Paiva Plays On
After a brief hiatus from the music scene, ‘ukulele virtuoso Brittni Paiva is back with a new album.
When Hilo native and ‘ukulele prodigy Brittni Paiva first burst onto the Hawaiian music scene in 2005 at age 13, little did she know that her virtuosity with the instrument would lead to three Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards, millions of YouTube views, five bestselling albums in Hawai‘i and international acclaim.
Faster than fingers on a fretboard, Paiva’s career went into overdrive from the very start. She spent a lot of time on the road touring and flying to different locales, as
well as spending countless hours in the recording studio. She established herself in the international music scene by capturing sounds not traditionally heard on the ‘ukulele, everything from Latin and flamenco to jazz and pop. Along the way, she performed onstage with Carlos Santana and Tommy Emmanuel, who both recognized her talent within seconds of spending time with her.
A few years ago, however, in the wake of some difficult personal relationships, she found herself in a downward spiral, battling depression as well as the numbing anxiety of high career expectations. Her most recent album, released in 2012, was her last undertaking before her life began to feel out of tune. She virtually dropped out of sight for several years, leaving fans to wonder what was in store for Hawai‘i’s top female ‘ukulele player.
Now, Paiva, 30, is out of her funk and back in the groove, working on her sixth studio album and preparing for a comeback on the local and international stage.
“When I started going through hard times, it was because I hadn’t focused on myself,” she says. “I was making wrong choices in my social and personal life. I put music on the backburner and turned into a person I didn’t want to be. I had to kick myself in the butt and get back to reality. For us as musicians, we have a big responsibility to lead people in a positive direction while not sacrificing our own emotional health.
“I came to terms with why I’ve been given the gift of music in the first place. It’s to help and inspire people. Taking the time to regroup and refocus allowed me (to) see that. Now that the fire and drive is rekindled, I’m ready for round two.”
Paiva credits her hānai aunt, Julie, as well as other family members and friends, with helping her to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, her aunt is the inspiration for Paiva’s most recent single, From The Heart. The upbeat and poignant track is the first song that Paiva has produced entirely by herself, including the recording, engineering and album art.
Paiva’s time out of the public eye also allowed her to learn the science of audio engineering.
“It was a productive time behind closed doors,” she admits. “Even though I went through the hard times, I was always playing music, learning to produce and learning audio engineering. The release of From The Heart last year was my pinnacle moment of showing that I could do audio engineering. It’s so different being on that side of the recording studio. It goes beyond just making a beat and adding strings.”
Although the ‘ukulele is a quintessentially Hawaiian instrument, Paiva has been a pioneer in expanding the sound of four strings to encompass an array of genres.
Produced by Grammy winner and jazz legend Tom Scott, her jazz-inspired fifth CD, Tell U What, for example, also included nods to R&B, classical, funk and reggae.
“She plays the ‘ukulele like a guitar, giving her a wide range of possibilities,” said Scott at the time. “She adopts tunes to this instrument, and makes them sound full and rich.”
Defying categories, Paiva has never adhered to a single musical genre. Her musical inspirations include guitar-ists Jeff Beck, Orianthi and Lindsey Buckingham, as well as fellow Hawai‘i musicians Jake Shimabukuro and Makana.
“My focus and philosophy is not box myself into one particular category,” she says. “Whatever category or genre of music I play, whether jazz, Celtic, blues, rock, Hawaiian, country or reggae, I want it to sound exactly like that genre.”
Home-schooled by her parents, Paiva started classical piano lessons at age 4. When she was 11 years old, her grandfather gifted her with her first ‘ukulele, a Kamaka made in the 1950s that belonged to her great-grandmother. Her parents and grandparents encouraged her to play music, and helped her navigate the music industry during her breakout years.
When she’s not playing music, her favorite activity is fishing at her best-kept-secret spots in Hilo.
“I go down to the beach and breakwall with my rod, reel and tackle box and come home looking like a lobster,” she laughs. “My biggest catch was a nice-sized ‘ōmilu. I love doing anything outdoors including hiking at Waipi‘o Valley and anywhere in Volcano. I would love for visitors to get to know the local Hawaiian side of the Big Island. My hometown is so laid-back and the people here are super cool.”
Paiva says the new album will feature 10-12 songs, both self-penned and covers. In addition to a few upcoming private gigs, she will be performing in Germany this October at an ‘ukulele festival in Berlin, and is making plans for holiday concerts closer to home.
“I’m excited to take my music to a completely different level,” she says. “I’m putting my energy back into music in a way that reflects how many marbles I lost along the way. The album is still in the conceptual stage. It’s going to be a positive thing because my music is even more experimental and refined.
“Now that I have my passion reignited, I’m seeing everything from a different light. As a producer, I can also help younger people with talent. It’s such an exciting place to be.”
For more information, visit brittnipaiva.com.