Ukulele virtuoso and singer/songwriter Derick Sebastian is poised for nothing less than Hawaiian music greatness. With a new, all-instrumental album due out by year’s end, I predict a Na Hoku Hanohano Award on the horizon and expect that generations to come will one day revere the name Sebastian along with local legends the likes of Pahinui, Ho’opi‘i, Kamakawio‘ole, Cazimero and Beamer. His technical skills are astounding, but it’s his glowing Maui boy presence you can’t help but admire.
I last saw Sebastian open for Paula Fuga at June’s Maui Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event hosted by Island Sign, and was mesmerized by his fingers-flying take on classics like Carlos Santana’s “Europa,” along with his set of impassioned originals. A life-long music lover who decided to pursue his art full-time four years ago, Derick has found himself escalating from the opening slot at gigs to the audience-grabbing headliner, and has made popular regular Mainland tours.
“If I’m going to be away from my family, I want to be working doing something I love, not something I was purely obligated to do,” says Sebastian, who’s been spending more and more time on the road. “Everything I do is for my family.”
This self-managed artist sat down with me recently with his beautiful ohana in tow. His two sons, Santana and Marley, are wonderfully well-behaved (a share of credit goes to his radiant wife, Raymi). Though still toddlers, the boys exude all the charm of their proud parents.
Sebastian remembers his own childhood as “fairytale perfect…We did not have much, [but] we were happy and content. We simply felt blessed to have each other.”
Blessings are a common theme. Even the tragic loss of his father to an industrial accident when he was three years old is put into his “everything happens for a reason” paradigm.
“My father would not want me to be upset, fail, and blame others. He would want me to be strong, successful, and appreciative of life’s gifts,” says Sebastian. “I also believe that Dad has watched over me all these years, and helped to create the paths that I have chosen.”
Between his regular on-island gigs at Hula Grill, private parties and Mainland tours, Sebastian is realizing a dream that began back in the sixth grade. He was introduced to the ukulele—“a little instrument that sounded cool”—by teacher and mentor Sam Ellis. By eighth grade, he’d won a statewide ukulele competition with a song he co-wrote with Ellis titled “Magic Room.”
“This is what I enjoy doing. This is what I know I should be doing,” says Sebastian. “I try to encourage people and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s right for me—but you gotta find you. It’s hard work, but that’s what it takes to live your dreams.”
On the heels of an April tour, Sebastian is already preparing for another Mainland venture in October. It’d be wise to keep an eye out for his new instrumental release, so you can say you had it first. As his trademark states, the Hawaiian music world will “Stop. Uke. [And] Listen.” Maui Time Weekly, Anu Yagi