Mahalo Ukulele Festival Goa: A time for hope and gratitude

Festival aims at restoring people’s positivity after COVID-19
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).Gomantak Times

The Mahalo Ukulele Festival, which began in 2019, is making a happy comeback this year, bringing along with it a little of the touch of Hawaii. This will be the third edition of the celebration of a wonderful instrument, the ukulele.

Almost a miniature guitar, the ukulele, or uke, belongs to the lute family and was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo and Augusto Dias are presumed to be the first ukulele makers.

Performance at the  Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Performance at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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Taking a hit due to COVID-19, the Mahalo Ukulele Festival, India’s first and only ukulele festival, was stalled in 2021 and 2022. The festival is meant to celebrate delightful music and the love and joy it affords the community. It is aptly named, for “mahalo” is Hawaiian for “thank you”, symbolising the essence of the festival.

The journey to playing the ukulele

Christina Fernandes, German by birth and married to a Goan, was a photojournalist before she transitioned to running a permaculture farm and conducting nature education workshops that included yoga for children. 

Learning how to play the mouth harp (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020).
Learning how to play the mouth harp (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020).
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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When she moved to Goa with her family, her children were 3, 6 and 8 years old. And one of their goals in moving to the state was to learn the guitar. 

Says Christina of the start of her love for the ukulele, “After a while, I also started playing the ukulele because it seemed like such a fun little instrument. It’s not intimidating and you can take it anywhere.”

T-shirts with artistic prints on sale (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020).
T-shirts with artistic prints on sale (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020).
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Catch Paresh Maity's artistic brilliance at this exhibition in Goa

This is where Anirban Halder comes in. A self-taught musician from Calcutta, Anirban has been calling Goa his home since 2010. His rock band Electric Pulse has gained quite a reputation as one of Goa’s classic rock acts. 

He took on the job of teaching the kids. However, because the children were quite young, he suggested beginning with a ukulele, an easier and more fun instrument for anyone starting with a stringed instrument.

Face painting at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Face painting at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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The ukulele reaches out to the traumatised and bereft of hope

As in previous editions of the festival, Christina will be donating her personal proceeds to the Survivor Girl Ukulele Band, a project begun by Laurie Kallevig that offers some respite to victims of human trafficking from India and Bangladesh from the hardships and trauma they have suffered.

The band has performed at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival previously. 

Workshop at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Workshop at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020.
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
6th Bird Festival disappointingly lacking plumage

How the idea for a ukulele festival germinated

The idea for the festival was ignited when on holiday at her parents’ home in Germany when Christina’s son Keaton read of a ukulele festival in Honolulu, Hawaii, in a magazine. Keaton became all excited about going there since he had been learning the ukulele for some time now. 

Trying to reason with him that the journey was far too long and there must be ukulele festivals in India, after much research, Christina realised that there was not a single ukulele festival in India.

Handmade items on display  (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020)
Handmade items on display (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020)
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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She says, “I thought that was such a shame and started wondering whether we couldn’t start our own festival in Goa. I didn’t have the first idea how to do it but when I suggested it to Anirban he was immediately enthusiastic about the idea.”

The collaboration with Saraya Ecostay in Sangolda, where Christina had been holding her kids' nature workshops, took off with enthusiasm. 

Luv Mahtani, is another important factor in the start of the Mahalo Ukulele Festival. This ukulele teacher from Pune immediately became interested after seeing Christina’s Instagram post about the event and offered his help

Decorative items on sale  (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020)
Decorative items on sale (Mahalo Ukulele Festival 2020)
Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Food with a view at Rio De Goa

Incredibly grateful to Luv, Christina says, “His ideas, connections with musicians and enthusiasm helped us to pull it off and helped me personally to stay optimistic when challenges arose and I thought about giving up.”

What to expect at the Mahalo Ukulele Festival

The Mahalo Ukulele Festival offers us a splendid line-up of workshops, performances, open mics and stalls selling organic food and cosmetics, jewellery, instruments and a lot more.

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Marquito’s Guest House, a retreat into old-world Goa

In the workshop schedule are Yogalele, a combination of yoga and ukulele; Indian Contemporary Dance where you will learn dance moves with a focus on balance, coordination and improvisation; Cookie Tin Ukulele Building; Rangoli Art; Song Writing; and Fundamental Mouth Harp and more.

Performances will be Luv Mahtani and his Strum Away Collective from Pune; the ukulele department of the Goa Jazz Academy; music departments from various local schools.

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Workshops galore at Saligao

Neptune Chapotin, the founder of the World Mouth Harp Festival in Arambol and title holder of World Virtuoso achieved at the 7th International Mouth Harp Congress in Yakutia, Siberia, will be teaching and performing on the mouth harp. 

Keaton, who was a major catalyst in the nascence of the festival, still adores the ukulele and now has mastered the guitar as well, and so have Christina’s daughters.

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
When Ryle dons makeup, drag is the reason!

All four will be teaching and performing at the festival. In fact, Keaton will be facilitating the Cookie Tin Ukulele Building workshop.

The festival will be held on February 18 and 19, 2023, at Saraya Ecostay House No 64, Chogm Road, Sangolda, Goa.

Tickets are priced at Rs 250 on the 18th and Rs 300 on the 19th. A day pass will cost Rs 500. Some workshops cost Rs 500, others are Rs 300 while some others are free. You have to pay for the workshops separately.

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
This is an annual Goan heritage programme at Rachol

Why the Mahalo Ukulele Festival is an antidote to COVID-19 blues

Speaking on the value that the Mahalo Ukulele Festival has injected into many people’s lives, Christina expresses her pleasure at organising the festival, enjoying seeing different musicians come together and spreading the love of music. 

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
Ocean glows and more at this exhibition in Goa

She says, “Seeing how much fun people had performing open mics and joining workshops was really amazing. I couldn’t have imagined that it would be such a great experience when we first started the festival. It is not only the festival itself but being inspired by people I have met through this to use music for healing and building communities.”

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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COVID-19 did put a damper on the festival. But now that the danger and panic have subsided, she says, “Now that we can finally do it again, I hope that it will contribute to bringing positivity and joy to people. The pandemic has caused so much anxiety and negativity in its aftermath that I’d like to think our festival will shine a little light to make people feel a bit brighter.”

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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Goa, the ukulele’s new home 

Endorsing a bright future for the ukulele in Goa, Christina says, “Goa is a very musical place, and who wouldn’t love to sit on the beach or in Goa’s lush greenery and strum on a ukulele? It’s an instrument suitable for all ages and abilities that’s fun and easy to learn – an instrument for all people. It’s gaining popularity worldwide, and Goa is no exception."

Founders Anirban Halder, Christina Fernandes and Luv Mahtani (L-R).
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She further says, "Goa’s tropical environment in many ways is reminiscent of Hawaii, the home of the ukulele, so it’s a natural combination. And in a post-pandemic world where people need cheering up the ukulele is the perfect little partner."

For more information, please contact Christina Fernandes: 

+971 (0)50 246 0101 (Whatsapp)

 Email: goaukulelefestival@gmail.com

Website: www.goaukulelefestival.org

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