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Kris wins Hamakua Music Fest E-mail

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Guest performance at Hamakua Jazz Fest - April 2006Pre-concert party held at the Jazz Shack in Hamakua - April 2006Posing with the music festival producers - April 2006

Kris Fuchigami-15 year old wins Hamakua Music Fest

Eyes on the prize

Friday, March 24, 2006 Hawaii Tribune-Herald

'Ukulele phenom hopes to follow in Jake Shimabukuro's footsteps

by John Burnett
Tribune-Herald Correspondent

To gauge the influence Jake Shimabukuro has had on young 'ukulele players in Hawaii, one need only go to the MySpace page of Kris Fuchigami. On the Web site is a recording of the 15-year-old 'ukuleleist from Keaau playing Jake's "Orange World" which is so fast and precise it sounds like Jake himself.

"He's totally chasing Jake," said guitarist and 'ukuleleist Joe Marquand, who teaches the teen prodigy at Hilo Guitars & 'Ukulele. "He's in it for the long haul. He's going to be a major player. That kind of talent is unstoppable."

While one might be inclined to dismiss Fuchigami as strictly an imitator, one must also bear in mind that he is only 15, and then grasp just how difficult it is and the amount of musical talent, manual dexterity and muscle memory that is required just to play Shimabukuro's material with the mind-boggling speed and accuracy that Fuchigami has attained. No doubt those thoughts were on the minds of the judges at the Hamakua Music Festival scholarship recital, who listened to him play two Shimabukuro songs, "Crosscurrent" and "Orange World," and awarded the Keaau High School sophomore their grand prize scholarship earlier this month. The victory comes with a substantial monetary award to help awardees nurture their talent -- and in come cases, their budding music careers.

"I was really surprised and I was really happy at the same time," said Fuchigami, who came in third place the previous year. "I decided that I could do better and that I wanted to do it again, so I did and I came in first."

That's incredible considering that Fuchigami has been playing the 'ukulele for only two years. Asked why he took up the instrument, Fuchigami answered in two words.

"Jake Shimabukuro."

When asked if there are any other 'ukulele players he looks up to, Fuchigami mentioned Brittni Paiva, the 17-year-old 'ukulele and slack key sensation from Hilo who won the Hamakua Music Festival's grand prize in 2004 and followed up in 2005 by winning the Na Hoku Hanohano award for Most Promising Artist for her first CD "Brittni x3" and who recently released her second CD "Hear."

"I want to get a CD out of all original songs," said Fuchigami, no doubt noticing that Paiva has already achieved a measure of statewide popularity. Paiva is on her way to becoming an accomplished composer as well as a player. Asked about composing, Fuchigami said, "I wrote one song, but it wasn't all that good, so I trashed it. Now I'm trying to write some more, but they're all unfinished projects."

Despite that, Marquand believes Fuchigami has the requisite talent to become a professional songwriter.

"He's into music theory," Marquand noted. "Actually, he's composing stuff that's really nice, but he doesn't like it. But he's a really humble kid and even if he thinks it's really good, you won't hear him shooting his mouth off about it."

Fuchigami is the third child of Ken and Keiko Fuchigami. His brother Ken is 20. His two sisters, Kandi and Krystal are 19 and seven, respectively. While many 19-year-old girls are in denial about having a little brother, Kandi Fuchigami features Kris prominently on her own MySpace page.

"He's a really nice kid from a really nice family who is very supportive of him," Marquand said. "I just keep getting more and more impressed with him. He's just a great person."

Fuchigami, who plays a Kamaka tenor 'ukulele, the make preferred by Shimabukuro, practices 4-5 hours a day, and became so good, so fast, that he was invited to play last summer at the Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival, featuring the best of slack key guitar, steel guitar and 'ukulele. He had been playing the instrument for only a year.

"I'll be playing again this year," Fuchigami noted. That's not the only bit of good news for music lovers. The 17th annual festival, which is scheduled for July 22 and 23, 2006, has been moved this year from the Hilo Civic, which has the creature comforts of a sauna and the acoustics of a racquetball court, to the University of Hawaii Performing Arts Center, a 600-plus seat theater perfectly suited to host the popular festival.

Robby Poznansky of Kona, who is active in the Big Island chapter of the 'Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, saw Fuchigami play recently at a guild meeting in the house of chapter president Bob Gleason, a local luthier, and came away impressed.

"He's enamored by Jake's blazingly fast playing, and that's who he emulates," Poznansky said. "But he's more that just a very accomplished parrot. I got the sense that he really felt the emotion, and could really see the colors of what he was playing, which I think is unusual in someone that young. We need fresh, original, distinctive, and talented voices and fingers. I believe that Kris does possess the talent necessary to become all of this; it's just going to be up to him to pursue and refine that talent."

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