Niue adds another string to its festival line-up, writes Siena Yates.

There's a feeling you get when a lead guitarist breaks into a solo, or a drummer pounds out a beat so strong they use their entire body to hit the right rhythms.

It's not usually the kind of feeling you'd dream of getting from watching people play the ukulele, but that's exactly what happened at Niuekulele.

Niue's inaugural ukulele festival quickly became the talk of the island as locals gathered in Alofi's commercial centre to watch the official opening.


School groups and local artists performed, showcasing traditional island styles of playing and guests from Samoa, the Cook Islands, New Zealand and more showed their own styles of playing — including New Zealand's own blues ukulele player Paul Johnson.

But the future of ukulele presented itself in young Hawaiian players and YouTube stars Honoka and Azita, whose fast-paced, rock-star style had everyone on their feet and aching for more each time they appeared throughout the three-day festival.

It also presented itself in Niue's young locals, who joined tourists at ukulele workshops held around the island.

If ever you wanted a quick way to look really stupid, just take a ukulele lesson with some Niuean kids. They made the rest of us look like idiots as they quickly picked up the chords and strum patterns and their youthful confidence let them play loud and proud while we struggled to catch up. But the wonderful thing about this festival is the island spirit translates to the workshops so everyone feels welcome and encouraged and able to laugh at themselves.

I went along to a workshop with the trio that affectionately became known simply as The Hawaiians — Honoka, Azita and their teacher Jody Kamisato. There, we learned chords, strumming, picking and a few tips and tricks along the way, until we were all able to play a song that minutes earlier had seemed wildly unattainable.

Don't get me wrong; a lot of mistakes were made and there was a tonne of laughter, but we all got there in the end.

Throughout the festival I was constantly bumping into fellow festival-goers as well as the festival's performers and we all just talked music and travel. Spontaneous performances even broke out on occasion — including a farewell show from The Hawaiians at the airport.

By the time the final gala night arrived, everyone felt like friends and we all sang and danced along — as did the locals who filled the Matavai's hall and crowded on the deck outside.

Music is clearly a huge part of Niuean culture and the chance to not only showcase their own talent but embrace and learn from other cultures was clearly welcomed whole-heartedly.

You don't have to be a master of the ukulele to head to the festival, you just have to be willing to learn — or at least try. If nothing else, as a solo traveller, I found it a super fun way to get to know the island, meet some new people and make some friends. I met two Australian girls at a workshop with Kiwi Malcolm Lakatani (of Te Vaka fame). We bonded over our lack of skill, and met for dinner and drinks at the Washaway Cafe, where we swapped stories with fellow festival-goers.

And as everyone loaded ukuleles into the overhead lockers on the plane, there was a feeling of solidarity — we'd all shared an experience; we'd laughed at ourselves and enjoyed amazing talent in one of the world's most beautiful island settings.


The second biennial Niuekulele festival takes place from March 16-20 in Niue.