‘NexGen’ shines at guitar festival

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Heu‘i Bandmann, center, congratulates her students, including Ginger Kamalei Hilliard holding her gifted steel guitar, and Ki‘ileiah Jeffries for a shining performance Friday during the Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival at the Sheraton Kaua‘i at Coconut Beach in Waipouli.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Heu‘i Bandmann, center, is accompanied by her students Ki‘ileiah Jeffries, left, and Ginger Kamalei Hilliard, right, on stage Friday during the Fifth annual Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival at the Sheraton Kaua‘i at Coconut Beach in Waipouli.

Alan Akaka, director of Ke Kula Mele School of Hawaiian Music, described the young people as “NexGen” Friday during the Fifth annual Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival that opened at the Sheraton Kaua‘i at Coconut Beach.

Heu‘i Bandmann was one of the Kaua‘i NexGen who took the stage, accompanied by Ethan Goore from Hawai‘i Island before calling up her own students — Ginger Kamalei Hilliard, a seventh-grader, and Ki‘ileiah Jeffries, a fourth-grader learning ‘ukulele.

“They’re amazing,” Bandmann said. “Ginger only started steel in November, and learned not only how to play the steel guitar but also the words to several songs so she can sing. Ki‘ileiah Jeffries is a student of ‘ukulele and also learned the words to ‘Hene Hene Koaka.’”

The performance had the audience calling for “hana hou,” or encore performance, and Akaka joked, “I don’t know. They might play the same song.”

Instead, the trio unveiled a new mele, “Kaulana Kilauea,” they had worked on just that morning.

“There haven’t been many mele written about Kilauea (not the volcano on Hawi‘i Island but the town on Kaua‘i’s North Shore),” Bandmann said. “We thought we could do a mele and dedicate it to the Paik ‘ohana.”

The trio glided through the number before turning over the microphone to Akaka and Aaron Benolkin, a steel-guitar artist from Alaska.

“My dad, Heu‘i’s grandfather, Edward Alapa, was a steel-guitar player,” said Edee Bandmann, Heu‘i’s mother. “He steeled for Genoa Keawe. Now, Heu‘i is not only a steel-guitar artist, she’s teaching.”

Heu‘i said Hilliard discovered the steel guitar in November 2019, and she gifted the student with a steel guitar created by luthier Thomas Owen of Wailua in 2017.

“You need to press it really hard,” Hilliard said. “Otherwise you get this crackling, bubbly sound. But this instrument is priceless.”

Another Kaua‘i steel-guitar artist, Kilipaki Vaughan, goes on stage today as the festival continues at the resort with a ho‘olaule‘a hosted by Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira opening the acts from noon.

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

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