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Gift Guide: Music, Dance and DJ Gifts in Silicon Valley

In Culture
Photo by Geoffrey Smith II.

Photo by Geoffrey Smith II.

Unless a person’s list includes that impossible-to-buy-for music fanatic who has every CD almost before it’s released, music is always a safe bet for gift-giving, because who doesn’t love music? Even then, that fanatic can’t own every new musical memoir, or know how to breakdance, or play a strumstick or taiko drum. We’ve compiled a list for listening, reading and making music—there should be something that’s new, even for that fanatic.

Taiko Drumming
San Jose Taiko, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is one of the oldest taiko companies in the country. Known for incorporating diverse musical influences into traditional Japanese taiko drumming, the group most recently wowed the South Bay in a collaboration with local electro hip-hop crew, the Bangerz. San Jose Taiko offers lessons, including adult classes that last eight weeks ($240) and single workshops ($50). For children, there’s a summer program ($375). Options for non-drummers include tickets to the company’s spring concert, Rhythm Spirit (March 21) or items from the company’s online store (taiko.org), which sells San Jose Taiko CDs and DVDs ($9-$25) and T-shirts, including one designed by local art collective CUKUI to commemorate the SJ Taiko/Bangerz collaboration ($32).

DJ and Lighting Kits
DJs play packed venues these days. But getting started as pro can be an intimidating and expensive venture. There’s gear, software and, of course, lighting—a good place to begin amassing this equipment is the well-stocked Dynamic Sound and Lighting in downtown San Jose. Their DJ gear starts at $299.99 (American Audio VMS2). Software ranges from $49.95 (Serato) to $699.99 (Scratch Live SL3 Interface). Single lights start at $49.99 (American DJ Pinspot LED), though for $399.99 there is a nice four-light multi-color system (American DJ Mega Par Profile System). A nice bonus would be a fog machine, and Dynamic has plenty—they range from $79.99-$999.99.

Learn an Instrument
Electric guitars, drums, keyboards and saxophones can all be found at any music store. But what might make an even better gift is one of the less common instruments. The San Jose Rock Shop has a nice selection of banjos. Ukuleles have been making a comeback in a major way. They are at nearly every music store, but over in Japantown there is an entire shop, Ukulele Source, dedicated to the petite stringed instruments. They have every major brand and several instructional books (Beatles songs sound particularly great transcribed to ukulele). The Music Village in San Jose is another hot spot for atypical instruments. They carry accordions, autoharps, Suzuki Q Chords, melodicas and right now they are featuring a relatively new instrument called the Strumstick, which looks like a really long, really narrow three-string acoustic guitar.

Local Music Store gift cards
Despite what naysayers have been claiming for the past decade, music stores have not gone away, particularly local independent record stores, which have outlasted Tower Records and The Wherehouse Music. A gift certificate to one of the South Bay’s great indie music stores—On the Corner Music, Streetlight and Rasputin’s—is a gift of experiencing music in a different way: Looking through rows of albums, getting recommendations from the staff, even in some cases watching live bands perform while shopping.

Concert Tickets
As far as stocking stuffers go, there’s no better gift than concert tickets. There are a number of big name shows headed to town in early 2014 that are currently on sale at SAP Center, including: soul-singer Justin Timberlake, Jan. 19; country singer George Strait, Jan 30; R&B singer Demi Lovato, Feb 11; alternative rock band Imagine Dragons, Feb 13 and what’s-she-gonna-do-next pop icon Miley Cyrus, Feb 25. The San Jose Civic hosts prog-rockers Styx on Feb 6 and alt-rock legends the Pixies, Feb 22.

New Rock Memoirs
Rockumentaries are great, but there’s nothing quite as intimate as reading a musician’s memoir. This year there are a lot of new books to choose from, and a handful of great local indie bookstores to choose from: Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Books, Inc in Mountain View and Palo Alto and Bell’s Book in Palo Alto (also Barnes and Noble, which isn’t independent, but they do have a good selection). Just a handful of this year’s memoirs include Autobiography by Morrissey, Eminent Hipsters by Steely Dan’s Dan Fagen, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life by Graham Nash, and Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, by the Roots’ Questlove. Also David Byrne wrote a peculiar book called How Music Works, which is the typical eccentric artist meditating on the mechanisms of music. And for Beatles fans, Universal Music has released a book of their BBC Transcripts from 1962-1970, compiled by Kevin Howlett.

Dance Classes
Dance clubs can be intimidating for people who don’t have the skills, but the only way to get better is to practice. Dance lessons are a great third option. There are a lot of studios in San Jose that offer, not only dance lessons, but much cooler alternatives to ballroom dancing and country line dancing. Wicked Dance and Fitness offers jazz, hip-hop and sensual dance ($44 per class). Orchid will teach people the traditional belly dance methods ($55 for five classes). Over in downtown San Jose, Island Moves is teaching interested participants a whole variety of Hawaiian dance moves. Ariel Dance Productions in Campbell offers several different classes in different dances (even ballroom dancing) but a particular highlight is breakdancing (approx. $15 per class).

Capoeira
Some people have taken every dance class available. But one they probably haven’t taken is the Brazilian art form known as Capoeira, which is being offered at Capoeira Irmandade in San Jose. (five classes for $60). Capoeira isn’t wholly a dance. In fact, it is technically a martial art. In some variations of Capoeira, people can actually fight, like karate or judo, but there is also a “game version” which more closely resembles a breakdancing-style spar, where the players dance at and with each other, using the Capoeira techniques. The moves are highly physical, fluid and unlike anything else. Capoeira has a long, rich history that dates back hundreds of years to Africa, from which it came to Brazil via the slave trade. Brazil eventually banned it, but later embraced it as a key component of its culture. In recent years, Capoeira has been exported to countries all over the world. capoeirairmandade.com

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