Jake Shimabukuro is one ukulele-playing mofo. I am totally pissed I didn’t find out about this guy before our Tiki party last weekend. He sounds like a freaky combination of instrumental Poi Dog Pondering and the South Pacific side of Bela Fleck: breezy and melodic, but intricate and forceful as well – check out clips here (longer clips here).
Jake is a Japanese-American Hawaiian who is already a huge star in Japan, but with Tuesday’s release of his new album Walking Down Rainhill he hopes to crack the mainland. He talked with AP:
- “I’ve always thought the ukulele was an untapped source of musical potential,” the 27-year-old from Honolulu said in an interview recently after wrapping up his third Japan tour. “I want to expose more and more people to the ukulele in this new fashion, changing people’s perspective of the instrument. Or just opening up their minds to the new possibilities of it.”
Though his repertoire includes a healthy dose of Hawaiian folk songs and light beach music, he also does classical, rock and blues. He performs solo for the more serious, classical pieces. In a group, he plugs in his ukulele and goes nuts, playing it with his teeth a la Hendrix or using a pedal board to create electric-guitarlike effects.
Such virtuosity is quite a feat, since the ukulele has only four strings and a frustratingly narrow range.
“Definitely, the ukulele is limited in a lot of ways. That’s what makes it difficult and challenging,” he said. “With a guitar, or any other string instrument, you have so much more range. Basically, you’re working with only two octaves, which makes it very challenging when you’re attacking classical pieces.”
….”I don’t want to say people are closed-minded, because that’s not quite it,” he said. “They have an image about the ukulele, an idea about it, and it’s hard to convince them to come to the shows. But once they do, and they see it, they appreciate it. To me, that’s an indication we are moving in the right direction.”
Shimabukuro isn’t bent on jettisoning the ukulele’s playful connotations.
“A lot of people think of the ukulele as a toy,” he said. “I certainly do. When I’m on stage, I want people to see that it’s fun to play. I’m having a ball, I hope they will too.”
To win over more hearts and minds, Shimabukuro will be touring the States over the next several months, playing at venues ranging from the Bumbershoot arts festival in Seattle to the Knitting Factory in Hollywood.
A far cry from the little grass shack.