Māori artist creates custom guitar for American Idol winner

By Mare Haimona-Riki

Sam Mangakahia (Ngāti Huarere) is an artist based in Hawai'i who customises guitars and ukuleles with traditional Māori and Polynesian designs.

One of his most recent pieces was for Iam Tongi from Kahuku, Oahu, who just hours ago won the latest final in the hit series American Idol

“When I found out he was actually coming to Kahuku and performing at Turtle Bay, I was ready to get something done,” Mangakahia says.

Sam helps Iam give the performance of a lifetime.

It took 60 hours to make, and consists of Polynesian designs representing Tongi's Tongan heritage and family ties. The most significant detail Mangakahia says is the name of Tongi’s late father,Rodney, engraved at the top.

“It was a point that he wanted, to have his dad's name on the top, and for me symbolically that represents that every time he strums the guitar, every time he sings, he's with his dad and he is sharing that message with the world.”

Tongi went viral for his first audition on the 21st Season of American Idol, singing a cover of James Blunt’s Monsters

Source / YouTube, American Idol 

Mangakahia is no stranger to creating pieces for musicians. He’s expressed this art form on guitars for the likes of Stan Walker, Josh Tatofi, Kalohe Kai, and soon Jack Johnson. But it's not only for singer/songwriters. 

“I don't only do these for musicians but for individuals and families. I believe that everyone has a story and it deserves to be told and for that story to be preserved and shown in a way that can be passed on to the next generation is what makes me fulfilled the most."