Fusion Uke: Taimane Gardner’s Dynamic Transformation of the Ukulele

Taimane Gardner.  Photo credit:  Jaymi Brittni

Taimane Gardner. Photo credit: Jaymi Brittni

It is hard to believe that the music Taimane Gardner plays comes out of a tiny ukulele. Her playing convey the full sound of a guitar, albeit one that was left inside a dryer and shrunken due to a high heat setting. If you doubt me, here’s a quick video of her jamming backstage with Yamandu Costa:

A native of Oahu, Hawaii, Gardner has a knack for fusing and funneling classical, rock and flamenco genres through her tiny ukulele to produce a big-spirited, life-capturing sound.

Here she is performing a fusion of Led Zeppelin with Beethoven in a concert for John Travolta and Kelly Preston:

Combined with a goodly dose of onstage charisma, she is a uke-playing tour-de-force. “I’ve always been a ham,” Garder says. “Even before I had an ukulele I was putting together shows at my house for my parents and our family dog. Performing has always run in my blood. I feel more comfortable onstage than I do off.

“Aside from the ukulele, I do play some guitar and piano and I can fiddle around with stringed instruments. I’ve always wanted to learn violin and the harp but getting a harp through TSA’s airport security would not be fun.”

Her repertoire extends in every direction. “I love playing flamenco and Spanish-style music because of the sound of the chords, but mostly I love passion of the music. It’s emotionally raw and moves me,” she says. “I also love classical music, particularly Bach, Beethoven, Mozart–his minor stuff–and I also really enjoy Erik Satie. At the same time, I love rock ‘n roll for its anything-goes, nonchalant attitude and the freedom movement it brought to the 1960s. Some amazing, experimental stuff happened at that time and I wish that could happen again.”

Taimane’s Toccatta by Bach on ukulele:

Early on, Gardner studied with ukulele teachers Roy Sakuma and Mike Basquez.

“They were really good at putting us in front of an audience at a young age so we could get used to it. I was ten years old when I started lessons with Jake Shimabukuro and I remained his student until he became too busy. He was such a great teacher,” she says.

“Then I met Don Ho when I was when I was 13. One of his performers saw me busking in Waikiki and asked me to play for him.”

On her Facebook Page, Taimane mentions that she started street performing when she was nine years old. She soon ran into some homeless beach boys who were busking on the same avenue and they were pleased to have her join them. The band, which started to earn hats full of tips from passersby, adopted the name of “Taimane & The Waikiki Street Band.”  As it says on her page, “This experience showed Taimane the power of music and the ability to help others.”

Here she is performing with the band at The Mai Tai Rumble music competition:

“I started to develop my own voice and playing style during college,” Gardner says. “I was doing a lot of covers in Waikiki until I was 18. I went into Chinatown where the art scene was exploding and they wanted originals. It was exactly what I needed to keep going with my music. Learning to improvise and create unique songs became a necessity.”

When Gardner composes her own music, she starts with a riff and runs with it. “Recently, my dreams have had music in them and so when I wake up, I record it into my phone and then work off with that. Riffs are the easy part. It’s the finishing and arranging that takes most of the time,” she says.

Her original track, “Neptune’s Storm”:

“I’ve always had a strong personality and thank goodness I found the stage to express it through a positive outlet,” Gardner says. “When I tell people I play ukulele to pay my rent, it doesn’t compute. However, that’s what makes what I do so unique. You kind of have to see it to believe it. And being a woman who plays the uke is awesome. It lends a credibility to both my ukulele playing and my feminine side, which I appreciate that on so many levels.

“The advice I would give to others is simply to do what you’re passionate about. That is what life is about.”

Taimane Gardner.  Photo credit:  Jaymi Brittni

Taimane Gardner. Photo credit: Jaymi Brittni

Gardner currently owns seven ukuleles. “My favorite is Blackie but I had to retire him due to a gig in the rain and the fact that because my playing style is so aggressive, my ukuleles generally last for about only two years,” she says.

While Gardner is not a sponsored player of any particular make of instrument, she does have a preference for playing Kamaka ukuleles. “Kamaka has taken care of me since I was five years old and their ukuleles sound magical. What I’m looking for in any ukulele is a magical ring to it. I feel there’s a story in the wood that comes through when it’s strummed and that’s what I’m looking for,” she explains.

If you visit her website, there are several songbooks of Gardner’s ukulele music available for instant download and/or shipping. “The songbooks are written in ukulele tab,” she says. “It’s great for advanced players.”

She has recently completed writing a set of songs. “They are about the four elements, with one special fifth element,” Gardner says mysteriously. She plans to release it as an EP sometime in 2017.

For Taimane Gardner’s touring schedule: www.taimane.com

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Tedx Talk performance with Taimane performing on her recently retired “Blackie” ukulele: