Building the Perfect Ukulele Adventure in Cuba!

First, let me introduce you to Frank Leto, who will be our musical guide, facilitator, and the lead instructor for our upcoming trip to Cuba with Ukulele Adventures.  We were looking for a musician who would be able to bridge the gap between us and local, Cuban musicians and a teacher capable of giving us practical, musical instruction in both ukulele and percussion, specifically based on the music we will be seeing during our stay in Cuba. Initially I thought I would need to hire two people to fill this dual role, until Daniel Ward recommended Frank Leto

Frank is a professional educator and a professional musician who plays Afro-Cuban percussion, Brazilian percussion, Trinidadian Steel Drums, and the ukulele!  His love for rhythms has taken him to Brazil, Puerto Rico and Cuba, where he has studied soneros with Carlos Embale, tres with Pancho Amat and batá with Carlos Aldama and Regino Jimenez at the Escuela Nacional de Arte.

The tres will be of particular interest to us. It is a 3-string Cuban guitar (it actually has 6 strings, but only 3 pitches—the strings are tuned in either octaves or unison) and is  the prime string instrument in son, an African-based musical style from Santiago de Cuba, (where members of the Buena Vista Social Club hail from!) Son music, which also features bongo, upright bass, and singers, adapts itself wonderfully to the ukulele.  So, there is no reason we won’t have our own son band by the end of our trip!

 

But that’s not all.  As most of you know, the grandfather of the ukulele is the cavaquinho, a 4-stringed instrument that was introduced to Hawai’i by Portuguese sailors. Well, those Portuguese sailors also took the cavanquino to Brazil, where it became prominent in Brazilian music, most notably the samba! And Brazilian samba is another one of Frank’s specialties! So,by the end of this trip we should all just be bursting with Latin and Caribbean rhythms.

We really couldn’t ask for more in a facilitator for our group, especially for those ready to improve their ukulele skills, expand their music knowledge base, and soak up the local culture. And, don’t forget, Frank Leto is also a professional music educator.  

Our local travel pros in Cuba are on the ground right now looking for just the right venues for us in Havana, Trinidad, and Matanzas.  We’ll be able to confirm exact dates once we can confirm availability. For right now we have narrowed down the window for this Ukulele Adventure to 10 – 12 days in December of 2019.

And what do we consider “just the right venue?”  A small hotel or inn in a lovely neighborhood where we can occupy all of the rooms and have a common meeting area for ukulele and percussion workshops AND be close to the local musical action!

If you are not already on our Ukulele Adventures Mailing List, you should sign up now.  The folks on the list are usually the first to hear when registration opens.

Stay tuned!

Three Down and Three to Go!

The first half of Ukulele Adventures 2018 has been nothing short of stellar.

Our first Kernville ‘Ukulele Blues and Harp Fest was a resounding success and reinforced the value of small-group retreats.  Plus, Catfish Jack!  What a great addition to our ‘ukulele family.  You’ll be seeing more of him, for sure. We already have dates for the 2019 Kernville event (March 7 – 10, 2019), so mark your calendar now! We’re committed to keeping it small and we expect to sell out, again.

And…then there was the “Love-in” at the West Coast ‘Ukulele Retreat at Asilomar  in May.  Wow! Just Wow!  Sonny Bono rose from the dead to do a tune with Cher. Grace Slick dazzled us with “White Rabbit.” And the ghost of Janis Joplin was lurking in the sidelines.  Plus, it was fun to see some of our favorite instructors sporting full heads of hair…..long, beautiful hair. According to Jim D’Ville (and he’s only missed one or two of them), this was the best one yet.

And how can you not love summer camp? Especially if there’s an ‘ukulele involved? Camp Oo-Koo-Lay-Lay gave us all a chance to explore our inner muse and child craft on the shores of beautiful Lake Berryessa. Next year’s dates are all set up, so please mark your calendars: June 19 – 24, 2019.  Again, it’s about keeping it small, personal, and manageable.

Next stop: Paris and the Ukein’ Bike & Barge Trip with Phil Doleman. We are all sold out except we do have a shared cabin available . . . . . with a man you are sure to like.  So, if you’re interested, please let me know ASAP.  This is going to be so much fun….I have wiped all the dust and grime off my bike, put air in the tires, and I take it for a little spin each day to make sure I’ll be ready. And Phil and I have been conferring on the ‘ukulele portion…..full of surprises…..it’s going to be great.  If you didn’t get signed up for this (or the 2019 Italy Ukein’ Bike & Barge Trip) in time, I am sorry.  But stay tuned (by making sure you havesubscribed to the website), I will be adding another.

We still have room for a few more at the Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat in Hawi and have just added Fred and Lynn Sokolow to an already stellar line-up that includes Brad Bordessa, Kaliko Beamer Trapp, Robyn Kneubuhl, Kona Bob, and Lehua Ahsam. There will be a healthy mix of traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, along with a whole lot of Tin Pan Alley, Blues, and Swing, and all the assorted skill sets necessary to play them well.  Robyn will also be teaching hula, Fred will be adding some slide ‘ukulele instruction, and Lynn will be offering some classes for bass players. In addition, attendees will have some unique opportunities to practice and perform with professional musicians. Registration for the Hawai’i Retreat is still open, but if you’d like to check to make sure there is a room available at the Kohala Village Inn first, you can visit their website. The last time I checked, they still had the following available: rooms with a single queen or two queens, or the Ohana suites (two rooms with a shared bathroom, suitable for 2, 3 or 4 people.)

And last, but in no way least, you should think about joining those merry ‘ukulele pranksters and practitioners, Daniel Ward, Heidi Swedberg, and Craig McClelland for our second installment of the New Uke-Culinary Fiesta in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 7 – 11. . . . .a chance to hone your ukulele chops while chopping onions for some delicious southwestern-inspired cuisine.  If you’re not sure what this might look like, you should check out the schedule.  We  still have room, but enrollment is limited to the capacity of El Paradero, our lovely ukulele home in Santa Fe.  You can register here.

That’s it for now! Hope you can join us on one our remaining Ukulele Adventures in 2018.  If not, perhaps we’ll see you in 2019!  We’ve got lots more ukulele fun in store for you in 2019!

A Full Year of Ukulele Adventures Coming Your Way

What makes the perfect ‘ukulele experience?

  • A terrific venue and extracurricular activities that take advantage of it!
  • Experienced instructors who go the extra mile to ensure their students’ success!
  • Itineraries that bring out the best in everything!
  • And enthusiastic and supportive people like you!

And so we bring you 2018!

The most fun you can have with your ‘ukulele on!

 

March 1 – 4, 2018

Ukulele Blues & Harmonica Fest

A unique opportunity to get your blues on, seriously, with Kevin Carroll and Catfish Jack at the iconic Pine Cone Inn in  Kernville, CA. Opportunities abound to improve your skills on ukulele and/or harmonica no matter what your level of skill.

May 2 – 6, 2018

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West Coast ‘Ukulele Retreat

This is the jewel in our ‘ukulele crown: four days of unparalleled learning opportunities for ukulele players at Asilomar, on the beautiful shores of Monterey Bay in Central California. Members of the staff are carefully chosen for their skill, experience, and commitment to their students, and the small class size ensures personal attention. Plus, we have the only teaching/recording studio for ukulele players in the world!

June 6 – 10, 2018

Camp O art

Camp Oo-Koo-Lay-Lay

It’s just what it sounds like! Ukulele summer camp for adults! Come camp with us on the shores of beautiful Lake Berryessa and take ukulele classes in the morning, swim a little in the lake, then more classes in the afternoon!  Plus all your typical summer camp hi-jinx!  Casual and fun!

Sept. 8 – 15, 2018

Ukein’, Barge, & Bike

Our first European Barge and Bike adventure, from Montargis to Paris with Europe’s top ukulele instructor/performer, Phil Doleman,  filled right away.  But don’t despair.  We have another one planned for 2019 in Italy and it’s not too late (or too soon) to get on board for that one! Please visit the website for information on how you can secure a place.

October 14 – 20, 2018

Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat

Our lovely venue at the Kohala Village Inn in Hawi, (far, far, from the maddening crowds) a small plantation town on the northern tip of Hawai’i Island, provides the perfect respite for full,’ukulele immersion with a talented staff that brings a delightful mix of traditional Hawaiian tunes and stories to a meeting of classical, blues, jazz, and contemporary music.  If you play the ‘ukulele, are looking for ways to play better,  and have a week to spend in Hawai’i, this one is for you.

November 7 – 11, 2018

The New-Uke-Culinary Fiesta

What do you do with two world class ukulele instructor/performers who hail from New Mexico and love to cook?  When they’re not teaching ‘ukulele, you throw an apron on them and send ’em to the kitchen to teach classes in Southwestern cuisine. And thus we have the “New” (to distinguish it from the original in Ajijic, Mexico) Uke-Culinary Fiesta, equal parts ‘ukulele, cooking (and eating), and exploration and immersion in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, with Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward.

Still on the fence?

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How much fun you can have with your ukulele on!

Let’s do it again!

We had so much fun at the first New Uke-Culinary Fiesta when we did it two years ago, we’re thinking of bringing it back in 2018!  

Here’s the teaser for the first one.  (The next one will be just as good…..if not better!)

saint-francis-cathedralIt’s a winning combination: ukuleles, food, photography, and overall merriment!  Add to that a stunning location, and it really can’t get much better!  So we’ve decided to take the Uke-Culinary Fiesta on the road and our next first stop is beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, in November, when the crowds have dissipated, the winter chill still has not yet settled in, and the sky and surrounding countryside may still be  awash with color.

mainhouselivroom_003And we have found the perfect place to host us, the Don Gaspar Inn, intimate, somewhat secluded, and yet within walking distance of the world famous Plaza and Canyon Road. It’s a perfect venue, where even those travelling alone will soon make long-lasting friends and everyone who attends will be connected by the simple bond of wanting to learn and make music (and fabulous meals) together.

10653609_10203445335831002_8538508260021329759_nAnd the staff!  Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward are an ukulele match made in heaven. Talent, experience, diligence, generosity, creativity, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And they cover all the bases–fabulous teachers with years and years of experience in a broad range of skills and genres. In a field full of rising “stars,” these two really shine!  They love to cook and are every bit as much fun in the kitchen as in the classroom.  And, Craig McClelland has just joined the staff, as well, and is bringing a pocket full of fun and informative workshops, including, “Uke Can Be As Cool As Craig.”  Rounding out Smoking Jackets quartet for our evening at Tiny’s,  is John Bartlitt. I can’t tell you how much fun he is……you’ll just have to come see for yourself.

We’ll also spend an evening with Rolling Stone Magazine’s first chief photographer, Baron Wolman.  Boy, does he ever have some great stories to tell.  Jimi Hendrix. Frank Zappa. Janice Joplin. And yes, Tiny Tim! Baron took pictures of them all!

And how are you going to get there?  Fly into Albuquerque on Day 1 and join Heidi and Daniel on the Rail Runner Express for a beautiful and musical ride through the stunning countryside of southern New Mexico.  We’ll pick you up at the train station in Santa Fe and a traditional Chimayo cocktail will be waiting for you at the Don Gaspar Inn.

10400802_10203255627168404_4420817113877618347_nUkulele workshops will be available for those on beginning, intermediate, and advanced tracks. Those wanting to cook will learn all about Southwestern cuisine, barbecuing techniques, and a few tricks from behind the bar. In addition to cooking workshops, for those who don’t play the ukulele, there will be plenty of opportunities to explore beautiful Santa Fe and its environs.

If you haven’t done so, already, be sure to Follow the Blog or Subscribe to the website so we can be sure to keep you posted!

Viva Mexico y los Ukuleles!

Do you want to see how much fun you can have on an ukulele adventure with us?  Then check this out.

If you want to keep abreast of future Ukulele Adventures like this one, be sure to follow our blog.

And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Our Kids in Ajijic!

10997514_10203554550601303_1007189091242818830_nAs many of you know, one of the missions of La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta in Ajijic  was to establish an ‘ukulele program for the local kids in Ajijc.  And did we ever!

Kids 2Our role was actually quite small: Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward did a concert at a local school and each of the retreat attendees brought an Ohana ‘ukulele from the U.S. and presented it to the kids after the concert.  The looks on their faces were precious. And that was it…..but it was just the little spark that was needed.

Lalo and HeidiFrom there the budding (at the time) local ‘ukulele community, Club Ukulele Laguna (CUL), under the direction of Sheila Ruof, Judy King, and Kay Epps Headley, took over.  They interviewed and hired a director for the program, a young man whom we call “Lalo,”  a young man who, in addition to being a fabulous musician, has turned out to be a wonderful force in the lives of these young people–a stern, but loving task master.  And the members of CUL  continue to raise money so that Lalo remains gainfully employed by the program, while the directors keep a watchful eye on everything that goes on.

And this is the wonderful result:  the first-ever concert by the Academia de Ukuleles de la Ribera.  (By the way, tickets are 100 pesos, not US dollars–the kids are good…..but not that good!)

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We could not be any prouder!

Day 4 – Another Tequila Sunrise

Sunrise is going to offer some amazing views at Lake Chapala and its environs for the photographers willing to hit the road with Jordan at 6:30 am and still be back in time for breakfast at Casa del Sol.  But today’s Palabra del Dia will be with reporter Judy King, who has lived at Lake Chapala for 25 years and will give us the inside scoop on life as a Gringo in Mexico.

lady-organic-marketThen we’re heading out with our local chef, Oscar, for a quick visit the organic farmers’ market to learn about some of the fresh produce that may be new to us, to shop for the midday meal, and sample some of the other wares. (You might also want to pick up a few snacks and drinks for yourself!  It all looks so fresh and delicious.) Then it’s back to Casa del Sol for a couple more workshops with Heidi, Daniel and Oscar before we eat!

This time Oscar will be working with the more beginning ukulele students, while Heidi, and Daniel take on the rest with a choice of Finding and Freeing your Voice or Bossa Nova Training Wheels, followed by Spooky or Tuesday’s Just as Bad.

Plaza band stand gazeboThat midday siesta will be pretty welcome today, especially since we’ll be following it up with another band practice before heading out to the Plaza Band Stand, where we will be the featured performers! Heidi and Daniel have put together a Songbook of Tunes for us to play from and some of the songs will come right out of the workshops, so you’ll have a chance to practice and play before the really big sheeeeeew!  If you’re serious about performing…that will come later.  This event is really just about participating and letting anyone passing by see just how much fun a bunch of adults can have with an ukulele in their hands.  (My teen-aged son calls us “Old People Gone Wild!”)

Then we are in for a special dinner treat as Sheila Ruoff, our boots on the ground in Ajijic, will take us to her very favorite “hole-in-the-wall” (not its official name but the only one that has stuck over the years) for an authentic, and oh-so delicious, Mexican repast of tamales, empanadas, and more, produced by three local and charming women in a rustic village dwelling.  Despite its humble surroundings, this is a favorite among the gringos who live in Ajijic. But if the rusticity makes you squeamish, there are plenty of other fine dining establishments for you to try.

By the end of this day, I think we will be thoroughly pooped, and a quiet evening back at Casa del Sol will be just the thing.

Here’s the scoop on the day’s ukulele workshops:

BOSSA NOVA TRAINING WHEELS

keep-calm-and-blame-it-on-the-bossa-novaLike champagne, the Bossa Nova goes with everything and gives it a little class. . . . .not to mention sex appeal.) And, it’s  not that difficult to learn, either. For this workshop Daniel Ward has put together a series of simple, but sexy plucking patterns that will give all your uke-playing a Brazilian Wax!  And you’ll be astonished at all the music it works with: jazz, folk, and tons of other songs you already know!  And when you start getting all that attention when you get back home, you can just “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.”  (Daniel Ward – Level 2 – 4)

FINDING AND FREEING YOUR VOICE
It turns out, that if you can speak, then you can sing and in this workshop Heidi Swedberg (who doesn’t seem to have any trouble being heard) will teach you some well-honed techniques and exercises to help you raise your voice.  Come on!  You know it’s in there somewhere!  (Heidi Swedberg – All Levels)

SPOOKY: Playing in the Minor Leagues

Let’s get down and dark and expand our musical repertoire by pulling up some possibilities from the minor keys. In this workshop you will learn a little about the Circle of Fifths, but more importantly you will learn how those eerie minor chords not only add interest to the songs you are playing, but are (and can be) used to alter the mood and meaning, entirely. And you thought “You are my Sunshine” was a happy song……..wait until you hear it played in the minor key. (Heidi Swedberg – Level 2-4)

AND TUESDAY’S JUST AS BAD

This is a continuation of Daniel Ward’s Stormy Monday workshop where participants will have already learned the foundation of playing the blues and will now have an opportunity to expand on the lessons learned with an even more advanced set of skills so Wednesday won’t be worse and Thursday won’t be sad.  Check out the video with T-Bone Walker to see what we’re talking about.  (Daniel Ward – Level 3 – 4)