Best of the best

POIPU — Julia Makepa is no stranger to ukulele contests, having being involved with the Kauai County Farm Bureau fair event as well as participating last year during the Keoki’s Paradise Ukes in Paradise ukulele contest.

“I’m excited to be here,” Makepa said, exuding the confidence of a performer. “I was here last year. This year, I’m ready.”

Makepa finished the day with Best Overall honors, a new category added to the keiki ukulele contest enjoying its third year at the popular Poipu bar and grill.

To reach the Best Overall, Makepa had to win her Grade 9-12 division and face the other division winners.

“We at Keoki’s Paradise wanted to make this contest even more beneficial for aspiring young players,” said Manette DeCosta, the Keoki’s marketing manager. “This year, the Best Overall will be performing at the Ukulele Guild Festival on Oahu on Nov. 21. The winner will be joined by winners of our sister restaurants on Maui, the Maui Hula Grill, and on Oahu, Duke’s Canoe Club. Rooms will be sponsored by the Outrigger Hotels and Keoki’s Paradise will sponsor the airfare for the contestant and a chaperone.”

DeCosta said in addition to the trip to the Ukulele Guild Festival, the Best Overall winner will also have an opportunity to play with local artists who appear regularly at Keoki’s Paradise.

Competition this year proved tight for the panel of judges which included members of Cruz Control, Sam Bonnano of Kamoa ukulele — which sponsored a dozen ukulele for winners — and Ui Bandman.

“Anything to help the keiki, I’m there,” said Kepa Kruse of Cruz Control. “When I came home, I started with Frank Cruz by singing on catamarans.”

Makepa advanced to the Best Overall playoff by winning her Grade 9-12 division, edging out Kaelah Wilson of California by a single point.

“Kaelah was here last year,” her mother said. “This year, we came early because last year, we arrived and space was already filled. Kaelah has been using an ukulele created by Ed Ford because she doesn’t have her own.”

By finishing in the runner-up spot, Wilson ended up with a Kamoa ukulele to take back to California.

Makepa also faced Grade 6-8 division winner Kosuke Sato of Japan who edged out Sophia Kodachi of Portland, Ore., with a uniquely Japanese styling of “Pearly Shells” to Kodachi’s musical interpretation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Cameron Teves, who is going to be a sixth-grader at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, topped the Grade 3-5 division. The division overflowed with talent, including Cassie Meboe of Washington who graced her stage appearance by wearing a prim dress and plumeria lei atop her hair, which was curled specially for the event.

Teves said he was no stranger to performing in public because of his history with the Elsie Wilcox Elementary School. Sunday, however, was his first contest.

“I got this ukulele after my friend sat on my other one,” the young man said. “My dad got this one for me about a month ago.”

The amplified ukulele helped Teves rip through “Riptide” to capture top honors in the division.

Charles Brown III, entering the fifth grade at Koloa Elementary School, celebrated his “Tropical Hawaiian Day” with third place honors in the division. The young performer told host Ron Wiley that he was thanking himself as his ukulele teacher.

Riley Carl, a student at Koloa Elementary, teamed up with Hope Newton, a student at Eleele Elementary School, to earn ukulele as the sole group entry. The duo got direction from Aileen Kageyama in their rendering of the “Ukulele Waltz Medley.”


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