back roads flutes

Kalani Sa

The fascination of a kaleidoscope is that with each turn there is something new and wonderful to see. While one cannot make a straight comparison between a kaleidoscope and Kalani Sa, he is a kaleidoscopic person in background, experience, and his quest to see new possibilities.

It begins with his multi-ethnic heritage which includes native Hawaiian (where he was born) and Native American mixed in with other nationalities. Then there is the variety in his living experience. After leaving Hawaii as a child, he has lived in at least eight states, from Alaska to Pennsylvania — plus two years in South Africa. Those travels ended 19 years ago when his engineering profession took root in Marshall, Minn.

Kalani himself keeps turning the “kaleidoscope” in his desire to see and learn something new. After other hobbies, he settled into woodworking. He made small furniture like tables and benches for friends; but six years ago turned to more detailed work: musical instruments.

“One day I got a video of a Native American playing a flute and I fell in love with the sound,” he said. “I thought, I wonder how hard it is to make them.”

He watched instructional videos on You Tube and applied his woodworking skills. He points to a pile of his first attempts that didn’t work. After more research and effort, he now produces beautiful flutes out of maple and cherry. The exterior may be left plain, or decorated with carving or woodburning. Most flutes include a totem, a small carved animal which is not decoration, but an integral part of the instrument. Not satisfied with success, he still seeks new techniques to expand his knowledge — often exploring other cultures.

Having responded to his Native American heritage, three years ago he was drawn to his Hawaiian heritage.

“I know my Hawaiian grandmother played the ukulele in Hawaii on the radio when she was growing up. I like the sound of it, so back I went to You Tube.”

He made the specialized tools needed for soaking, steaming and forming wood, and produces handsome instruments. He said the learning curve for producing a good-sounding ukulele has been steeper than that for a flute. He bought a ukulele and is learning to play to help his design efforts.

Kalani is still mastering the intricacies of building a string instrument. He sells the flutes, but won’t sell the ukuleles until he gets it correct. Given his interest, determination, and desire to expand his skills, that is only a matter of time.

Kalani Sa can be contacted at (507) 828-7042 or by email at