,” and Instrumental Composition of the Year.

“It was exciting,” he said. “The real highlight was I got to perform a solo piece in the show. It was a real honor.”

The Himalayan state of Sikkim lies in northeast India, bordering Tibet.

“I’ve been listening to music from the area, and arranging music for the children,” Peterson said. “Seeing the enthusiasm of the children in the first program we did in Cambodia was amazing.”

The MACC concert will open with Lunneberg, who has been studying slack key guitar with Beamer for about 15 years.

“I love his work,” said Beamer. “Then Jeff and I will play, and we’ll include Maluhia, this amazing bass player we found on Kauai.”

“Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom” will screen in the second half. The Los Angeles Times noted: “Opening the doors to a land and people most Westerners know little about, the director crafts a crowd-pleaser in stunning, mostly unseen locations.” Variety praised how it was “gloriously filmed on staggeringly beautiful locations and wonderfully performed by a cast comprised almost exclusively of first-time actors.”

“An Evening of Aloha” concert and film is presented at 7 p.m. on Friday at the MACC’s Castle Theater. Tickets are $30, plus fees, and are available at mauiarts.org.

* This post contains a correction on the show’s date from what was in the original printed version.

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