No joke: ukuleles amaze and inspire

Jake Shimabukuro in performance in 2010. Photo:Joe Bielawa, Creative Commons

Jake Shimabukuro in performance in 2010. Photo: Joe Bielawa, Creative Commons

Earlier this month, the call went out for ukulele players to come play “O Canada” at the start of an Ottawa 67s hockey game.

That did happen. You can hear a rehearsal here, or CBC coverage of the actual event.

An all-smiles performance, to be sure.

So what is it about the ukulele? From a joke prop for Tiny Tim, to new standing as a Hendrix-like lead instrument, this is one versatile musical vehicle.

Some years ago, the uke gained worldwide exposure in this evocative rendering of “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

When Bruddah Iz, as he was known, died in his native Hawaii in 1997, he was given what amounted to a state funeral.

There are many, many other fine uke players on the world recording scene. The instrument’s best-known ambassador for the past few years is probably another Hawaii boy, Jake Shimabukuro.

Jake Shimabukuro says the ukulele an easy thing to pick up, as he shows in this introductory video:

If you want the deep back-story of how one person takes an instrument to whole new levels, I recommend an award-winning 2012 documentary, “Life on Four Strings“. (Available on DVD and through some Internet providers.) This deleted scene from that documentary goes a long way to explain one of Shimabukuro’s “secrets”, he’s applying drum techniques. See for yourself:

Veteran Hawaii journalist Leslie Wilcox interviewed Shimabukuro on her PBS Hawaii program “Long Story Short” in 2013, which need not be ordered, you can watch that right here.

Really, I cannot say enough about Shimabukuro’s musicianship and how it advances that small, highly portable instrument. He’s funny and humble too, as revealed in this conversation with Joel Hurd in 2009 and Todd Moe in 2010.

The first time I heard of Shimabukuro he was playing with a popular group back in Hawaii called Pure Heart. Although that trio only produced two albums before moving into separate endeavors, they were welcomed as real talent. Pure Heart had an enthusiastically embraced reunion concert in Honolulu this past December.

Shimabukuro has five tour stops in Ontario in March, including a couple in our greater listening area: at the Grand Theatre in Kingston Ontario (3/7), and at the Neat Coffee Shop in Burnstown ON (3/8). (Update: As of this writing the Burnstown date was sold out.)

Don’t miss this opportunity, if you have any interest at all in that kind of musical exploration and expression.

And if you’re looking for some first or additional instrument to pick up and try, consider the “uke”! There’s probably a way to take classes or join an ukulele chorus somewhere near you. For an example of ukulele as a group instrument, here’s more from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

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1 Comment on “No joke: ukuleles amaze and inspire”

  1. bill shaver says:

    Classic way to present O’Canada…sort of same as haveing Roger doucet sing at the forum at every hockey game, check it out on youtuube…ROGER DOUCETTE O’CANADA.

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