What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ukuleles? For me, it was Spongebob. Or Hawaii. Or “cute.”
These days, it’s Jake Shimabukuro, the solo ukulele sensation whose music alters the way audiences and the general public perceive the ukulele and the kind of music it is capable of producing. If you aren’t already familiar with his work, watch the youtube video that started it all, his cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Or watch his incredible rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
I’d literally never taken the ukulele seriously as a musical instrument until I watched Jake Shimabukuro’s videos...and then I immediately stole my sister Chloe’s ukulele and taught myself how to play. I’ll never be as good as Shimabukuro, but at least I can goof around and play some songs.
Chloe and I had the great pleasure of watching him perform live at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo a few months ago while he and director Tadashi Nakamura were promoting the documentary detailing his progression as a ukulele player, Life on Four Strings. The event started off with a screening of the documentary, which beautifully captured Shimabukuro’s struggle to discover his own sound and identity through his music while trying to build and maintain relationships with his family. This was followed by a panel discussion featuring both Shimabukuro and Nakamura about their experience shooting the documentary, during which there were definitely some funny stories (I want to see a blooper reel now). Shimabukuro looks so young in person! And he’s such a sweet guy, we were totally fangirling over him.
I’ll be honest: Chloe and I went mainly because we wanted to hear Shimabukuro play ukulele, but the documentary and the panel discussion were a wonderful treat. Of course, we were so thrilled to watch his live performance, in which he played a number of original pieces as well as “While my Ukulele Gently Weeps.” We even got to meet him and have him sign our cell phones afterwards (if I’d known he was doing a signing after the performance, I would have brought my ukulele for him to sign). He’s such a nice guy!
Ultimately, watching the documentary and seeing him in the flesh made me realize that he’s not just a talented guy, he’s a real person who worked really hard to get to where he is. So if you’re looking for a new inspiration and haven’t already listened to a few of Jake Shimabukuro’s tracks, I recommend you do so right now.
Oh, and sorry for taking so long to update—I started college in the fall and I’ve been super busy trying to get a handle on things, but expect more regular posts in the future!