Champions: Kapono Wong, Hawai’i’s Ukulele Sensation

Make Music Day

In this interview, we talk with Kapono Wong, a talented musician renowned for his exceptional ukulele skills and profound love for music. From an early age, inspired by the legendary Jake Shimabukuro, to his participation in Make Music Day events, Kapono shares his musical journey, inspirations, and dreams. Join us as we explore Kapono’s world of music and discover the joy he brings through his ukulele melodies.

When was the first time you played in a Make Music Day event?

I think the first time I attended a Make Music Day event was three years ago. I believe a friend of mine posted something about Make Music Hawai’i and how to sign up. So, I took the chance and got the opportunity to play at Windward Mall.

How was your experience that first time at Make Music Day?

I can’t recall the songs I played, but I do remember playing the ukulele at the back of my head for the very first time. I just went for it, I had a lot of fun. It was a great experience, I’d say.

How did you start making music?

I started playing the ukulele at the age of five. My parents actually made their kids take ukulele classes after our elementary school lessons. At that age, I wasn’t really into the ukulele. But, when I got into middle school, the ukulele was offered as an elective course. I took it, and that’s when I started to really enjoy playing it and get into it. That’s also when I first discovered Jake Shimabukuro and got inspired to play his most challenging songs.

When did you start taking it more seriously?

Definitely around high school junior-senior time, that’s when I started to play more and play in front of people. Before, I used to have terrible stage fright and couldn’t even play for my family’s birthday parties. Starting to feel more at ease and following Jake’s advice really helped me come out of my shell and perform more often.

What artists inspired you to start making music?

Definitely, Jake Shimabukuro was the first one. There is also Taimane Gardner and Brittni Paiva, two amazing ukulele artists. The majority of ukulele musicians really helped me get to where I am today. As of right now, I’m currently attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, and definitely, my professors and the super-talented musicians there really help me expand more. I’m honored to be part of them and have this opportunity.

What genres do you mainly enjoy playing?

I enjoy playing all kinds of genres, but if I were to pick, I’d say between pop and rock. I enjoy listening to Bruno Mars, Billie Eilish, Carlos Santana, The Beatles, and Queen. I just love listening to all their music, arranging their songs, and then putting them in my own style to make them kind of my own.

In your live shows, do you play more covers or original music?

It’s mainly covers. I’m still working on creating and putting out my originals; it’s something I’m trying to put more focus on to get my music out there.

How has your time in Boston been, besides college? Have you been performing frequently?

I’ve been exploring Boston and getting to know the areas and my surroundings. Since it’s a bit challenging to land gigs here, I’ve taken to busking. At first, it was really nerve-wracking for me, since it’s a new city, a whole new environment. But I’m starting to get more comfortable with it.

How would you describe what music means to you?

Music is the universal language. You may not be able to speak other people’s languages, but you can connect to people through music. That’s the universal language of humans.

What would you say your goal in music is?

My goal is to inspire other people to have fun with music, whether it’s on the ukulele or any other instrument, just have fun with it. Music is my getaway. When I feel stressed or down, playing the ukulele and making music instantly changes my mindset and lifts my mood.