On June 14, 2019, award-winning singer/songwriter Willie K acquired a Kanileʻa one-of-a-kind ʻukulele called the ʻIʻiwi Honi Koa. As a Kanileʻa endorsed artist, Willie already owned three instruments, two of them customized for and co-designed by him. Add to that his incredible array of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars and one has to wonder why would he even need another stringed instrument?
The answer: to plant a forest
Willie K is the first in a line of national and international celebrities to take part in the ʻUkulele Project: Saving Hawaiʻi’s Forests with You. He will own and play the ʻIʻiwi Honi Koa for a time – taking it on tour, writing new music, making musical memories. Then in December of 2019, Willie K will gift the instrument to the non-profit 501(c)3 organization called Saving Hawaiʻi’s Forests. The instrument, packaged with a number of exclusive items, will be put up for auction. The monies raised will go to the restoration, maintenance and protection of new growth native Hawaiian forests on Hawaiʻi Island.
The story behind the masterpiece
The ʻIʻiwi Honi Koa is a special instrument designed by master luthier Joe Souza of Kanileʻa ʻUkulele. The name speaks of the symbiotic relationship between two native Hawaiian species, The ʻiʻiwi (scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper) and the koa (Acacia koa). The honi, or kiss, represents the life connection between the two: when one species thrives, so does the other. That connection was captured in stunning inlays of koa leaves (actually called phylodes) and koa flowers joined on the ʻukulele’s soundboard by a brilliant red ʻiʻiwi.
On sight alone, the ʻukulele is breathtaking with its Master Grade Curly koa, its wider lower bout and its colorful wood inlays.
Then when you hear it? It practically makes your heart skip a beat.
By itself, this uke would easily fetch upwards of $10-15K but its intrinsic value increases with its time spent in the hands of a master.
About Willie K
With his roots planted firmly in his native Hawaiian culture, language and music, William Awihilima Kahaialiʻi – affectionately known as Uncle Willie K – has found joy in stretching his musical branches into other genres like pop, reggae, rock, R&B, soul, jazz and his all time favorite blues. World renown for his eclectic style, unpredictable stage performances (set list? What set list??) and a loving but wild streak, Willie has been known to bring a crowd to its feet with his operatic rendition of Ave Maria accompanied solely by his ʻukulele. This explains his numerous awards and his most recent Nā Hōkū Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawaiʻi Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).
Willie has shared the stage with musical superstars who have played at his annual Blues fest on Maui, to name a few: Elvin Bishop, Angela Strehli, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, and Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, Taj Mahal and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Michael McDonald, Samantha Fish and New Jersey’s Billy Walton Band.
Then there are his admirers. No less than Prince was a huge fan, calling Willie K a “funky mother#%@&er,” while another avowed fan, who has Hawaiʻi roots, goes by the name Barack Obama.
And while Willie K is right at home performing for sold out stadium crowds, he is just as comfortable sitting in a native Hawaiian forest creating new music after a hard day of planting trees and singing for an audience of eight.
About Saving Hawaiʻi’s Forests
Saving Hawaiʻi’s Forests is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the reforestation of Hawaiʻi’s Native forests. This is done through the identifying, propagating and replanting of native Hawaiian endemic and indigenous species of trees and understory plants. Continued maintenance of the new forest happens through proper watering and fencing as well as clearing of invasive species.
Work has commenced on Hawaiʻi Island in the area of Kealakekua at 4,000 foot elevation, called Nani ʻEkolu, where Hawaiian endemic species like koa, ʻōhiʻa and ʻiliahi flourish. In 2017, an additional property at 5,000 foot elevation was acquired. The goal at each and all future properties is to create a biodiverse forest where these trees will live out their lives without threat of clear cutting or invasive species.
The work at Nani ʻEkolu was recently recognized with a Historic Hawaiʻi Foundation Preservation Award.
About Kanileʻa ʻUkulele
Created in 1998, Kanileʻa ʻUkulele is the brainchild of husband-wife team Joe and Kristen Souza. Joe apprenticed under master luthier Peter Burmudez in 1990, integrating “uncle Pete’s” traditional Hawaiian building techniques with today’s 21st century technologies. This mash up of old and new has proven effective in creating a full-bodied, rich sound that is distinctive of these playable masterpieces. All Kanileʻa instruments are handcrafted in the Souzas’ hometown of Kāneʻohe, Hawaiʻi. Kristen oversees administrative operations, retail sales and dealer support. Together, the Souzas employ a team of artisans, salespeople and administrative staff members.
Each handcrafted piece bears Joe’s signature TRU-R (Total Resonating ʻUkulele – Redesigned) bracing system which allows for greater vibration, resonance and sustain from the body. Add to that the UV Cured Polyester finish that moves and breathes with the instrument and you’ve got a powerhouse ʻukulele with unmatched clarity and sound.
It is the ʻukulele of choice for many national and international artists such as Kelly Boy De Lima of Kapena, Willie K., Daisuke Maeda of Japan’s Fulare Pad, Simon Clothier of the U.K., Aldrine Guerrero of ʻUkulele Underground, Kahanuola Solatorio of Keauhou, Zion Thompson of The Green, Kawika Kahiapo and more.
For more information on the `Ukulele Project: Saving Hawaiʻi’s Forests with You, please call (808) 234-2870 or visit reforeshawaii.org.