Words: Vina Cristobal | Photos: Marleen Tana | Videos: Ashley Guzman
The ukulele is a timeless treasure of Hawaiian music and culture, passed on throughout generations. To maintain its relevance in these modern times, two local girls are continuing on the future of the beloved instrument with a dynamic twist.
18-year-old Honoka Katayama (left) and 15-year-old Azita Ganjali (right), of the self-named duo Honoka & Azita, are already making their mark as ukulele superstars during their teen years, following the footsteps of local musicians before them. They surprise their audience with electric performances, feeding off each other’s high energy as each note is played.
They began to play the ukulele in their elementary school years, and their lessons at Ukulele Hale (on 12th Avenue in Kaimuki) brought the two girls together. Since then, a friendship between them developed, and eventually, a musical partnership.
“One day we decided to go down Waikiki, on Kalakaua, and we just street performed and we kind of liked it,” Azita said. “Then it became like, ‘Oh, we play really nice together.’ But it went on, and we’ve been given so many opportunities to perform.”
The duo primarily play at special events in Honolulu, such as the Spam Jam and Rice Fest, but one experience skyrocketed their career internationally.
“The first and only contest we’ve played was three years ago at the International Ukulele Contest [in Japan],” Honoka said. “We entered that and we got first place in our division and then the MVP awards. And one of the rewards was to play at the Ukulele Picnic, which was the next day. Then we met this famous band called BEGIN, and they’re from Japan. And they had a concert in Okinawa. So they flew us out there to Okinawa actually, and we got to open up for them. It was crazy. We just started playing and it was a huge stage with 10,000 people. We were shaking.”
Afterwards, the girls began to play in Japan and most recently, in the Czech Republic.
“At first we were just doing this for fun, but then we’ve been given so many opportunities, we’re just going with the flow,” Azita said.
Honoka added, “Like Azita said, we started out as friends and we were just having fun, but after all the opportunities and traveling, we’ve just realized how powerful music can be.”
The girls are currently working on their first EP alongside their manager and mentor, Jody Kamisato. The EP is slated to release in early June, but more details will follow.
“We never imagined that we would meet so many people — it’s amazing how strong music is and how universal it is,” Honoka said. “To see how people smile on their faces while we play music is so great.”
Watch the full interview here: