Issue 20.5: October/November 2017
Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Got to Get Uke Into My Life

Story by Natalie Schack. Photos by Olivier Koning.

The beginnings of a Windward O‘ahu storm are gathering, but the head-bopping crowd nestled in the courtyard of a Kailua church couldn’t be less aware. A mix of everyone from millennials to grandparents, they’re all grooving to the familiar tunes of the Beatles as played by local Beatles tribute band, Beat-Lele. The world has no shortage of bands specializing in the music of the four lads from Liverpool, but Beat-Lele has a twist that sets it apart: covering the Beatles’ entire catalog—from “Love Me Do” through “Let It Be” and beyond—on ‘ukulele.

Featuring Nolet Quiason as Paul McCartney, Sonny Aquino as John Lennon, Alastar McNeil as George Harrison and Dennis Muth as a cajón (box drum) thumping Ringo Starr, Beat-Lele takes pride in staying as true to the original arrangements as possible. By the end of the hour, the church crowd is on its feet, twisting and shouting as if the actual Beatles were in the house.

Beat-Lele started out as an ordinary, guitar-playing Beatles tribute band called Day in the Life. But in 2015 this faux Fab Four decided to set the guitars and drum kit aside. “We realized if we really want to distinguish ourselves, we have to do some-thing different,” says Quiason. “That’s where the idea of the ‘ukuleles came in. We’re in Hawai‘i and ‘ukuleles are all around us. They’re the most loved and popular instrument in the Islands.” In addition to the novelty, the band discovered the gentle tones of the ‘ukulele helped their vocal harmonies and melodies to stand out.

Beat-Lele’s sound has reached far beyond the Islands. In August the band joined some seventy other Beatles tribute bands in Liverpool, England, for International Beatle Week. The uke-strumming lads from the Aloha State played a variety of venues, including the legendary Cavern Club, where the actual Beatles got their start.

The band launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund its recently released first CD, Beat-Lele: An Ukulele Tribute to the Beatles. “We’ve got a unique product, and we think the world is ready for it,” says Muth. “And if it goes nowhere, we’re OK with that.” After all, their love of playing the music is its own reward. And as John, Paul, George and Ringo themselves would say, all you need is love.