Like the nose flutes he made and created, Anthony Natividad was one of a kind.
"Each flute is unique on to itself," he told a group of people after a performance of 'Ulalena in a YouTube video posted in December.
He explained that each flute has different lengths, and the holes are not bored in the same places.
Anthony Natividad played his ohe hano ihu, or Hawaiian nose flute, at the Sept. 11 memorial at the Westin Ka‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas this year. The gifted nose flute player and maker died suddenly Oct. 28 at age 48.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"It's like a person," he said.
In tributes to the man who may have been the premier nose flute performer in Hawaii, family members, friends touched by his music and musicians who played with him described Natividad as a one-of-a-kind performer, instrument maker and human being.
The 48-year-old Natividad died suddenly Oct. 28, leaving those family members, friends, fellow musicians and performers and all others who have heard his calming and wafting refrains in mourning.
"There is nobody else alive that can play the nose flute and build 'em and play 'em," said Grammy and Na Hoku winning George Kahumoku Jr., who worked with Natividad at the University of Hawaii Maui College Institute of Hawaiian Music.
If a musician needed a nose flute in a certain key, Natividad could make that instrument.
"He could tune it for your guitar . . . whatever you want," Kahumoku said last week. "He was the only one that I know who could do that."
When he auditioned for 'Ulalena, Natividad immediately caught the eye of the show's creators.
"I know the show creators had never seen anyone play the nose flute," said Dennis Preussler, general manager of Maui Theatre, the home of 'Ulalena.
The unique instrument and sound "really fit into what we were trying to do," he said. "Anthony is one of those unique add-ons that was unexpected."
Natividad landed a job in the original cast of the show on the west side that has run for more than a decade. In addition to playing the nose flute, drums and ukulele in the pit above the stage, Natividad was the only musician to go on stage for the "Kumulipo" creation chant and for a rain sequence where he played his nose flute, said Preussler.
The audience can't really tell that he's playing with his nose. But in the lobby after the show, Natividad wowed the departing audience while explaining his music and his craft.
"Every night, he would be in our lobby," said Preussler. "He would be the last person out. He wanted to share his nose flute with everyone. I think that's what really drove him in life.
"It wasn't from the aspect of 'look at me,' . . . He wanted to provide that gift to people. It was not about him but about the gift."
Natividad may be irreplaceable.
"Like anything in a show, you have something with an extreme talent and is unique (that) you cannot always re-create," said Preussler.
Natividad was certainly one of a kind, as were his instruments and his playing. He would say that he could play anything with a hole in it. His wife, Jamie, recalled the time he played a chair at a senior citizens event.
"He made flutes out of cans, bottles," she said. "Anything with a hole in it he would play."
His smallest flute was a 4-inch-long bamboo instrument with a half-inch diameter; his longest was 5 feet long with a 3-inch diameter made out of plastic pipe. He made instruments out of soda cans, cardboard rolls, film containers, straws, shells and even a hollow chocolate egg.
"Anthony could play anything," said his wife.
Jamie and Anthony Natividad knew each other since age 13, so she had a close-up seat to her husband's discovery and evolution of his calling in life.
"It was a process of trial and error," she said of the development of his nose-flute skills. "He was like that. He could figure things out."
"He is an innovator and a great problem-solver," she continued. "He would tweak things until it was pretty much perfect."
She took credit for bringing her husband to nose flutes. She got him an ocarina, an ancient flute-whistle, in 1992.
"He drove me crazy with it," Jamie recalled. "He played it all the time. That's the thing about Anthony, he was so passionate about what he was doing. He is that passionate about anything he was learning."
A year later, he obtained a South American nose flute. Jamie explained that the South Americans played the flute with their noses because of the cold; the nose provided a better foundation for the sound.
The Native Hawaiian ohe hano ihu is "an instrument of sincerity and purity, played with the 'ha,' or sacred breath of the nose," a biography about Anthony said. "It is an expression of the player's heart and intentions. . . . Misunderstood by foreigners, the ohe hano ihu was banned as an instrument of seduction."
Anthony began building his own flutes in 1993 when he found it difficult finding pitched instruments.
When looking in the bamboo forest, he would offer a Hawaiian greeting and enter the forest. He would only select fallen bamboo.
"I think the instrument picked him,"said Kahumoku, who went on expeditions with the nose-flute builder to the forest. "He told me that. He was in the forest; the bamboo would pick him."
Kahumoku said Anthony would walk around the forest for hours while he was cutting 50 bamboo.
"I was over there cutting everything in sight," he said. "He (Anthony) was opposite. He would pick one bamboo."
His sister, Cathleen Bailey, believes some of her brother's talent came from his childhood days. She said the family did not grow up with a lot money so they had to be resourceful.
"They (their parents) taught us to make things from whatever scraps we could find," she said in an email. "Our dad taught us how to make our own toys, even bicycles and skateboards from parts that people threw away. Our mother taught us to sew and cook."
There was music in the family as well. Many nights were spent in the home singing and playing the ukulele and autoharp, she recalled.
"We played any old ukulele that we could find and always marveled and wished that one day we could own a Kamaka ukulele," she said.
Jamie's father was a band director and had a musical influence on Anthony as well.
"Like my dad told him, 'You weren't very good on the trumpet but that the flutes were his,' '' Jamie recalled.
Bailey said that she believes his upbringing "made Anthony and his music so special."
"When making his nose flutes, Anthony would be sure to use wood that was already fallen and ensured that he would preserve the life of the tree from which the wood came." she said. "Anthony tested each flute that he made to be sure that they had the perfect pitch and tone.
"I told him that his flutes were the 'Kamaka ukulele' of flutes."
Through his life, Anthony would expand his musical talents to Native American flutes and drums, the Japanese shakuhachi, the Maori gnuru, putorino and koauau, the Chinese xiao, Australian digeridoo and the Tibetan singing bowls.
In 1999, he recorded the first all nose flute CD "Ahupua'a," which was released in 2004. He played and recorded with Tony C, Herb Ohta Jr., Keli'i Taua, Keola Beamer and Raiatea Helm. His song "Wisdom Keepers" from "Ahupua'a" was used in the movie blockbuster "The Descendants."
A few months agao, for the second year in a row, he played at the Sept. 11, 2001, remembrance at the Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas. He blew the conch shell and played "Amazing Grace" on his nose flute.
"It was amazing," said Makalapua Kanuha, the resort's cultural specialist, recalling how the crowd began to sing along. "It was very chicken skin."
"It was very enchanting, and he enchanted a lot of people," she said. "We are going to miss him."
His music touched people in different ways.
"When he played the nose flute, he made me feel like he was part of the island, like he was part of the land," said Kahumoku. "He was connected to this earth."
Bailey said: "Anthony didn't just play. He put a hundred and 10 . . . no a thousand and 10 percent. He played it for all the ancestors all over the world."
A couple of weeks ago, Anthony recorded a piece of music on his phone for Jamie. There was a time when he used to play everything for her, she said.
"It was just something special about how he played," she said. "When Anthony would play it was so healing. It was all pretty but Anthony had a different quality to it. Everything he played was so magical.
"He is irreplaceable. Nobody plays like him."
A celebration of life will be held 10 a.m. Sunday at the 'Ulalena Theatre. Scattering of ashes and reception are set for 12:30 p.m. that day at the Lahaina Jodo Mission. The family welcomes loose flowers for scattering and no lei.
He is survived by his wife, children Gavin Uyeda, Waikaleolani Natividad and Aleia Natividad; his mother, Keiko Natividad; and siblings Christopher Natividad, Christina (Tom) Clohan, Cathleen (Timmy) Bailey, Gregory (Tracey) Natividad; and two grandsons.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.