Castaneda tops Ukes in Paradise

POIPU — Kaleohano Castaneda of Waimea High School is going to Maui.

“He’ll be representing Keoki’s Paradise at an ukulele event which will be held at the Hula Grill Ka‘anapali on Maui,” said Derrick Kessler, manager of Keoki’s Paradise in Poipu on Sunday. “Last year, Julia Makepa, our overall winner of the Ukes in Paradise, went to Honolulu to participate in an ukulele event there. We want to keep growing and use this contest as a venue for our ukulele players to climb the ladder to success.”

Castaneda was voted the overall winner of the 5th Keoki’s Ukes in Paradise Keiki Ukulele Competition, a part of the Koloa Plantation Days celebration.

En route to the top honor, Castaneda also topped the grades 9-12 division after getting challenged by Makepa, last year’s overall winner, and Naomi Schorf, a student of Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California.

“I didn’t get the message about singing,” Schorf said. “So, instead of singing, I’m playing a collection of tunes I usually play on my ukulele — some original compositions, some part of collections.”

The field of competitors, which ranged from kindergarten through high school seniors, was bigger than last year’s, Kessler said.

“Kaleohano didn’t appear last year,” he said. “But he’s been practicing. He’s become really good.”

Kessler pointed out the international attraction of the ukulele; this year’s field had students from Germany among the competitors.

“Last year, we had the student from a Japan high school,” Kessler said. “During our first year, we had students from Canada. This year, we have students from Germany. This is becoming an international event.”

“Riptide” proved to be the winning favorite tune, earning Jacob Grossman of Kekaha Elementary School and Celeste Palfrey Velarde of Hawaii Technology Academy top honors for their respective age groups.

Grossman finished tops in the grades 3-5 division over Waiehu Martins of Kanuikapono Public Charter School and AyrieAnna Emayo of Eleele Elementary School.

“I’m just spreading aloha,” Grossman said. “When I count three, I want everyone to say ‘Aloha!’”

Velarde soared to the top of the grades 6-8 division, besting Chysen “Koa” Manintin of Kilauea Elementary School, and Brian McCumiskey, a student from Diablo Vista Middle School in California who belted out a smart version of “Henehene Koaka.”

Daniel and Lucia Lozar, students at Kawaikini Public Charter School, jumped into the fray early, taking advantage of no students in the K-2 division to render a duet for group competition honors.

Sam Bonano, founder of Kamoa Ukulele, provided new ukes to the first- and second-place winners of each division for a total of seven instruments. Keoki’s provided gift certificates for the third-place winners.

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