The Diamond of Waikiki

Her name means ‘diamond’ in Samoan, and Taimane Gardner is indeed one of Hawaii’s musical gems. Loaded with talent and oozing confidence, at 17 she’s on the verge of national stardom

Bill Mossman
Friday - July 14, 2006
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Taimane with dad Jack, sister Teuila and mom Elva at home
Taimane with dad Jack, sister Teuila and mom Elva at home

“It was the only time I’ve ever gotten booed.”

As for the venerable Ho, he certainly knows talent when he sees it. In fact, it was Mr. Tiny Bubbles himself who first saw Taimane performing with several street people in Waikiki (she still does this gig with younger sister Teuila every Friday evening starting at about 9 at the corner of Kalakaua and Liliuokalani avenues) three years ago and immediately invited her to be a part of his show.

She did, and Ho and his show have been better off because of it.

During a recent show, in fact, after watching Taimane dominate his stage yet once again, the septuagenarian quipped to the audience, “Somebody’s ready fo’take ova’ da show.”

Funny thing is - and with all due respect to Hawaii’s chief humuhumunukunukuapuaa - Taimane’s actually got bigger fish to fry. This is a young woman who dreams of taking her talents to a worldwide stage, with her ultimate goal being to perform with such rock ‘n’ roll luminaries as the aforementioned Page and her idol of idols, Robert Plant.

When asked if we should expect to see her performing before an international audience in the coming years, Taimane’s response - one filled with unshakable confidence in her destiny - should not be taken with the same type of naiveté normally associated with teenagers’dreams of grandeur. Why? Simple. Taimane is no ordinary talent.

How can you be when you have a first name that is synonymous with “brilliance”; when you’ve been winning ukulele competitions since the tender age of 6, many of which came against adult professionals; and when those in the music industry have already dubbed you “the female Jake Shimabukuro” and “the Hawaiian female Carlos Santana”?

“Oh, I’ll definitely be touring the world with my ukulele in the next five years and entertaining as many people as possible,” states Taimane, who released her lone CD, Loco Princess, last summer and is currently working on a follow-up. “I’m definitely prepared to live the entertainer’s life.”

Indeed, the foreseeable future is Taimane’s time to shine.

Ask any gemologist about diamonds and he or she will tell you that the hardest of all minerals has its share of imperfections.

So it is with Taimane, although her “blemishes” have nothing to do with her musical talents, but rather a nasty skateboarding accident back in December that left her visibly scarred in at least three places - her chin, right inside elbow and right hip.

“I was heading from my home in Kahala down to Foodland and there were a lot of potholes on the road,” she remembers of the incident. “I was sort of carving my way around them, but I was going way too fast. My last thought before I crashed was to bail off my board, which is about the worst thing to do.

“After I hit the roadway, I think I blacked out for a minute or so.

Fortunately, there was an off-duty police officer there and he called for an ambulance. They took me in and cleaned me up.”

Taimane performs at a recent Sunset on the Beach
Taimane performs at a recent
Sunset on the Beach

While Taimane was ready to get right back on the skateboard following the mishap, Jack Gardner, her father and a former teacher at Punahou, was not so willing to allow his daughter that opportunity.

“I had a friend who broke his neck while bodysurfing at Sandy’s,” he recalls. “After that happened, I asked Taimane not to go in the water at Sandy’s. Same thing with skateboarding. After her accident, I took her skateboard away. I just didn’t want her to get hurt again.”

To Taimane’s credit, she didn’t rebel against her father’s wishes.

“I’ve never been disobedient to my parents,” says the teenager, a perfect mixture of Samoan, German, Irish, French and Swedish, “and in the situation regarding my skateboard, I certainly understand where my father is coming from. My feeling has always been that it’s easier to get along with my parents than not to get along with them.”

While Taimane credits mother Elva, a former Miss Universe contestant, for her musical abilities (“My mom’s side of the family can pick up just about any instrument and begin playing.”), she’s equally cognizant of the contributions her father has made to her burgeoning career. Not only was he the one who bought her her first ukulele at age 5, but he was also the one who found her the street-side gig in Waikiki soon after she turned 11.

“I was really looking at another venue just to keep her focused,” explains Gardner, who serves as his daughter’s business manager. “At the time, she was taking ukulele lessons from Mike Vasquez and Roy Sakuma (incidentally, Taimane has also studied under brothers Jake and Bruce Shimabukuro, Brother Noland, Herb Ohta Jr. and a relative in Samoa named “Uncle Willie”) and I wanted to make sure that she was having fun with the uke.

“And so one day we were down in Waikiki and I saw several (street people) sitting there and playing music, and I went up to them and asked if my daughter could get in some practice. They said yes and it’s been non-stop ever since.

“It really has become a perfect marriage,” Gardner adds. “Taimane gets to hone her skills and those men get to keep all the money they can collect.”

When the girl born Taimane Tauiliili Bobby Gardner isn’t entertaining, she’s doing just about anything a typical teenager loves doing, like watching movies (“Best movie I’ve seen in the last three months is V for Vendetta, and my favorite movie of all time is probably Finding Nemo!”) catching an episode of The Family Guy or listening to her favorite song on her iPod, the Beatles’ Yesterday.

But that’s not all.

“Oh, I love the beach. Yes, I’m definitely a beach rat,” she proudly states. “And I also love to shop every chance I get. Of course, it helps that I work at Hollister’s once a week, as sort of a side job, which helps me check out all the clothes I may want to buy.”

She’s also a pretty good student, with “definite” plans of attending college after graduating from Honolulu Waldorf School in 2007.

The proud owner of seven ukuleles, Taimane’s favorite is undoubtedly a custom-made six-string black ukulele from Kamaka that she uses at all her gigs. Of course, that could all change if and when she allows Kiwaya, a Japanese ukulele manufacturer with a keen interest in the young talent, to produce its first-ever “Taimane” model.

The future possibilities for Taimane Gardner certainly seem endless. And to think what might have been had her father not handed her an ukulele at the tender age of 5?

“Oh, I think I would have still found my way into music somehow,” she insists, once again demonstrating an unshakable dose of confidence in her destiny. “It might have been the guitar or maybe the piano. But regardless, I definitely would be doing music one way or another.”

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