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The story and history of Kamaka Ukulele.

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Chris Kamaka 0:00

We've always appreciated life and appreciated, you know, just being able to share what we have, you know, because, you know, sometimes we take it for granted where we live, you know, because you know, it's such a beautiful place. And hopefully we can portray that to those who do come, and they would appreciate it even more.

Bryan Murphy 0:20

That's a clip from today's interview with Chris calaca. Chris is the production manager kumbhak ukulele. early this year in January, I had a chance to sit down with Chris in Anaheim, California out of all places. Conoco who clearly was at the Nam show then, and the Nam show isn't is a music convention that happens once a year. And it's where all the different vendors and artists come together to network and to see the kind of latest and greatest out of all these amazing vendors and Kanaka ukulele happens to be one of those vendors and we have some time together in the lobby at the Hilton at the convention center in Anaheim, and it was such a great time. For me personally, it was great to sit down with Chris and hear about the story of calaca and how they started. This is a true story of a family business started out a love and passion for music and for crafting an amazing instrument. So I hope you enjoy today's conversation with Chris all about how kamaka ukulele started, where they're at, and what the future holds. So stay tuned for this one. It's gonna be fun. Let's go.

Hawaii's Best 1:32

Aloha. Welcome to Hawaii's Best travel podcast where we help you prepare for your next trip to Hawaii. Discover the experiences businesses and stories that make Hawaii the Aloha state. And now your host Brian Murphy

Bryan Murphy 1:48

with Trans Pacific travel opening up in Hawaii come August 1 and if you haven't heard the news, it is opening up but there's a there's an Asterix on the opening up As basically, if you can show proof of a negative COVID testing three days before your travel, getting on a plane to Hawaii, you can avoid the state's 14 day mandatory quarantine. If that's news to you, or if you want more information about what that all means and what travel is gonna look like, Come August 1, you can find all of that at Hawaii's Best travel.com slash Episode 32. And in that, I also included a blog post, which went into detail and showed even some of the governor's announcement on what to expect come August 1. And as details begin to unfold, I will give those to you. There isn't much to report as of today, June 30 2020. But as they do unfold, I will be sure to relay those to you. But I hope you're excited with that news that yes, Hawaii is opening up to trans-pacific travel and obviously it's gonna look a little different. But once you're on Island, and once you jump through all the hoops, you're still in Hawaii, it's probably better than any other place in the entire world. So, thanks so much for joining me today on episode 33. We're talking with Chris Kamara from kumbhak ukulele. And for me, this has been an episode that I've been wanting to release for quite some time and just with the pandemic and everything. It didn't seem like the right time to do that. And honestly, I didn't know what to say or how to set it up. But this episode for me, that was recorded back earlier this year in January, in Anaheim, which is about you know, 20 minutes from where I'm at, was kind of a it was a personal interview for me because at the time of this recording, this was a very first weekend after I had recently resigned my job I have a pastor that I've been working out at a church for 20 years, and I've since then have gone full time into Hawaii's Best, and also into my podcast production company. And I know I haven't been super open about, you know, me personally here on the podcast. But for me, I just felt like it's important for you to know some context into this interview. We talked so much about the history of kumbhak ukulele, but what was kind of behind the scenes for me was very emotional in a very raw and new experience because as I was editing this, this interview with Chris comm, aka, I just kind of went back to that place of Wow, this was like the very first Sunday after I had resigned, gone full time this thing. So it's, it's pretty surreal to look back and have it be six months from that time of recording. So just want to give a little context to you and Chris, and I we talk shop A little bit I've grown up in music. I'm, in my past life, I was a music producer and music director. It's in my blood. My mom raised me right raised me on some good music. And I've been playing guitar for many years. And since this recording, I asked Chris a few questions about how to pick up the right ukulele and, and what to know. And since then, I've purchased a new ukulele and have been kind of self teaching myself a few songs and it's so relaxing. So if you have any interest in picking up the ukulele, it's such a great instrument to learn. It's fairly easy to start off on and it's so relaxing, it's a it's an instrument you can take pretty much anywhere you go. So what we're going to do right now is we're going to head on over and we're going to talk story with Chris, and we're going to hear more about the history of the ukulele. How Camacho ukulele started in Oh, who more about their family and what they're up to. So it's gonna be a fun one. So let's go ahead and let's head on over. We're going to talk story with Chris from comarca ukulele.

All right, Chris, thank you so much for coming on Hawaii's Best. How are you doing today? My pleasure. Thank you for having me. Yeah, we are in beautiful sunny Anaheim. nice and cool. It's like 50 degrees.

Chris Kamaka 6:23

It's a beautiful day. It's a nice change for us.

Bryan Murphy 6:26

Yeah, I bet. So, we're at Nam. And maybe it's for those who don't know what Nam is all about. And tell us a little bit firstly about yourself. And your will come aka and then what's what's now what are we doing here?

Chris Kamaka 6:38

Well, here at Nam, you know, it's the big annual show that we attend and then and we feel that it's important to us because just to have a have a just to be here like a presence here. I have a presence and just to see all friends you know and make new friends you know, people that we do business with And hopefully, you know, future dealers and get to get to know them. And, you know, that's that's important to us. And

Bryan Murphy 7:08

so a lot of networking and really, yeah,

Chris Kamaka 7:10

you can get expensive, you know, for us, but you know, sometimes you got to look beyond the money thing and you know, and just a one on one and getting to know people is so important. Right.

Bryan Murphy 7:23

Now we're talking a little bit before we hit record, our time at now goes back kind of similar about 15 years ago. Yeah, we used to attend la convention when they had it there. All right, and you were you were attending there and then Kanaka You guys gotta end up getting the booth, maybe talking about the differences of attending and actually being apart,

Chris Kamaka 7:42

having a booth here, actually, when my brother Casey and I first went to the show in LA, we just wanted to see what it was all about. Right, you know, and so, we told ourselves, you know, we really gotta let people know that, you know, we're still around. So we decided to join and Have a small booth at the time, which and since then we've we've, we've grown we've doubled the size but you know, it's it's been so such a good, good relationship with with them as well as all of our vendors and dealers. Yeah, yeah.

Bryan Murphy 8:18

Well, let's talk a little bit about Mako Khalili and what's your what's your role there?

Chris Kamaka 8:22

Well, I'm the production manager at the factory. I'm a third generation. My grandfather started it back in 1916. My cousin is the Fred is the office manager. No, but since my grandfather, when my grandfather passed, my dad took over and then eventually, my uncle Fred came and helped with the business. My grandfather actually started it in the garage you know, as a hobby. building more like the pineapple shape that you're familiar with that but rice shaped that he does that He was more interested in trying to experiment with sound. And it was a lot easier to band rather than the traditional, you know, figure eight.

Bryan Murphy 9:10

Especially fabricating in the garage. Yes, probably. Yeah.

Chris Kamaka 9:12

So you just made it for a lot of our aunts and uncles who were professional entertainers and it grew from there. He opened his first factory on South King Street, okay. eventually had to move everything down to our farm on the west side, Lulu lane because they're widening King Street at the time. So then my dad was away at school. He was studying to be an entomologist, okay, he's working on his PhD. Wow. And he got the call my, my grandfather was sick. He came home, stopped everything. took care of that for about a year until he passed and decided, well, what what should I do with all of this equipment and it went to the libraries and did a lot of research and And eventually said, Okay, let's go for it. Let's try it. And it's ever since, you know, we move to our original factory where we are now. Yeah, in 59 from there, you know, the rest is history.

Bryan Murphy 10:14

Right? So back to the garage was your grandfather doing as he was kind of TINKERING AWAY creating abilities

Chris Kamaka 10:21

while he was involved with a lot of stuff he loved to farm and we were where we reside now in Kaneohe. He was he used to grow flowers and fruit trees. And he was a musician also. So he was a guitar player bass player and just always was involved with music and you know, in the music was always in the family. Right? So that's where we started just kind of fooling around and there were other ukulele makers. Well, not many, but this manual Nunez was the original manufacturer of Nicolelis in the islands. He came over We're on the early Ravenscraig and the ships, all the immigrants coming over to work in the fields. He used to frequent Mr. Nunez his shop around father. Yeah. And really got interested and just started branching off on his own just making the pineapple colorless. And he made guitars to Oh, it was six string, six to eight hours. Yeah. And we see some floating around once in a while, and it's really nice to see.

Bryan Murphy 11:33

That's That's it? I bet. Yeah. So what was it? Was it seen in your father kind of this love and passion for the family business for me? Yeah. How did that grow on you? Yeah.

Chris Kamaka 11:44

Well, you know, we grew up with it. So I'm, I'm the eldest of seven. Okay, so seven,

Bryan Murphy 11:50

seven. Wow. Yeah.

Chris Kamaka 11:51

Okay. I have two brothers and four sisters. Wow. Yeah. So we've always had instruments you know, around the house and And, you know, whenever we had family gatherings everybody would be playing music. Yeah. It was always fun, you know, always a fun instrument and what I like to show people, you know, when customers just, you know, the instrument is fun and, and you should really enjoy playing that, like, what I try and do is when people pick up on an instrument, you know, I want to get it to where they don't want to put it down. You know, it's comfortable for them to play. And as a musician, too, I've been playing I, I grew up playing my mom's guitar string. She used to play in a church band and I found in the attic, got a bug and it just becomes a part of who you are really like an extension. And I bet you find that right ukulele or whatever. It just becomes a part of who you are. Really. It's funny you say that because my dad used to help out at the church. we called ourselves the god squad.

Bryan Murphy 13:00

There's a story

Chris Kamaka 13:01

just a bunch of kids. Yeah. Playing ukuleles, you know, during the mass, you know i and, and he would be there every morning early getting all the Hercules tuned up and it was fun to be a part of you know, that's me good memories. Yeah.

Bryan Murphy 13:18

As time goes on, tell us a little bit about whoa Kenna and your role there and that was back in 87.

Chris Kamaka 13:26

Back in the 80s. Yeah. first started playing music. We just got together to be in this vocal competition, which was all acoustic, you know, and it was done at the university. We sang the song Hall Cana, and we won. So, we want a prize and, you know, and we decided to keep that name as a group. And so through the years, we know, we started with five and then we went to four, and it evolved to the three of us now, which has been really cool because we've been nominated for Grammys throughout the years. We've been nominated three times. But this this last time was the 60th anniversary of the Grammys. And we were able to attend in New York. Yeah. And we didn't win, but we had such a blast. Everything was close. It was cold laid out, but it was it was a good experience. But then we've we've been able very fortunate and blessed the player, you know, Carnegie Hall a couple times, some beautiful theaters throughout the world and just sharing our music and especially in Japan, they really enjoy you know, the hula. Yeah. And the Hawaiian music. They they love the culture. And we've been fortunate enough to, to travel there. And just, it's just been fun.

Bryan Murphy 14:52

You guys recently came out with an album.

Chris Kamaka 14:55

Yeah, our latest album was the one that was nominated for Grammy and

Bryan Murphy 14:58

so are you guys still touring That extensively Oh,

Chris Kamaka 15:01

yeah, actually, um, this year we're going to be going maybe two or three times this year to Japan.

Bryan Murphy 15:09

Okay. So if someone hypothetically myself is interested in picking up ukulele, I, you know, I played sixth string all all my life basically. What advice would you give someone who's interested in learning to instrument?

Chris Kamaka 15:22

You've played six string guitar? Yeah. Oh yeah, no, if he played guitar, the ukulele is a really simple instrument, you know, to pick up even if you don't play guitar, I mean, you can do so much with just a few chords, right? You know, and it's a fun instrument. You can take it wherever you you know, you want it's not like you carrying your piano or something around, you know, but yeah, it's fun. It's fun. That's, that's why I try and portray

Bryan Murphy 15:51

what would you recommend? I mean, there's different types. Maybe people don't know there's different types of acclaim. You got the soprano, the tenor, what would you recommend?

Chris Kamaka 15:59

Yeah. I have a soprano, which is the smallest. And then the concert or the Alto. That one, you can always distinguish from all the rest because all the other models have a crown head. And the concert has what we call a sail head. So my dad actually designed it after the old Polynesian sales, oh, then you get the soprano or your standard, then you have the concert or Alto. And then the tenor, which is probably the most popular as far as musicians. So anything about the ukulele I mean, that's typically what you think of the the tenor is that, as far as quote, The sound of the sound and the size, or even the will though some of them like the baritone to because they like that, which is the top four strings of the guitar. So sometimes it's a little easier for for those that placement, pick up the baritone. Those are the four basic models and then we have variations on all of this Different sizes like the sixth string, same idea as a 12 string guitar with the with octaves. So it really depends personally what what their interests are and what they're looking for.

Bryan Murphy 17:12

What about you? Me? Yeah, what's your favorite?

Chris Kamaka 17:14

The first ukulele I made was the eighth string. Okay, I still have it. Unfortunately. I don't play it too often because my good friend sat on it.

Bryan Murphy 17:26

So I really laugh about it now, right? Yeah.

Chris Kamaka 17:28

No, but I got it repaired. Yeah. But it never was the same then but but in my band, you know, I play the upright bass. So it's it's it's not that I need it. But yeah, you know, I I still have it. Yeah.

Bryan Murphy 17:44

Yeah. So someone's on Island. I you guys offer tours as well kind of walk us through what what can someone expect or experienced during that tour? Okay.

Chris Kamaka 17:53

So a lot of people enjoy coming to the shop. Usually our tours run from Tuesday through Friday, every day during the week except Monday at 1030. So my uncle Fred usually does the first half. He does all the history and stuff now my uncle is what? 95 Wow, he still enjoys doing it just comes in. And they live right up the street from me. So comes in with my own mom drives him in does the tour then he goes home from Charlotte, he looks forward to Yeah, I'm glad he still enjoys doing it. We've got people from all over the world that come in on on tour. And sometimes it's just a, maybe a group of one or two. And sometimes it can be a group of 50 or more. But if it is big groups like that, we try and split it in half because our office is only so big.

Bryan Murphy 18:47

Do you need reservations? That would be good

Chris Kamaka 18:49

to call it you know, you have a bigger case you have Yeah, if you're expecting just a couple of you. That's the problem. That's

right in Honolulu 57 Street, okay. right downtown in the municipal area.

Bryan Murphy 19:04

That's, yeah, that's incredible. So now coming back to Nam, we're sitting here and there's tons of vendors here, and they're kind of highlighting what's new and what's next. But what about you guys? What about Camacho? What are you guys excited about?

Chris Kamaka 19:17

Well, we try and introduce something new every year. We kind of did the same instrument this year as last year but kind of tweaked it a little bit. We have our Jake signature model. What we have on the fingerboard is a decorative inlay with Kumu the kuhmo or it's actually the favorite fish of Jakes because he does a lot of diving and fishing. Yeah, so he wanted to have that fish on his fingerboard so yeah, we got that made by our friends at Pearl works with us all over in lace. They're located over in Maryland. Yeah. But bill is a good friend of ours and is the new CEO over there for pro works and and a great guy to work with With my son Christopher actually did all of the the work on the particular one that we're showcasing. And he did a great job yeah, I was really impressed with the amount of time he had you know, every time every man will usually procrastinate

Bryan Murphy 20:18

he knows

Chris Kamaka 20:21

and then it's always fun though towards an A we got to get it done. Yeah. He did it. Yeah. together beautifully. Yeah.

Bryan Murphy 20:29

NASA at the booth. That's it. Yeah, yeah. Great. Yeah. Now with manufacturing ukuleles, there's different types of woods to choose from, you hear a lot about co but maybe talk a little bit about the different types of woods and why it matters or manufacturing.

Chris Kamaka 20:48

Like with us, I guess the the premier wood, of course is cool, right? Because it's found in the islands and and most most of our customers request that But there are others that you know want to have something a little different. So we do offer like a spruce top or even cedar tops, Redwood tops, different types of tops, so even different woods for the body such as rosewood and a mahogany, but primarily core which everybody requests but and we use mahogany on our necks, because it's a lot more consistent as far as the green, you know, for, for the instruments, and we use rosewood on our fingerboards as well as ebony for higher end instruments, rosewood and ebony fingerboard as well as the bridges.

Bryan Murphy 21:46

I'm sure with CO a lot of the factor plays into this resources and being on Island but also affects the sound too. So in your mind when you think about resourcing on Island and thinking about the sound of what comes first in your mind.

Chris Kamaka 22:00

Oh yeah, definitely the sound core has always been a beautiful wood. Yeah. So it's important to us to find the best pieces for for the body, if you have a nice ornate piece is just a plus two, you know, like the the curly core is always requested as far as for most of our instruments, but we try and you know, as we get into the higher grade ones, it's more for our, you know, fancier models, our specials, but you know, the sound is the main thing that my grandpa always told us that if you can maintain, you know, consistent sound and have you know, good quality material, as well as hardware and finish and good craftsmanship, then you should have no problem. Right. So we try and maintain the course. Absolutely. Yeah,

Bryan Murphy 22:56

Hawaii's Best is about visitors coming to the island. Maybe For the first time where they come year after year, and we get to hear the story behind amazing companies like like you guys, but if someone's coming to the islands for the first time, in your opinion, what is something that you would want to relay about what to expect coming to Hawaii? or just in general what to know about Hawaiian culture?

Chris Kamaka 23:18

Well, I guess, first timers coming to the islands. You know, Hawaii has always been about Aloha, you know, and, and just opening up ones oneself or one's arms and greeting them, because we've always appreciated life and appreciated, you know, just being able to share what we have, you know, because, you know, sometimes we take it for granted where we live, you know, because, you know, it's such a beautiful place, and hopefully we can portray that to those who do come, then they would appreciate it even more.

Bryan Murphy 23:54

Right. I love that. Yeah. Well, Chris, thank you so much for your time and on on Pleasure. How can people find more about you and come back? And

Chris Kamaka 24:04

well, come on, we're at 550 South Street, in Honolulu, my website is come up to hawaii.com for number 5313165. Area Code Hato. Eight. And feel free to come into the shop. You know, we we'd love to show show people what we're all about. As far as musically, we play at the outrigger reef Hotel in Waikiki. Every Saturday night. Yeah, from six to nine. We're usually there unless we're actually or performing somewhere. But, you know, life's too short. And we just try and go day by day and enjoy. Love that God willing, you know,

Bryan Murphy 24:47

that's absolutely yeah. Well, thank you so much.

Chris Kamaka 24:50

Thank you. Nice meeting you as well.

Bryan Murphy 24:52

Yeah. Hello. I hope you enjoyed that history of komak ukulele, how they started, maybe you got the bug to pick up a local And instrumented and to learn so you can go to Kanaka hawaii.com to learn more about their products, and I'll also link this up in the show notes. So you don't have to remember all this information. But the easiest way just to get all the information about Camacho ukulele is go to Hawaii's Best travel.com Episode 33. Thanks again for joining us today. And like I mentioned at the start of this episode, we're going to keep you up to date about travel into Hawaii, what to know what to expect come August 1, we're about 30 days away from that. And as the details unfold, I'll give those to you. Best way to kind of step the date on all those details is to simply hit subscribe, wherever you're listening to this podcast. So I just want to say I appreciate you. I appreciate just your time for tuning in today. And I hope you continue to stay safe. And until next time, be well. Aloha.

Hawaii's Best 25:59

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Bryan Murphy
Bryan Murphy

Bryan Murphy, owner of Hawaii’s Best Travel, is a certified Hawaii destination expert from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. He actively participates in the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau as a member and has a strong educational background focused on local culture and sustainability. As the host of “Hawaii’s Best Travel,” a top-30 US travel podcast, Bryan combines his years of experience with valuable insights. He connects with a broad online community, reaching nearly half a million people, and offers a richer, more responsible way to experience Hawaii.