Friday, September 26, 2014

Uking It Up: Jake Shimabukuro and "Less Cowbell, More Ukulele"

If I were to take up a string instrument other than guitar, I think it would have to be ukulele. It is light, small and therefore easily transported, and it looks like a lot of fun to play. I first began to see the possibilities of the ukulele when I heard and saw the Asylum Street Spankers. The ukulele seemed to fit into most of their music, providing a really nice higher stringed touch to their folk songs and adaptations of some modern songs.

Of course, Hawaiian music relies a lot on the ukulele, but modern Hawaiian musicians have been breaking it out of traditional Hawaiian music while showing an amazing virtuosity with the instrument. One example is Brittni Paiva, who at a young age has been distinguishing herself with her ukulele (as well as a variety of other instruments) in a multitude of musical genres. Another is Jake Shimabukuro, a fifth generation Japanese-American, who is redefining the ukulele through his virtuosity.

Known for fast and complex finger work, Shimabukuro mixes all kinds of elements into his music, including jazz, blues, funk, rock, bluegrass, classical, folk and flamenco. He is well known in his home state of Hawaii, but gained international recognition in 2006 for a video capturing him and his rendition of The Beatles' While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was posted on YouTube without his permission and became one of the first viral videos. He has become very popular in Japan, where he tours often. He originally used effects pedals to alter the sound of the ukulele, but in the past number of years has relied on the instrument's natural sounds. He has won numerous awards, and has been declared a "music hero" by Rolling Stone. Less Cowbell, More Ukulele (also known as More Ukulele) can be found on his 2012 album Grand Ukulele. This version is a special in-studio performance he did for PBS Hawaii.