Joe and Kristen were both born and raised in Kailua on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. With Kristen’s background in customer sales and accounting, and Joe’s passion for the `ukulele, this dynamic husband-wife team have been creating and sharing Hawaiian masterpieces since 1998.
For Joe, the ‘ukulele has always been part of his life. He can recall, from a very young age, going to family parties and everyone sitting in a circle and jamming Hawaiian music on their ‘ukuleles and guitars. “In elementary school is when I first got exposed to the ‘ukulele. It was a requirement for music. Hawaiian language class in High school is when I really started showing serious interest in the ‘ukulele, although, it wasn’t until after I graduated that the ‘ukulele started to influence my life.”
“‘Ukulele playing became very natural. Once I got good, everything started to open for me. In 1991, I was given the chance to apprentice under a master luthier. His name is Peter Burmudez, or “Uncle Pete” as I affectionately call him. I was only twenty, and didn’t know the true significance of what I was getting into.”
In 1997 Joe was invited to the island of Kaua’i for a Hawaiian falsetto contest titled “Na Himeni Ki’eki’e”, which means “from majestic heights a hymn”. The competition was very stiff. Therefore, when the winners were announced, Joe was very surprised to hear that he had taken top honors in the amateur division. What a highlight in his life! “Next to my wedding day, that has to be the most exciting day of my life.”
Through all of this, Joe was still building ‘ukuleles. On January 11, 1998 he was married to his lovely wife Kristen Slavish. Just a few months later, they purchased their first home together and set up an `ukulele shop on site. Kanile`a `Ukulele was born!!
In the years following, team Souza has grown to include three sons who all have a passion for music and the business of `ukulele.
Looking back on his life and all that has transpired, Joe says, “it has been over twenty years since I first started sweeping the sawdust from Uncle Pete’s shop floor. Wow, how time flies! He and I still share information, constantly improving our craft.”
Joe says he has a hard time accepting Uncle Pete’s admiration when he says; “Now you are the master”. Just another incredible accomplishment, Joseph Souza “Master Luthier”.
Joe just chuckles quietly and continues his duties, content in the many blessings in his life: his family, his good health and his Kanile`a Krew.