Born on January 29, 1982, my early years growing up were fairytale perfect. Although my family did not have much, we were happy and content – we simply felt blessed to have each other. I was the youngest of four siblings, which meant getting away with a lot of things and receiving almost anything I asked for. My most memorable recalls were those nights I was allowed to stay up late, sitting patiently in front of the big picture window, waiting for my father to return safely home from work. I knew the next day would be special because my sister and I would be going to the toy store with him.
It’s a blur trying to recall and re-live the many exciting times of my childhood, but there is one moment in time that will live with me forever. At the age of three, on September 10, 1985, my mom received unbearable news … my dad was killed in a freak industrial accident while at work. I will never forget that day … the endless tears streaming down my mom’s face, the grieving family members, the people lining up to pay their respects day in and day out for a long period of time … the day my father whom I adored and lived for did not return home from work. Back then, the whole scene was incomprehensible to this very young boy. Only one thing was crystal clear … I was to place a flower on daddy’s coffin because they said he would be sleeping for a very long time.
The effects of growing up without my dad became much more noticeable during elementary school. Although I understood the part about him passing on to be with The Lord in Heaven, I still questioned why? Why did this have to happen to me? Why do I see my brother and two sisters more than I see my mom? Why is mom working two jobs and hardly at home? Why couldn’t dad just be alive and come back home to us? There were so many questions, and my desperate search for so little answers ultimately turned into a huge emotional burden.
Realizing that I was headed in an unhealthy direction, I looked for an escape. This search ultimately led me to the game of baseball. The thought of playing excited me, and I hoped to be as good as my older brother. I was in the fourth grade then, and after begging my mom to sign me up for baseball, she refused due to my asthma condition which required daily treatments to control it. Fortunately, with encouragement from my brother, family, friends, and a few coaches, my mom surprisingly signed me up for Little League Baseball. Although there were conditions attached … I would keep my medications with me at all times and a coach would be designated to monitor my asthma … I was formally on the team.
After two successful seasons of baseball, and looking forward to the next, I was guaranteed starter at third base. Excited about the prospects, our team had the potential of winning a championship. But certain things were just not meant to be. Prior to pre-season training my asthma got worse and I was stopped from playing baseball. The beloved game that had given me respite from my painful past was now being taken away from me. I was once again back to dealing with my emotions alone.
It was late October of my sixth grade year when I found our school security, Mr. Sam Ellis, sitting on a bench during recess playing a little instrument that sounded so cool. This was my introduction to the Ukulele … and the beginning of my fascinating journey into the world of music. I could feel excitement creeping back into my soul, and the loneliness and burdens of the past falling off my shoulders. I was instantly hooked!
Every morning and lunch recess I made it a ritual to find Mr. Ellis. I looked forward to hearing his music, and so excited at being taught how to play. Attending school was now a joy. I could not wait to see Mr. Ellis who would patiently teach me everything about the ukulele. I was now having such an awesome time in school that it became a drag to go home. I had no ukulele to practice on, only a bunch of homework to do and cartoons to watch.
It is here that I would like to note the wonders of life and how I truly believe that things do not happen by accident. One day my brother Roger came home carrying, of all things, an ukulele which he was assigned to for a high school music class. I was given permission to borrow his ukulele whenever I wanted, and from that moment on I knew my calling was to master this mysterious instrument.
Throughout my sixth grade, I practiced playing the ukulele religiously. With the help of Mr. Ellis, my brother, and a close neighbor Melvin Yagin, my drive to learn this instrument was immeasurable. I studied scales, chord progressions, and figured out songs and solos by ear — I became so focused and attentive to the ukulele. I practiced at least four hours every single day … early in the morning before school, during school, after school, and before bedtime. The ukulele became my passion, my love, my whole life. For me it was a natural high … doing something I enjoyed more than anything else in this world. This was the true turning point.
After a year of concentrating solely on the ukulele, and with my asthma now well under control, I returned to baseball for the remaining years of junior high. Within two years, I made the all-star team twice and was tapped for a trip to Fullerton, California, to compete in the Pony League 13 year-old regional Tournament. That was an experience of a lifetime for this young Maui boy.
Upon entering high school, life became a constant juggle between school, baseball, football, track, and music. During my sophomore year, Mr. Ellis and I decided to enter a statewide ukulele competition. I was going in quite skeptical due to a grinding schedule of school and sports. I didn’t want to enter something I couldn’t give 100%. Against all odds, we entered the competition with a song we wrote together. This song entitled “Magic Room”, brought us to the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and unbelievably, to the finals.
On the night of the final competition, Mr. Ellis and I recalled the hard work, distractions and obstacles we had faced and ultimately overcame. After that talk, I went onstage and performed the song as if nothing else mattered. I was only there to share with the audience the miracle of hard work, dedication, and believing that one can truly “fly with your dreams.” That night was one of the happiest times of my life. With the support of Mr. Ellis and my family, I won the statewide ukulele competition.
Mr. Ellis and I then signed a recording contract and recorded our song which appeared on the KCCN’s Pride of the Islands II CD. This accomplishment was the formal start to the future of my music career.
Throughout high school, I continued to juggle school, sports, and music. However, my love of music always won well above everything else. As I look back on my life, the pieces of my life’s puzzle are slowly falling into place. Yes, I was mad at the world for taking my dad too soon. But now, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. My father would not want me to be upset, fail, and blame others. He would want me to be strong, successful, and appreciative of life’s gifts. I also believe that Dad has watched over me all these years, and helped to create the paths that I have chosen.
I realize that God has tested my faith throughout my life, but I know that God is proud of the outcome. Whenever I wanted to give up, God gave me the strength, courage, and faith to carry through. God has blessed me overwhelmingly with a beautiful wife (Raymi), three adorable sons (Santana-7, Marley-5 and Jackson-2), a comfortable home, a support group that is unbreakable, and a talent and true passion for music that I humbly accept.
I have been confronted with many of life’s trials and tribulations, but music has been one constant saving grace which has been there for me as a means of escape, coping with life, and a way of expression. I am confident that with continued hard work in my music and what I believe in, I will not only make a difference in my life but also affect those around me. My dream is to use music as a God given gift to reach out and help and inspire the world.