Uji, aka Luis Maurette, lands at Nectar tonight, and at Imagine Orcas Island festival in September.
Uji, aka Luis Maurette, lands at Nectar tonight. Andres Knob

Orcas Island is having a moment. It’s one of the New York Times' 52 Places to Go in 2019. Last year, Oprah bought a $8.275-million house there that she only visited for the first time last week. (O—if you need a housesitter, I’m available.) There’s also a damn good film festival.

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But the allure of Orcas—the biggest of the San Juan Islands, named for Horcasitas, aka Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1791—is old news to Luis Maurette, an out-of-town Argentine musician who makes hypnotic digital folklore as Uji. He will be headlining a show at Nectar Lounge tonight on a double bill with our favorite in-town Argentine musician, psychedelic cumbia sensation Terror/Cactus.

The show is a pre-party for Imagine Orcas Island, a low-key West Coast-style don’t-forget-your-hoop festival entering its fifth year this September. The intimate affair will gather in the cozy confines of Doe Bay Resort, a postcard waterfront sanctuary that exudes the purest form of PNW R&R—though I’m biased because I spent my honeymoon there.

Maurette played at Imagine last year, performing his lugubrious laments inflected with Andean flutes, strings, and drums, all polished with just the right amount of electronic sheen. It was an experience he gushes over and hopes to capture in his Nectar set.

“There’s nothing like dancing under the stars between the woods and the ocean,” he says. “As a musician and a performer I do my best to set up a space, portal, or vibration with my music—but I can’t do everything. The circumstances, the conditions really change the experience—being outside under the stars or under the rain—there’s something very special about that.”

For Maurette, playing solo on Orcas was a matter of coming full circle. In 2015, Maurette and Colombian singer Alejandra Ortiz released Orcas, the final studio album of their duo, Lulacruza. The capstone of a magnetic musical partnership that began at the Berklee College of Music, Orcas is an understated gem. The album is a moving paean to the island and its environs sung in Spanish, the same language that the earliest European explorers would have used to describe the wooded archipelago nestled between Vancouver Island and the continent. The birdsong and gently plucked guitar on “Uno Resuena” nearly brings me to tears every time.

How did a Colombian-Argentine duo ended up recording an audio homage to Orcas Island? In 2010, Lulacruza played Beloved, a kindred festival to Imagine that posts up in the Coast Mountains of Oregon. (It unspooled this past weekend, and Uji will be fresh off a Beloved appearance when he takes the stage at Nectar.) They were a last-minute replacement on the lineup playing their first-ever show in the Pacific Northwest.

Among those in the audience for their transcendent sunrise set? Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt, who lives on Orcas. He helped them land a gig on the island the next year. “When we get to Orcas we were right away taken aback by its beauty,” Maurette says. “It’s not only beautiful but energetically powerful.”

Pavitt brokered access to a state-of-the-art recording studio, where Maurette and Ortiz luxuriated in the landscape for several months in 2012 to record Orcas.

Maurette and Ortiz have since gone their separate ways, but that fateful booking at Beloved almost a decade ago forged a bond with an artist from 7,000 miles away. “From there on, our whole relationship with the Northwest changed and it became one of the areas where we came back again and again and again,” he says. Maurette’s solo debut in the Northwest as Uji came at Cascadia NW Music & Arts Festival, where he met Imagine founder Darin Leong.

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For all of Nectar’s charms—from the wide-open garage door to the outdoor fire pit to their decision to stock Argentina’s national spirit, Fernet Branca—it’s still in the middle of Fremont, not the middle of Orcas. That, Maurette says, will influence his sound.

“When I play club shows I tend to play a little bit harder, there is something more urban or city-like that happens,” he says. The flip side is that clubs like Nectar boast a precision sound system that can be hard to fine tune on an outdoor stage. “There is an immersive sonic experience because of a good sound system—you can really dance hard,” he says.

The island lover doesn’t hide his preferences, though—“But I always prefer to play outside if there is a possibility.” And for a flavor of that, you’ll have to a hop a ferry or a seaplane to Orcas next month.

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