Sssh! ‘Ukulele Underground: Kaua‘i’s best-kept secret

For Ryan Esaki, 29, Aldrine Guerrero, 27, and Aaron Nakamura, 27, they don’t focus so much on what they do as why they do it.

What they do, by the way, is maintain one of the largest ‘ukulele websites on the internet, which offers free video tutorials on how to play the ‘ukulele. Their company, ‘Ukulele Underground, was founded in 2007 and has allowed the group of ambitious musicians to spread their message across the globe.

“Growing the next generation of ‘ukulele players is important,” Esaki said. “We exist because we have to do this.”

From Florida to California, to Denmark and England, more than 50,000 registered users visit ‘UkuleleUnderground.com

“But nobody from Antarctica has logged on yet,” Esaki joked.

The website is a gathering place for novice to advanced ‘ukulele players to learn about ‘ukulele technique, connect with other musicians and share their music.

“Most ‘ukulele players are pretty positive,” said Guerrero. “They emulate the aloha spirit.”

Guerrero, who is the featured teacher in the ‘Ukulele Underground videos, learned how to play the instrument in elementary school. After taking a five-year break, he started to perform at local venues as a high school student with Esaki backing him on the guitar.

“I was super happy,” Guerrero said. “We didn’t get paid that much, but being a freshman in high school and getting paid for music was a huge thing.”

Now, Guerrero and the rest of the ‘Ukulele Underground team regularly travel to the Mainland — and abroad — to perform in concert and teach about ‘ukulele.

“‘Ukulele is pretty huge right now,” Esaki said. “We are kind of surprised how big it is.”

Whether you have played ‘ukulele all your life or are picking up the instrument for the first time, the trio have uploaded hundreds of videos tailored to players of all levels.

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Guerrero said. “‘Ukulele is easy to teach, and it’s one of the easiest instruments to learn.”

The trio’s mission — to grow the next generation of ‘ukulele players — is represented by their logo, an ‘ukulele with plants sprouting from it. Nakamura thought of the name “‘Ukulele Underground” because, “It represents a safe place people can come down to learn and create a new generation of ‘ukulele players.”

“It’s one of the few instruments that a grandpa can say ‘Oh, I just learned how to play the ‘ukulele.’ And then the grandson learns, too,” Nakamura said. “We want other people to share that experience, because playing music is totally different than listening. A lot of people will go through their entire life without ever creating music.”

The group agrees one of the most gratifying experiences is to meet users on their websites or read email from people who meet each other offline because of the website.

“‘Ukulele players are not like guitar players,” Guerrero said. “A guitar player practices to be better than everyone else, but a ‘ukulele player practices to play with everybody else.”

Although the guys started their company on O‘ahu and the website is popular on the mainland, the group has no plans for taking their business from the islands.

“For ‘ukulele, it’s so branded with Hawai‘i, being able to broadcast from Hawai‘i makes it that much more authentic,” Ryan said.

“There’s a certain magic here,” Guerrero added.

Guerrero hosts one-on-one lessons via Skype, and every Wednesday the website hosts a live streaming session.

While much of the content on the website is free, the trio recently launched a paid subscription service that ranges from $10 to $15  per month.

The ‘Ukulele Underground team will be heading to Oregon and Washington from Oct. 7 to 17 to perform, teach workshops and to meet their members.

Visit www.ukuleleunderground.com for more information about ‘Ukulele Underground. Visit www.ukuleleuprising.com to purchase ‘ukuleles and accessories.

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