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Jumping Fleas Frenzy Wipes Out the Audience

What happens when two musicians whose ‘ukulele are like extensions of their arms meet on stage without a playlist? They share their music in a spontaneous way. This is what happened on Monday.Usually, when ‘ukulele players are on stage, they play all the best songs in their repertoire, and finally, at the very end, they will top it off with Europaby Carlos Santana . . . if they are able to play it. Not these two.

I introduced Kyle and Aldrine, although the plan was for Kyle to do an opening set, Aldrine to follow with his set, and finally the two play together. Put on the spot, they jumped into Europa as their opening number and they began to speak to each other with their ‘ukulele . . . it was like two cowboys facing each other at the OK Corral except that these two petite artists were wielding their ‘ukulele and talking to each other in “uke-talk”, playing off of each other and trying to out-lick the other until the final high “ping” on the last note. What a way to start . . .at the top of the ladder!

So who are these two ‘ukulele friends? Aldrine Guerrero is no stranger to EKK as his very first gig outside of church was at EKK when he was about 13 years old and the president of the Kaua’i high school Hawaiian Club under the advisorship of Fran Nestel. He showed up in the parish hall at Saint Michaels and All Angels church where everyone sitting in their noisy metal folding chairs crowded up to the front to watch Aldrine and his motley crew of very talented middle school musicians put on an unforgettable show. At that age Aldrine was a stand out with his ‘ukulele. Over the years we have asked him back to our stage and watched him grow as an artist who now commands huge audiences all over the world. His biggest claim to fame and connection with ‘ukulele players worldwide is the ‘Ukulele Underground website where he and his partner Aaron Nakamura have created a virtual classroom where anyone who wants to learn to play the ‘ukulele can get a start or advance their skills. He walked in tonight saying, “I don’t even know what day it is,” because he just became a father to his new-born child.

Following the “Music is Our Legacy” theme for this year, he asked his friend and prodigy to share the stage with him. He heard about and met Kyle Furusho who was a student at Kaua’i high school. They became ‘ukulele buddies as they played together over the years. Kyle has been a part of the ‘Ukulele Underground show as an interviewer and musician. He said he wanted to share the stage with another ‘ukulele player rather than his band because he wanted something special for EKK that you would not see at other venues.

Because I never met Kyle before tonight, the first thing he said to me was, “You were my mother’s high school teacher; her name is Lani Taba. Your brother visits my grandma all the time, and my auntie Joanie Taba knows you well.” Joni is my barbeque ‘ohana. Talk about a small world!

Kyle is a multi-talented artist working with photography, film, guitar and other interests. He recently moved back from California to work as the music director at his church in Kailua and focuses on using his interests to develop new creative projects. Recently married, his wife is a music teacher in the public school.

“Tonight I will play some of my favorite songs; I like to take someone else’s song and add my own twist to it,” said Kyle, and his started with Bob Marley’sWaiting in Vain. Kyle is a little taller than Aldrine but he is slight in built, very fair and has that forever youthful baby-face look. But his next song was surprising as he belted out Josh Turner’s Your Man in a very low gravel-voiced western drawl. Well, that was unexpected. He continued the country western with Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. He’s a singing ‘ukulele player, more of an exception than the rule. He continued with an animated crowd-pleasing version of Black Water by the Doobie Brothers.

Aldrine took the stage. He says funny things. Earlier when he was being interviewed for a video segment, the videographer asked him, “What is the answer you want to give to the question that is never asked?” Aldrine’s answer was, “. . . the question that I’ve always wanted to answer is how tall I am, and the answer to that is at least five feet, maybe six . . . I don’t know . . . at least five.” When asked, “are you taller on video or on the radio or live,” “I like to tell people that if you just take your two fingers, go like this, and pretend like you’re watching YouTube, it doesn’t matter how tall I am in person; it’ll look just like how you’re looking at me on your computer screen.”

Earlier in his career, he really liked jamming the intricate stuff on his ‘ukulele, but he found out that people just like to sing along and he just wants to enjoy playing the ‘ukulele; he likes to write the lyrics of a song behind his eyelids, close his eyes, and just sing. He asked the audience to join him singing his version of Prince’s Purple Rain. Howls of appreciation! He knows his audience.

Although Aldrine no longer has any more of his sold out CDs to sell, during his earlier visits to EKK, he had been recording a number of CDs; his third CD by the title Bandito Tyler is a real sound track to a fake movie that Aldrine made up in his wild imaginings. One of the songs on this CD is an “ukulele waltz” titled Dance with a Bandit in which the Robin Hood-like character is dancing with the leading lady; he likes to imagine what it looks like for two ‘ukulele to be dancing together. The beautiful light-hearted instrumental was perfect for that image.

His Mother named him after Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, second human to walk on the moon, but she wanted to give it a little Filipino twist so she added the “e” at the end and called him Aldrine. Because of his connection to his name-sake Buzz Aldrin, he wrote a song called Space Suits, another product of his wild personal imaginary world. Putting away his space suit was a metaphor for putting away his aspirations to fly to the moon.

When he was working at a hotel passing out pool towels and raking the sand around the pool, his growing aversion to a nine-to-five job where he had to put away his parent’s aspirations “our son is going to make it to the moon,” and seeing his friends playing music on the stage prompted him to write this song about putting on his Buzz Aldrin space suits. Seems it has worked for him as he has been buzzing all over the planet in his ‘ukulele-inspired space suit.

On a different note, he switched to a classic Beatle’s song released in 1969.Something is one of his favorite songs to play. He played it with such sensitivity. Along the same vein he moved right along into another Beatle’s favorite, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He acknowledged his mentor and teacher Jake Shimabukuro with whom he spent time in coffee shops, polishing his ‘ukulele repertoire while he was attending school in Honolulu. He then played Bandito Tyler from his CD of the same name.

When asked to sample the Kamoa ‘ukulele that was going to be given away after the intermission, Aldrine showed off the tight, close to the ground style of playing he is known for by getting the audience yelling out “FASTER!”, “FASTER!”, “FASTER!” with his Crazy G instrumental. He showed off his comedic slant by doing his Qi Gong breathing, cross his heart and exercise routine before his final attempt. He out-raced himself.

Mark Perkins of Wainwright, Alberta, Canada won the Kamoa ‘ukulele. Well deserved! For several Mondays, he had been making a lot of donations for tickets to win the Kamoa ‘ukulele. So what did this generous winner do with the ‘ukulele after posing for a photo? He turned around and gave it to a most deserving teacher from Kapa’a Middle School, Mary Lardizabal, who every year takes an army of students from her music classes along with an army of parent chaperones to perform at the World Strides Heritage Music Festival at Disneyland on March 15-22. Don’t you just love it when you see a genuine show of Aloha extended to someone else?

Mary writes to us, “We loved EKK! The winner of the ‘ukulele gifted it to our program and we will be finding a creative way to give it to a student who will be very appreciative! I met Mark last year when he brought his daughter-in-law who played the fiddle. He plays piano. It was awesome. He came back with a friend of the family this year. Take care and bless you for the many years of your incredible love for the arts!”

After the intermission excitement, Aldrine and Kyle took the stage together. Maroon 5 – Sunday Morning is one of the songs they taught the ‘ukulele circle and is also one of Aldrine’s tour favorites; it gives him a chance to sing while playing the ‘ukulele.

The crowd went wild when they played Body Surfing, ‘ukulele master Ohta-san’s classic. It’s a favorite “rite of passage” song for ‘ukulele players to master with its lightning-fast tricky fingering which would be daunting for most but a real challenge to any ‘ukulele player who wants that song in his repertoire. Even Jake Shimabukuro played this song when he was part of the Pure Heart group with Jon Yamasato and Lopaka Colon.

By this time, Kyle and Aldrine were really cutting loose and having a great time. They did a face off, going back and forth with bluesy riffs, challenging each other to see who could come out on top. They both did. They played Don Miguel, one of Aldrine’s original composition on his CD about his world of imaginary super Heros. This was followed by Aldrine’s version of Dancing In the Moonlight which won him a Na Hoku Hanohano Award.

Time was up but the audience was not done; they called for a hana hou, so Aldrine asked, “What do you want?’’ Someone shouted, Europa! “We did that at the beginning!” Someone else shouted Wipe Out! “I’m a crowd pleaser . . . let’s play Wipe Out!, came back Aldrine. Not only were their hands a blur with their lightning-fast finger action but the two of them were hopping and jumping all over the stage like two frisky fleas. It wasn’t just their fingers; they were the “jumping fleas”!

What a night! Everyone calmed down with Hawai’i Aloha, and left the hotel premises just a little bit younger, just a lot more light-hearted, and just a great deal more appreciative of our up-and-coming young talents.

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E Kanikapila Kakou 2018 Hawaiian Music Program is funded in part by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, supported by the County of Kaua’i Office of Economic Development, the Kaua’i Beach Resort, and the GIAC/EKK supporters. Garden Island Arts Council programs are supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Hawai’i State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.