Maui-born musician Anthony Pfluke performs at the 15th annual Maui Ukulele Festival at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Sunday and will join a stellar cast that includes Raiatea Helm and Herb Ohta Jr.
A Na Hoku Hanohano nominee for his album “We will rise,” and three-time winner of the Hula Grill’s youth ukulele competition, Pfluke, 22, is currently studying Hawaiian language and composition at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
“I fly back and forth” he explained. “It really helps with the music I play and of course music has been a foundation of my musical career, if not my life. Growing within those roots has been really rewarding and I’m excited to see what I can create with what I’m learning now. So I’m just trying to lay the foundation so that I can create more Hawaiian music and perpetuate ancient Hawaiian music, and my goal is to be a servant of that.”
With a mix of Hawaiian, contemporary and reggae-influenced songs, Pfluke was charmed by the ukulele at the age of 10. First piano lessons at the age of 5, taught by his mother, then he “stumbled across Kumu Jarret Kealoha Delos Santos’ group called 808 Uke Jams. It was like everyone was jamming together. I had so much fun and it inspired the joy of music.”
Over time, he studied with Rama Camarillo, music teacher at the Kamehameha School, who expanded his palette to include ukulele versions of classics such as those by the Dave Brubeck Quartet “Take five.”
“He taught us different arrangements and that made me think maybe I could actually play a gig.” he noticed.
And so he made his debut at the Indian restaurant Monsoon Bar & Grill playing for tips, “And then, at 14, I started playing at Nalu’s South Shore Grill, and I still play there every Saturday.”
Impressed by his talent, Uncle George Kahumoku Jr. began teaching him slack-key guitar.
“Uncle George said, ‘I’d like to take care of you'”, Pffluke remembered. “I was 15 when I started working with him and he really pushed me to create my first EP. I cherish those moments when I play with him.”
For his next album project “Singing for the World: A Wahi-Pana Series”, Pffluke crafted a tribute to Maui with songs honoring places “Kaulana O Haleakala” and “kihei” to “Ulupalakua” and “Kahakuloa sunrise.”
“I really wanted to pay homage to Maui, where I was born and raised.” he said. “I’ve recorded Maui songs I learned from Kumu Jarret as well as some originals, one of which is called ‘Kaulana O Haleakala.’ This is the circuit I am most proud of.”
He followed with his most successful recording to date, “We will rise,” demonstrating his ability as a gifted songwriter in all genres and anticipating great things.
Starting with island reggae flavor “Let Your Love Grow” and that very catchy “island love”, to the beautiful Hawaiian woman “E Ala ma Luna” that sounds reminiscent of Hapa, songs like “Spirit of Love” Echoing the soulfulness of John Cruz, the rousing, anthemic title track commemorates those who died in the mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I wrote ‘E Ala ma Luna’ for Protect Mauna Kea.” he said. “I definitely take inspiration from Uncle George (Kahumoku) and Uncle Barry (Flanagan). A few years before COVID, I played for Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom at Nalu’s, and every Sunday I played with Uncle George.”
He also counts ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro and Ledward Kaapana among his inspirations.
“He’s known as a grandmaster of the slack-key guitar, but he also plays the ukulele.” Pffluke said of Kaapana. “The way he flows and improvises is second to none. Mike Love is also a huge inspiration in the way he combines amazing, soulful songwriting with the technology of looping.”
In recent years he has been involved with the Lei of Aloha for World Peace project, including playing for Maui’s Aloha for Ukraine event in March. He composed the song “Ku’u Lei Aloha” and performed it in Las Vegas when a two-mile lei was presented in the city following the 2017 music festival massacre. Lei of Aloha had previously been sent to Paris and Orlando following tragedies.
“It’s an organization I’ve been very proud to be a part of since the Las Vegas shooting when Uncle Ron (Panzo) asked me to go with them.” he said. “I started writing the song ‘Ku’u Lei Aloha’ and it’s kind of a musical representation of the Lei of Aloha’s need for change. Then we took our three mile lei to Parkland, Florida and it was on behalf of the children of Hawaii and I wrote the song “We Will Rise” to spread awareness and bring hope. We can use terrible experiences to create a better world for generations to come.”
The 15th Annual Maui Ukulele Festival takes place Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at MACC’s Alexander & Baldwin Amphitheater. Admission is at 2.30 p.m. Admission is free. The line-up includes Raiatea Helm, Ahumanu, Rama, Kamaka and Kala’e Camarillo, Anthony Pfluke, Kamakakehau Fernandez, The Hula Honeys, Benny Uyetake, Arlie Asiu, Herb Ohta Jr. with Jon Yamasato, the Kalama Intermediate Ukulele Band and the Kamehameha Schools Maui Ukulele Band. The concert will be streamed live on the MACC website and on its Facebook page, YouTube channel and Alaku channel 55.
There will be a free ukulele workshop at MACC’s Morgado Hall on Saturday at 11:00 am, led by ukulele master Roy Sakuma for students of all ages. Participants will be invited to perform at the festival and play a song they learned in the workshop.