Da Ukulele Boyz Bring Their Stringed Duet Magic to the Mainland
Bringing raised in Hawaii, you are as likely to learn ukulele as you are to play Little League baseball. So, when Garrett Probst was in elementary school, he would sit for hours in front of the office playing Israel Kamakawio’ole’s hit song, “Hawaiian Superman,” on his ukulele. He played the song over and over to get it just right. After a while, the usually patient secretary enduring the young student’s practice would shout to the young boy, “Play something else!”
Just as on the mainland, a young athlete is expected to compete his given sport, so on his native island of Maui, young Probst was expected to join in local ukulele competitions held throughout the islands. It was when he was 13 that he met his match. His cousin, Peter deAquino, was also in the competition, and the two began jamming and playing together. They soon found that two well-played ukuleles were better than one, and they have been a duo ever since.
The cousins first appeared together as Da Ukulele Boyz when they were 15, at the annual ukulele completion at the Hula Grill in Lahaina, Maui. They have since recorded a handful of live albums together, covering traditional and popular Hawaiian songs as well as tunes like Bob Marley’s classic “I Don’t Want to Wait In Vain” and the Marie Osmond country classic “Paper Roses.” Each album demonstrates the breadth and diversity of their talent on their instruments with extended jams that cross genres and musical boundaries.
Their talent has been nurtured during a residency of many years at George Kahomoku’s weekly series, Masters of Slack Key, at Kaanapali Beach Resort in Maui. And, last year, they completed their first successful independent mainland tour with dates along the California coast.
Da Ukulele Boyz are now in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to record their latest album, Jus Cuz. There are a few important points of pride for them on this new project. It is their first self-produced studio album. It will feature Hawaiian interpretations of songs from pop, folk, country, and bluegrass genres, with their own arrangements. They even recorded an original blues songs succinctly titled, “F Uke Blues.” The instruments employed for the project have been provided by Spanish classical guitar great Pepe Romero, specifically for them.
For mainlanders who haven’t heard artists like Israel Kamakawio’ole and Jake Shimabukuro, it is easy to trivialize the ukulele as the little guitar of Arthur Godfrey and Tiny Tim. However, as played by artists like Da Ukulele Boyz, it would better compared with artistry of guitar greats like Les Paul and Chet Atkins.
For decades, the ukulele has been an instrument of historical importance to Hawaiians. Music was the guiding force for the peaceful revolution of the 1970s Hawaiian Renaissance, which helped native Hawaiians reclaim their cultural heritage. Also, little known to mainlanders is George Harrison’s affection for the ukulele. He wrote many of his songs on the instrument and managed to place the uke on three songs on The Beatles’ classic Revolver album. In 2006, Hawaiian ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro’s solo ukulele interpretation of Harrison’s classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” went viral on YouTube, causing many mainlanders to give the instrument a second look.
Today, as Da Ukulele Boyz continue to expand the tradition of their heritage, they also offer a chance for mainlanders to see how versatile and dynamic an instrument the ukulele can be. No doubt Jus Cuz will help to entertain the world of Americana music as it enlarges our view of one of the oldest stringed instruments on the planet.