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Fest for ukes in Heyri

Korea’s first ukulele festival is to be held a special arts village in Gyeonggi-do this Saturday.

The Tra-la Ukelele Festival is to run from 1-9 p.m. in Heyri Cultural Village, Paju. The village is a designated space for writers, artists, architects, and musicians to work and live.

This weekend, more than 1,000 ukulele fans are expected to arrive at the village near the DMZ for the free event arranged by musician Ko Jong-Eui. 
Festival organizer Ko Jong-eui plays with his band the Gloomy 30’s. (Gloomy 30’s)
Festival organizer Ko Jong-eui plays with his band the Gloomy 30’s. (Gloomy 30’s)

The leader of the Gloomy 30’s ukulele band has organized the day to bring lovers of the four-stringed Hawaiian instrument together.

One of the organizers, Tommy Baik, who works for Ko’s Wiki Wiki Uke Company, said the last two years had seen a huge boom in the instrument in Korea.

There were around 30,000 members of Korean online forums dedicated to the instrument whose name roughly translates in Hawaiian as “jumping flea,” with 10,000 netizens having signed up in the last year alone.

“The ukulele has become very popular in Korea since last year,” Baik added. “The instrument has been in Korea for two or three years now but it became very popular in the last year as celebrities started playing it too.

“In the summer to fall a lot of people started buying the ukes and enjoying the music. It is popular because it is easy to play, makes a nice sound and is smaller than a guitar. We want to bring all the people who like ukuleles around the country together to enjoy the music.”

Local bands are to perform between 3-6 p.m. include Ukulele Picnic, Ha Lim, Healing Me, Nugcha, as well as Ko’s own Gloomy 30’s. They will be joined on the festival’s main stage by artists Seiji Katz, and Ukuleli Superjam from Japan, a country often considered a second home for the instrument.

Keen players can also take part in a ukulele idol competition from 2.30 p.m. for prizes including ukes and shirts. Raffles and other contests will give away ukuleles as prizes as well as two round-trip tickets to Hawaii where the winners will tour a ukulele factory during the event is part-supported by the Hawaii tourist board.

Amateurs and expert players will also join to learn a simple tune to play in an attempt to set a Korean Guinness Record for the most people playing the ukulele together at one time.

“We are not going to play a hard song, we will teach everyone the song when they get there and then see how many people can play it together,” said Baik.

“We want to get as many people playing and singing together as possible, but the festival is not only for people who can play the ukulele. We are hoping that people who don’t know much about the instrument will also come along to enjoy the music too.

“This is the first festival of its kind in Korea and a lot of people are really excited about it. We have been holding performances in areas such as Hongdae to promote the festival and we have had a lot of interest.”

Korean-made ukuleles from the Wiki Wiki Company will be sold alongside foreign brands with prices ranging from $100 to $1,000 each. There will also be hula dancing performances and a hula experience booth.

Foreigners attending the event will have the help of Japanese and English-speaking staff so they can enjoy all of the festival’s activities.

To get there, attendees are advised to take subway Line 2 to Hapjeong Station, then go to Exit 2 to take bus 220, 2200, or 900 to Heyri. The bus journey takes around 20 minutes. More information can be found on the Lu’au Ukulele Festival Facebook page or on the Twitter account @LUAUFESTIVAL.

By Kirsty Taylor (
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Korea Herald daum