The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Q&A with Ukulenny Featuring SF Uke-Splosion

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Q&A with Ukulenny Featuring SF Uke-Splosion

Just an hour south from Kala Headquarters in Northern California resides one of the hardest working musicians in the world of ukulele: Lendl (Lenny) San Jose - best known to the world as Ukulenny. Not only is he an accomplished vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, he’s a teacher, performer, collaborator, and one of the most active uke circle MCs on the West Coast. Kala connected with Ukulenny in 2015, and he has since become the talent of many of our Learn to Play instructional videos, our webstore product sound samples, and he serves as an incredible one man band for Kala at trade shows across the US.

Ukulenny engages a wide audience of ukulele enthusiasts, connecting with genuine presence and light-heartedness. He is a fun guy, yet a seriously diverse and fierce musician. Often he’ll woo an entire crowd on his own with the help of a loop pedal, mic, an ukulele or two, a U•BASS® and a saxophone. He draws from a range of hits and executes with boundless and infectious energy.

Kala is so grateful to have Ukulenny as part of our Kala Artist Family, and we are excited to be sponsoring an upcoming festival that he founded along with fellow ukulele star, Cynthia Lin. The 7th Annual SF Uke-splosion event takes place Saturday, June 29th on the Great Lawn in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens from 11 am - 4 pm.



A description from the event site:

The ukulele is truly the people’s instrument, and the popular SF Uke Jam is the Bay Area’s leading force bringing fans of the diminutive 4-string uke together. Whether you play or just enjoy hearing the ukulele strummed by trained fingers, come join the SFUJ community for an afternoon uke-apalooza in the summer sun. The Uke Jam is both a showcase for the region’s foremost ukulele talent and a community strum-and-sing-along (bring your uke!) accompanied by special hula performances. A musical collaboration spanning the Pacific Ocean, popular Honolulu YouTuber Cynthia Lin and the San Francisco Bay Area’s ebullient Ukulenny preside over the party. From jazz and bossa nova to Hawaiian classics and reggae remixes, SF Uke Jam creates an island-inspired cross-cultural sound, turning the ukadacious celebration into an archipelago of aloha.

This year’s event features an array of vendors from 11am-4pm, with music and performances from 12-3pm, featuring Aloha Uke Squad, Dos Pogi Boys, ‘Ahamele and of course, Cynthia and Ukulenny.”

We reached out to Ukulenny to find out more about the festival, his connection to Cynthia (who he also collaborates with in the band U3), and other insights on his career and love of ukulele:

 


When and how did you and Cynthia meet? 

I met Cynthia at an Asian American Singer Songwriter Showcase in Berkeley back in late 2010 when she was playing 6-string Baritone XL (aka the guitar!). I really loved her songwriting and voice and even covered her song “Skipping in NYC” on YouTube. We would reach out back and forth about jamming together and the following year we ended up forming a band, Cynthia Lin and the Blue Moon All Stars. We played some local shows and events, recorded an album, and also started building up the Bay Area ukulele community through our group, SF Uke Jam.

I was doing uke tutorials, Cynthia started up uke classes in SF, and it really started to pick up in the years 2013-16. I met Abe (Lagrimas, Jr.) at the Los Angeles International ‘Ukulele Festival in 2016 but the U3 bond began at the 2017 Palm Springs Ukulele Festival. Abe was playing the fest and Cynthia and I were checking it out as participants, and we all realized quickly that we were the only people in our age group. So we pretty much hung out for the whole weekend there and brought the party to Reno, too. Cynthia and I were planning our first official SF Uke Fest that year and we were able to add Abe to the lineup, as the amazing player, teacher, and drummer that he is. 

Can you tell us more about U3?

It was really fun to see U3 evolve over the years. We’d do regular jams in the Bay Area and Abe would be able to come up from LA to join us. Then we’d be doing the same festivals like LA or Mighty Uke Day in Michigan where we’d hang out and practice the night before to get our set together. After a while it really felt like we were a band even though we only spent a few days together each year. We started recording our album “In Waves” in 2019, taking a few meetups in SoCal and Cynthia adding the finishing touches in Hawaii. The album was released in 2020 (during the pandemic!) and we were all in different places - Cynthia in Honolulu, Abe in LA, and myself in Oakland. In 2023 we were able to come together for a West Coast tour and a few dates in Europe, and we’ll see where U3 goes next.


How did SF Uke-Splosion come to fruition?

We’re so lucky to partner with Yerba Buena Gardens Festival for the 7th SF Uke-splosion! YBGF produces over 100 programs each year on their beautiful outdoor stage and we just thought it was a perfect venue for a huge ukulele jam. Even more exciting - this is the first time we’re expanding the event with vendors and we’re grateful for Kala’s support in this year’s event.

We kicked it off in 2017 and it was so much fun that we did our best to lock it in as a yearly event. In the beginning the Uke-splosion was in the summer and our festival was in October. In 2019 we brought them together for an incredible weekend event, the SF Summer Uke Fest featuring Cynthia, Abe, Aldrine Guerrero, Aaron Nakamura, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, and Steven Espaniola. We hope to bring this legendary lineup back to SF sometime soon!

Tell us more about SF Uke Jam - how it got started, and how people can connect

Our jam group began at Pa’ina Restaurant in Japantown SF. I was performing there as a one man band and was trying to start up a uke jam. Cynthia was already teaching so she invited her class one evening, along with the local group SF Ukulele Rebellion, and SF Uke Jam was born. We started attracting jammers from all around the Bay Area, our Beatles Jam being the most popular event of the year. When we needed a bigger venue we moved to the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley and had Abe and Steven as regular Fab Four members. These days we mostly come together for SF Uke-splosion and the occasional holiday event, but the dream of SF Uke Fest lives on.

 

 

 

You’re a host, performer and teacher: What's currently your favorite aspect of your career in music?

It’s truly hard to pick a favorite. To me, there’s no greater feeling than to make music with others, so being a host or teaching others, enabling people to feel that joy, is really special. When I teach my weekly patreon lessons, I get to share my love of music and I also get to hear back from people on their musical journeys. Deep down, I think I’m a performer at heart. I could perform for hours at a time, which is what I’m usually doing when I’m out there representing with Kala. Currently I’m also enjoying the challenge of becoming a better performer, better singer, and I know this is an ukulele interview but I’m trying to be a better sax player as well.

What’s on the horizon in the coming months for Ukulenny?

I’m excited for the Reno Uke Fest with Dani Joy and Perry Stauffer! Otherwise I’m just strumming through life doing local gigs and events and watching our daughter start 2nd grade in the fall.

What advice do you have for the person just starting or interested in starting to play ukulele?

First off, make sure you get the Kala Mobile App and check out all our amazing Learn to Play resources!  If you’re brand new to a stringed instrument it helps to learn chords in a particular order, so guided courses are nice.

If you’re out there searching the vast stretches of the internet, find your ukulele spirit animal (person) and see if you can follow their path. There are so many great ukulele teachers on YouTube and if you find someone that resonates with you, you’ll enjoy their song choices and learn faster. 

Lastly, the best ability is availability - as in make your uke available as much as possible! Put it in a common place in your home where you’ll pick it up and practice. Bring it on the road or on trips where you might have some down time to run through songs or exercises. The more you play and put your fingers to the fretboard, the better you’ll get, so find a way to put the time in! When I was starting out I practiced a ton on our public transportation, the BART train. Hardly anyone noticed (unless I started leading the train in song), and I spent countless hours figuring the instrument out. Once you feel comfortable, try finding a group to play with as that’s another way to put in a lot of practice time and have fun doing it.

What Kala instruments are currently your favorite?

I love my Kala travel ukuleles because I can put them in a U•BASS bag and carry my Otamatones on the plane too! My Solid Body Electric Acacia Tenor uke also comes through on my gigs and I like the ability to go completely electric and use distortion without feedback.

 

 Anything else you’d like to share with the Kala audience?

I really have to say thank you to Kala for the continued support over the years, and shoutout to all the Kala fans out there. Let’s continue to spread the aloha and share the love of music through these amazing instruments!

 

 

June 24, 2024 by Ash Reyes
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