U3, a ukulele supergroup of Abe Lagrimas Jr., Cynthia Lin and Ukulenny play at the Freight Sat. May 13. Credit: Alumiere Media

Freight & Salvage shines the spotlight on music ranging from Hawaii to India, in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month this May.  And it’s not just about listening — there are classes for playing as well.

Longtime ukulele instructor at the Freight, Hiram Bell, has dedicated his life to spreading the joy of Hawaiian mele (music) to people of all backgrounds. Bell teaches beginner to advanced ukulele classes at the Freight throughout the year and the current session runs Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout May and June, starting May 3

“As a ukulele teacher, it is satisfying to know that I am extending the aloha experience to other ethnic groups,” Bell said. “Hawaiian mele is a wonderful way to tell the folk stories of the Hawaiian culture and history.” 

Hiram Bell teaches ukulele at The Freight, with new sessions starting May 3 and 4. Credit: Kit Bell

Hawaiian music in concert

Paula Fuga, a Hawaiian singer-songwriter who has been compared to artists like Lauryn Hill and Tracy Chapman, will make her Freight debut on Friday, May 12. (Listen online.) Fuga’s music is deeply rooted in her Hawaiian heritage, and she often sings in both English and Hawaiian to showcase the beauty and complexity of the Hawaiian language.

Fuga is passionate about using her music to raise awareness about social and environmental issues, and she sees her role as a musician as being tied to her identity as a Hawaiian.

Paula Fuga, a Hawaiian singer-songwriter, performs at the Freight Friday, May 12. Credit: Sean Michael Hower

The next day, U3, a ukulele supergroup of Cynthia Lin, Abe Lagrimas Jr., and Ukulenny, explore new possibilities in ukulele music. The group combines elements of jazz, blues, and pop with traditional Hawaiian ukulele music to create a sound that is both contemporary and rooted in tradition. U3 performs a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, May 13

Raga-infused chamber music

̛Later this month, Spruce Ritual by the local violinist, vocalist, and composer, Lucian Kano Balmer, is a heartfelt dance between western classical and North Indian classical music. His new album will be celebrated in performance at the Freight on Sunday, May 21

“My music is often referred to as ‘raga-infused chamber music,’” Balmer said. “Western classical music blended with North Indian Classical Music.” 

While the album is centered around violin, viola, and cello — the string instrument family at the heart of Romantic-era chamber music — Balmer seamlessly integrates the sounds of the sitar and the tabla, two pillars of Indian classical music. The recordings do not contain lyrics, but the human voice is also a prominent instrument on this album. This is thanks to the use of sargam, in which the notes of the composition are sung. 

Lucian Kano Balmer leads a group with Ivo Bokulic on violin, Hannah Addario-Berry on cello, percussionist Josh Mellinger, and Will Marsh on sitar, on Sun. May 21. Credits: Balmer by Rob Perica, top row by Samsun Van Loon, and bottom row courtesy of Freight & Salvage.

“My earliest forays into Hindustani/North Indian Classical music were asking for cassette tape and CD recommendations from store owners on University Ave.,” Balmer said. “I was 14 years old at the time.”

Growing up in Berkeley, Balmer played with Karen Wells in Berkeley High School’s orchestra, as well as in the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra. 

Diving deeper into his interest in North Indian Classical music, Balmer said that, “rather than going the conservatory route, I got caught up with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. I memorized and performed over 4,000 songs in Bengali and Sanskrit and arranged music for ensembles and choirs for both amateur and professional musicians.”

His blending of music styles echoes his own family background. Being half-Japanese — he called his mom part of the “Japanese hippie expat community in Berkeley” — he was raised in multiple cultures. 

“Being Japanese-American means appreciating and practicing the language and values of my ancestors, and incorporating them into my American lifestyle when I can.”