The spirit of aloha filled the Malibu Library Thursday afternoon—first with a Polynesian dance demonstration and show and then with a concert on the courtyard featuring our town’s one and only Malibu Ukulele Orchestra (MUO).
There were plenty of smiles and a lot of people singing along to the group’s upbeat set list, including “Octopus’ Garden,” “Happy Together” and “I’m a Believer.” The group’s upbeat vibe and uniform of Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops is unlike a traditional orchestra, and features some off-beat instruments including a few banjoes and the infrequently seen “gut bucket”—a one-stringed bass instrument made from a wash basin and mop handle.
One of MUO’s cofounders, Carter Crary, only started playing ukulele about five years ago. He said one of his earliest childhood memories is seeing his father play the (as he pronounces it) ooh-ku-ley-ley on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” He brought the little four-stringed instrument into his store, Malibu Divers, where people would often comment to him that they too played or wished they could. It wasn’t long after cofounder and now co-worker Matteo Indelicato walked into the shop and said he loved ukulele and was a player that the MUO was born. The group meets every other Wednesday night above Malibu Divers on Pacific Coast Highway and has about 10 regular players. On alternate Wednesday evenings, Crary leads what he calls his JV (or junior varsity) group of less seasoned players. This is the group’s third time playing at the Malibu Library.
“We don’t make too many public appearances,” Crary described. “We’ve played a couple of private parties and played a few times at the old bookstore that was in Point Dume.”
MUO member T.J. Jones of Burbank is a scuba diver and has known Crary for years.
“One day, Crary said, ‘You should come hear my band.’ I said, ‘What kind of band do you have?’ and he said a ukulele band,” Jones recalled. “I’d been playing the ukulele and asked him, ‘Do you know I’ve been playing ukulele?’ So I went to one of his shows a couple of years ago and was asked to play and I just slotted right in and have been playing with them ever since.”
Jones drives into Malibu twice a month for rehearsals, or more times if there’s a gig. He calls the MUO “a source of great joy.”
“No matter what’s going on in my day, I can pick this up and I’m going to be in a good mood,” he said.
As a player for only six years, Jones said there is still plenty to learn.
“It is an instrument that almost anyone can pick up and learn to play a couple of basic songs in a hurry, and yet it still has the ability in the hands of a virtuoso to blow your mind,” he described.
Explaining the best learning environment is to play together in a supportive group, Crary added, “It pushes you a bit beyond your limits. That’s when you get better.” There are no auditions to join.
“It’s a share aloha” experience he said—anyone is welcome to stop by. “You can’t help but smile when you play it. It’s a good thing.”
Cofounder Matteo Indelicato joked about his ukulele.
“It was originally a guitar that I threw in the washing machine with hot water and it shrunk to a four-string,” he laughed. “You can take it to parties and everybody loves it.”