Friday, July 11, 2008

Ukuleles Rule LA!

I love ukuleles! It's a little four-string instrument that seems to carry with it fashionable eclecticism in any era. I've never heard anyone call it "dorky". I've only ever heard it called "cool". Granted, I may be a little bias - I do own three of them...

...So it's probably no surprise that I made my way over to the spectacular 2nd Annual Southern California Ukulele Showcase, part of the free 1st and Central Outdoor Summer Concerts at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).

This second annual event at JANM was hosted by hilarious emcees Ali Lexa and King Kukulele (of the Friki Tikis). I, unfortunately, missed their opening number, but the crowd told me it was a great set. And what a crowd it was for this July afternoon/evening summer concert - most of the chairs were filled, so there were people sitting on the concrete slabs and stairs in front of the beautiful museum, and even leaning against the brick wall at the back. To add to the summer feel of the event, there were children dancing to the music as they lingered about their families (some of them getting interviewed between sets by King Kukulele himself).

"Moana" (featuring Charles Kiaha and Ilima Lei Russell) brought the sounds of traditional Hawaii to the event. Charles Kiaha played a ukulele made right in East LA (worth a thousand dollars). The video below features a traditional number with Charles Kiaha on this ukulele.

Musical prodigies Brittni Paiva and Abe Lagrimas Jr. had individual solo sets at the event. While each had their own individual sound, their playing reflected their incredible musical ability and aptitude. It's hard to express into words exactly what that means, so hopefully the following videos will help you feel like you were there. Brittni Paiva plays Carlos Santana's "Europa" and Abe Lagrimas Jr. covers the Beatles' "Blackbird".

In between the prodigies were The Moonlighters from New York. This band, with a 1920s and 1930s sound, is a fun group that brought an almost speakeasy band and vaudevillian feel to a Southern California summer outdoors evening...with their own modern twist, of course. The video below features "Dirt Road Life" from their fourth CD ("Surrender"):

The evening closed with the beautiful voice of Paula Fuga. It was certainly a case of last, but not least. Perhaps best known for her collaborative work with Jack Johnson, there is nothing I can say that encompasses the thrilling experience of hearing Paula Fuga's voice in the summer night air.

Throughout the event, the museum stayed open for patrons to check out the exhibitions between sets. Afterwards, my friend Thea and I grabbed a late dinner at one of the great restaurants that line Little Tokyo's 1st Street.

The 2nd Annual Southern California Ukulele Showcase is only one of many in 1st/Central concerts available this summer at JANM. To find out more events, visit the JANM page at

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

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