Dennis Muth and his band mates, Sonny Aquino, Alastar McNeil and Nolet Quiason, were a serious Beatles tribute band, performing together for six years, when they began wondering if doing their best impression of the Fab Four was as far as they could go with it.
Then Quiason had an idea — continue as a serious Beatles tribute band but switch from guitars and electric bass to ukulele. The switch took place, Beat-Lele was born and history was made.
“Nolet had recently picked up the ukulele and wanted to do something different, and we were all on board with that,” Muth said, while visiting the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newsroom last week.
Presented by Roy Sakuma
>> Where: Kapiolani Park Bandstand
>> When: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
>> Cost: Free
>> Info: ukulelefestivalhawaii.org
Muth, the group’s drummer, played his part in the transition by replacing his traditional Ringo Starr-style drum set with a cajon, the box-shaped percussion instrument of Peruvian origin that is becoming popular outside jazz and Latin music circles.
Aquino sings John Lennon’s vocal parts and plays baritone ukulele. Quiason (Paul McCartney) alternates between tenor and bass ukulele. McNeil (George Harrison) plays six- and eight-string ukulele.
“People are generally impressed with what they hear, because they don’t expect the fullness of the sound of the songs coming from three ukuleles and a cajon,” Muth said.
“The vocals are also something that makes us unique as a tribute band, because we all can do our (vocal) parts fairly well. There’s so much harmonizing in the Beatles songs, and when they harmonize and sing together it meshes really, really beautifully.”
“There’s no shortage of stuff on YouTube where you have all kinds of people — soloists, groups— just strumming along to Beatles songs and the chords, which is fine, it’s great because it’s promoting the Beatles music and the ukulele,” Muth noted. “We’re taking it that step further, where we’re really trying to be true to the recordings and retain those personas of John, Paul, George and Ringo.”
COMBINING BEATLES-ESQUE voices and unconventional instrumentation has worked well for Beat-Lele.
In little more than a year the group held a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a self-titled debut album, released in December 2017; played 10 shows in a week at the 2017 International Beatle Week Festival in Liverpool last summer; and performed with Hawaiian recording artist Halemanu during the televised portion of the 2018 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in May.
Beat-Lele was a finalist in two Hoku categories, and although they didn’t win in either, Muth counts the recognition as a victory.
Danny Kaleikini will be both emcee and guest of honor — recognized for his career as an A-list Hawaiian entertainer, cultural advocate and designated Ambassador of Aloha. Joining Kaleikini and festival founder Roy Sakuma are ukulele players from Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand and three other U.S. states. The event is also a showcase for the hundreds of students at Sakuma’s ukulele studios.
A second stage in the food tent will allow more performance time for ukulele players, as well as ukulele displays, opportunities for free lessons and giveaways by ukulele manufacturers. Kids activities include inflatable bouncers and slides, and coloring and Lego tents. Free parking and shuttle service will be available from the Kapiolani Community College parking lot.
>> 10:30 a.m.: Sunset Strummers (California), Northern Virginia Ukulele Society, Luongo Ukulele Experience Ensemble (Nevada and California)
>> 11 a.m.: Nick Acosta (Hawaii), LeaLea Ukulele Garden (Japan), New Zealand Ukulele Senior Squad, Daichi (Japan)
>> 12 p.m.: Junior Ukulele Orchestra (Japan), Ohta-San and Nando Suan (Hawaii)
>> 1 p.m.: Ukulele Festival Band, Children’s “Ukulele Joy” Group, Children’s “Warrior” Group, Ashlyn and Arianna Ito
>> 2 p.m.: Children’s “Crusader” Group, Ukulele Festival Band, Raiatea Helm (Hawaii)
>> 3 p.m.: Josh Tatofi (Hawaii), Strummers Group, Beat-Lele (Hawaii)
>> 4 p.m.: Jake Shimabukuro (Hawaii), fulare_pad (Japan)
“Just being on the final ballot for anything — for us — was winning,” he said.
Just last month, the band played a night at the Blue Note Hawaii in Waikiki.
Next stop on the group’s schedule is Roy Sakuma’s 48th Annual Ukulele Festival, Sunday at the Kapiolani Park Bandstand. Expect to see Beat-Lele at around 3:30 p.m.
“Roy Sakuma saw a video of us maybe a little over a year ago, and although he already had the lineup set, he liked what he heard — and so he was able to squeeze us in for a small set,” Muth said. “He wanted us to come back, and we’re happy to be a part of that.
“We’re going to participate in a song with a lot of his students,” Muth revealed. “We’re going to be doing ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’”
Since becoming acquainted with Beat-Lele, Sakuma has helped the band on several other occasions, Muth said — including at the “Wildest Show in Town” at the Honolulu Zoo, which Sakuma hosts, and at ukulele festivals on the neighbor islands.
Beat-Lele is planning a second studio album. A “Live at the Cavern Club” album of recordings made last summer in Liverpool’s most famous nightclub is also in the planning stages.
“We want to do our small part in sharing the beautiful music of the Beatles,” Muth said. “We have so much fun, and we get such pleasure from playing it and the crowd’s reaction. They’re excited because they haven’t seen anything like what we’re doing with ukuleles before. It’s exciting for them and we feed off of that.”
“We want to keep promoting the music of the Beatles and that whole message of peace and love that they were about.”