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Jake Shimabukuro at Aloha Tower Marketplace

July 7, 2008

First off, yes, the ukulele is, on the surface, a rather gay instrument. It’s a toy guitar, for christ’s sake. The sight of island legend IZ, a Samoan in the truest sense, pawing a ukulele, is, to the non-islander, nearly comical.

That said, I was mega-stoked to see virtuoso ukulele meister Jake Shimabukuro at the pre-fourth festivities at Aloha Tower Marketplace. He is to the ukulele what Bela Fleck is to the banjo – in fact, they have toured together. Like Bela, Jake has not been content to let his chosen instrument be defined by the traditional music attached to it. Yes, he is a master of local island music, and everything he plays is necessarily inflected with aloha, but his play is freed of genre, crossing into jazz, rock and classical.

Caveat on Aloha Tower: I had heard that the shopping/entertainment center was, like many local, tourist-dependent businesses, struggling to compete in challenging times. Its location is a mixed blessing – superb on-the-harbor setting with historical cred, but far from Waikiki, not easily accessible and nearly invisible from Nimitz Highway. It hasn’t done a great job of cashing in on the locational strengths and innovated enough to give folks – local or non – a compelling reason to make the trek.

This was evident in the way the whole event was managed. Ostensibly it was a pre-fourth celebration with fireworks and Jake as centerpiece entertainer. But there were numerous stages throughout the facility, none clearly marked. Luckily I stumbled upon the modest waterfront stage where Jake’s performance was already underway. But what was this? Not 100 yards away, on-stage at Gordon Biersch’s, a soul-funk band was pounding out the Top 20 party classics. Suffice to say it is a bit hard to enjoy the nuances of a solo ukulele when Play That Funky Music White Boy is blasting in your other ear.

Jake, humble, good-natured soul that he is, took it all in stride, joking it off.

And then, in mid-show, Jake was suddenly joined by the VERY EXCITED KCCN FM 100 MC who loves Jake’s music so much he decided to take ten minutes out of his timeslot to share it with everyone – and thank the sponsors – plus, a free ukulele giveaway! Sheesh. It didn’t seem that Jake had even been informed this was going to happen, but again he rolled with it.

The shabby setup made me wonder if there was any ill will toward the local-boy-made-good who spends most of his time these days touring the mainland… Or was it just bad organizing?

And then Jake played his finale: Star Spangled Banner. It wasn’t Hendrix or anything, but goddamn he sure does make that little guitar sing.

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