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Ong Kar Walen

Back when he was known as Ken, Ong Kar Walen grew up with eight siblings on his family's commercial orchard outside of Salem. He got his start in tree work as a teen, went into business for himself at 21, and still climbs trees 40 years on. As a Sikh in the 70s, he took the name Ong Kar (in tune with creation), taught yoga, practiced martial arts, and helped start ashrams in Salem and Coos Bay. "In '79 I took the turban off," says Walen, who left the ashram life, got into reggae music and big parties, and onto the security crew at the Oregon Country Fair. In 1986, he first heard marimba music by Zimbabwean Dumi Maraire. "I had to learn to play," he says. "This music is the closest thing there is to meditating." Walen took lessons from members of the band Shumba, who had studied with Dumi. A year later, he launched his own band, Kudana. "I taught lessons and built all the instruments," he says. "And I overcame extreme stage fright." Over 24 years, 90-plus people have been members of the band. Kudana has four appearances scheduled for this year's OCF. Check your Peach Pit! Walen retired last year as coordinator of security for the fair, but will return this season to help with the transition.

happening people

photograph and story by Paul Neevel

Eugene Weekly / 9 June 2011

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