Her fingers dance and fly over the strings, tearing down the boundaries that have kept the ukulele tied to traditional Hawaiian music.
Hawaii’s Taimane Gardner plays with power and passion, ranging in style from ‘Led Zeppelin to Beethoven,’ as one song is aptly entitled.Most of all, she plays from the heart.
Nowhere was that more evident this weekend than when, at the Shade Stage Saturday, the 22-year-old ripped the nail off her right-hand pinky finger during one set. Saying only to the audience she had torn a nail and would have to stop, she went, bleeding, to the first aid station, where she nearly fainted from the pain of treatment. Always gracious, and after having a few minutes to recover, she said she would be happy to be interviewed.
“You get to a place where you don’t think anymore,” she says of her love for the ukulele. “You kind of channel it instead. It’s nice to lose yourself in that channelling and see what happens. You know what songs you’re going to play, but you don’t play it the same technical way – I like to see where it goes, surprising myself and connecting with the audience.”
With musical heroes such as Pink Floyd, Beethoven, Radio Head, Erik Satie and Johann Sebastian Bach, it’s no wonder she creates unique and eclectic medleys.
A natural performer since birth and a player of the ukulele since she was five, one of Gardner’s teachers and influences was Jake Shimbukuro, who played at Roots and Blues in 2009.
“He was the first ukulele player not to play it like a ukulele. He treated it like an instrument rather than a Hawaiian ukulele,” she says. “He gave me the inspiration to do the same.”
The most frustrating part about being a ukulele-playing musician, she says, is that people don’t take it seriously.
“When I say I play ukulele they say, ‘oh, that’s cute, Hawaiian music.’”
Although she was worried about her three performances Sunday, a Band-Aid, a steel finger pick for protection and a lot of heart allowed her to once again wow her audiences with her amazing skill and riveting stage presence.