If multiple Grammy-winning producer David Foster were aware of the recent development of the ukulele, he would use the little instrument in the next record he produces for classical singer Andrea Bocelli.
So says acclaimed Hawaiian ukulele player Daniel Ho, who is also a Grammy winner. "There are some high-end builders who build what are miniature classical guitars with French-polished Brazilian rosewood and a spruce top.
"The whole deal with something like that, you can play classical music in a concert hall without a microphone because it is so resonant and that's going to push the player," says Ho, who was in town to perform at the recent Sentosa Ukulele Festival, as well as conduct ukulele workshops.
Instead of appreciating the evolution of the ukulele, what Foster did as a judge on the TV show Asia's Got Talent was to call it a toy after a dazzling performance last month by a 12-year-old Thai prodigy on the instrument.
When told of the comment, Ho was unfazed, saying: "I think what he needs to hear, for him to not think of it as a toy, would be a treatment of a type of music and a type of playing that is to his liking, like a classic piece of beautiful harmonies."
Ho, 47, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer who has worked on six Grammy-winning albums. He recently released Aukahi (Flowing Harmony), an album of original Hawaiian music.
Speaking to Life! at Ukulele Movement, where he had conducted a masterclass, he says he was impressed by the players he met at the classes as well as the home-grown acts he played with on Sentosa, including Kelvin Ng and The Jukuleles.
"Their musicianship and knowledge are reflected in the way they approach the ukulele and are comparable and just as good as elsewhere in the world. They have the ability to entertain and I noticed there's an outgoing personality to the performers."
While his best-known tune is ukulele anthem Pineapple Mango, he is much more than just a ukulele player. He studied composition at the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles and spent a good part of the 1990s playing in chart-topping jazz band Kilauea.
He sings and writes in both English and Hawaiian, and also plays the piano and slack key guitar.
On the soundtrack of the 2008 romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he reinterpreted three popular pop songs into Hawaiian: Nothing Compares 2 U, These Boots Are Made For Walkin' and Everybody Hurts.
From 2005 to 2010, he played and worked on albums that won Best Hawaiian Music Album at the Grammys, including in 2005 for Masters Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1 and most recently in 2010, for Huana Ke Aloha, an album by singer and actress Tia Carrere, his childhood friend.
In the late 1990s, he formed his own record label, Daniel Ho Creations, releasing more than 30 albums, including solo ones by Carrere and himself.
His current interest is in ethnic music. Ho, who was born in Honolulu and now lives in Los Angeles, has been exploring folk music from around the world.
A recent album that he released, Our World In Song (An Odyssey Of Musical Treasures), featured global folk songs played on the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument, and was nominated in the Best World Music Album at this year's Grammys.
He has won two Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan: Best Instrumental Album Producer in 2013 for On A Gentle Island Breeze and Best Aboriginal Album in 2014 for To & From The Heart. Both albums featured fresh takes on Taiwanese aboriginal music.
"It's a combination of things that we don't hear normally together. I want to write like that, I want to stop writing pop songs and write things that are just unique," he says.
"This is who I am now, at my age, at this point in my life, someone who looks and listens and tries to put pieces together."
This article was first published on May 7, 2015.
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