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Malibu ukulele orchestra strums up fun

Craig “Crash” Hattori (left) and Matteo Indelicato tune up their ukuleles at Malibu Divers on Wednesday, June 25. Photos by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Craig “Crash” Hattori (left to right) Carter Crary and Matteo Indelicato play their ukuleles at Malibu Divers on Wednesday, June 25.
Chris Bashaw, Assistant Editor
11:33 am PDT July 8, 2014

After a Thanksgiving meal six or seven years ago, by Matteo Indelicato’s recollection, his brother was saying his goodbyes and getting ready to depart back to Hawaii, where he lived. 

“No bro, we gotta hit up some more waves before you go,” Indelicato implored to his brother.

The appeal was considered, but ultimately declined as Indelicato’s brother packed up his car and slid a ukulele case into the back seat.

After a few more attempts, Indelicato pulled his trump card and swept his brother’s ukulele from the backseat and teased him within eyeshot of the rear-view mirror as his brother drove away.

“I figured he was going to stop, but instead he threw the pitch pipe out the window and kept on driving,” Indelicato said. “I knew I was going to see him for Christmas in a month and a half, so I thought I’d learn a couple of songs to surprise him when I showed up in Hawaii for Christmas.”

He didn’t know it at the time, but the incident sparked Indelicato’s passion for the ukulele and would ultimately lead him to co-founding the Malibu Ukulele Orchestra with Carter Crary.

Crary, owner of Malibu Divers, said his first brush with the ukulele came from memories of his father playing it on the Ed Sullivan Show. Never having played an instrument before, Crary decided four years ago to try his own hand at the instrument.

“I thought I could handle four strings, plus it would be fun to do something my dad used to do,” he said.

One day nearly three years ago, Indelicato walked into Malibu Divers for a tune-up scuba diving class, where he met a ukulele-strumming Crary.

“Because of our friendship through the ukulele, I ended up becoming a dive master, an instructor and I’m now working at Malibu Divers,” Indelicato said. “It all started because of the ukulele.”

The power of the little, happy-sounding four-stringed instrument that seems to instantly bond people also wasn’t lost on Craig “Crash” Hattori, who strums a ukulele at his vintage Hawaiian clothing store in Westlake Village, reAloha Shirts, when he’s not playing with Crary, Indelicato and the rest of the orchestra.

Preferring to go by Crash, the first member to join the Malibu Ukulele Orchestra said ukulele players – in his experience – seem to all share a sort of unspoken bond between one another.

“I think as a ukulele player, it’s one of those things that if you play, you have this instant camaraderie with other players anywhere you go,” he said. “You can sit in with any group and play, and it doesn’t matter where it is – that’s one of the draws for us: You can go anywhere and if you pull it out and someone else has one, you can just start strumming with them.”

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on approximately every second and fourth Wednesday per month on the upstairs floor of Malibu Divers at 21231 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

“I love playing with these guys,” Crary said. “We have a bit of history now, we all know some songs and it’s really fun. For me, there’s something that happens when we play a song together and it works. It’s just great.”

While some ukulele groups might focus on traditional or contemporary Hawaiian songs, members of Malibu’s orchestra like to focus on the kinds of music they know and love.

“I think a lot of us come from mostly rock and roll backgrounds, so it’s stuff we know and have fun with,” Indelicato said. “Other groups might do more traditional Hawaiian songs, ours are rooted in what we just think is fun.”

The songs the group members transpose to the ukulele come from artists such as The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Byrds, Social Distortion as well as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

“You can transpose anything to ukulele if you get the right strum pattern,” Indelicato said while chopping out a riff of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” “You can really make it your own to where it fits the ukulele. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong in music.”

If Malibu residents or anyone else is interested in joining the Malibu Ukulele Orchestra, Crary encourages them to show up at the dive shop on a second or fourth Wednesday – no matter their skill level.

“We would love to play with new people, even if they’re stone-cold beginners,” he said. “That’s the great thing about the instrument: You can take someone and in an hour or two, you can show them three or four basic chords, a basic strum and can have them playing.”