Tranquil strums of the ukulele, lively Middle Eastern riqq beats and jazzy piano textures all make up a palette of sounds quite familiar to fourth-year individual studies student Lindsey Kunisaki.
Alongside musicians she met throughout her time as a UCLA undergraduate, Kunisaki will lead a three-part performance of Jamaican, Middle Eastern and contemporary jazz music at the Fowler Museum on Thursday.
During the performance, Kunisaki will sing and play ukulele with rocksteady trio The Kitchenette, play percussion with Middle Eastern group Takht Dirty and provide vocals and piano alongside a six-piece string ensemble.
“I want to give each of them their own time to shine because it’s really not just about me, it’s about all the people that I’ve played with and all of the relationships that I’ve built,” Kunisaki said.
During her second year at UCLA, Kunisaki created her own major in the School of Arts and Architecture and added a visual and performing arts education minor, enabling more flexibility in her range of coursework.
In high school, Kunisaki said she played in several types of bands including a pop punk and reggae band where she played guitar and was unexpectedly forced to become a singer.
Kunisaki said some of her strongest influences include rocksteady band The Slackers, ska group Westbound Train and L.A. reggae band The Aggrolites.
“I draw inspiration from contemporary artists who have been doing interesting things in reviving the rocksteady movement, which originated in Jamaica around the 1960s and 1970s and is the predecessor to reggae,” Kunisaki said.
Bassist and second-year ethnomusicology student Nicolo Scolieri performed previously with Kunisaki in the reggae band The Kitchenette.
“It’s good to get back together with her and play with her again even as a trio,” Scolieri said. “It’s different but the groove is still there and that’s what matters.”
Scolieri said Kunisaki is knowledgeable on the history of reggae and Jamaican music.
“On some of these tunes, I am playing every note and hitting every single downbeat, so it’s a totally different vibe from a lot of modern reggae,” Scolieri said.
Fourth-year ethnomusicology student and violinist of Takht Dirty Zo Anthony Shay said Kunisaki’s original work is funky and has a great groove. Shay said he enjoys how Kunisaki’s music leaves room for improvisation throughout the show.
“As someone who is playing the music, it is really great because I can play the song but also jam to it, so it flows naturally,” Shay said.
With Takht Dirty, Kunisaki learned to play a cross between the drum and tambourine called the riqq. After performing mallet percussion for 10 years, Kunisaki said the switch to the riqq became a part of her musical identity.
In the third act of the show, Kunisaki will sing original material and play piano with a six-piece group that includes two violins, a viola, cello, upright bass and drums.
Inspiration for this part of the show comes from some of the modern jazz that Kunisaki said her peers and colleagues have shown her in the past few years.
“Since I’ve been (at UCLA), I’ve taken a handful of jazz and world music composition classes, and I think that for me has really opened a lot of doors in terms of not just what I write but what I listen to,” Kunisaki said.
In assembling a three-part show with different groups of musicians, Kunisaki said she wanted her musicians to have a pleasant experience in rehearsal leading up to the show.
Kunisaki said she spends as much time formatting and making sure her sheet music is spaced nicely as she does writing the music.
“What I’ve come to realize in the last few years is that what makes the difference between a smooth rehearsal and a train wreck can be the sheet music itself,” Kunisaki said.
Having never performed many of her original pieces, Kunisaki said she is excited to show the UCLA community what she has been working on over the past year.
“I’m making this to be a culminating performance of my undergraduate experience, so in some ways it’s kind of different from a senior recital,” Kunisaki said. “I see it more as formal performance than say a coffee shop show.”