The Ukulele Finds Its Champion

Artist Profile: Jake Shimabukuro

By Olivia Zeitoun
Epoch Times Staff
Created: October 18, 2011 Last Updated: October 18, 2011
Related articles: Arts & Entertainment » Music
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YouTube has certainly become a popular platform for artists to reach new fans and gain bigger followings. However, with so many aspiring artists, it can be hard to find the diamonds in the rough. Fortunately, people found their way to Jake Shimabukuro’s video, which went viral.

The video of him sitting in Central Park and strumming away on his instrument of choice—the ukulele—has reached over 9 million views.

Shimabukuro’s playing is no longer limited to small cafes and Central Park. He will be zigzagging the United States, with performances kicking off on Oct. 22 in Honolulu and then taking him coast to coast and back several times, all the way through the spring.

He lands in New York City on Nov. 15 at the Highline Ballroom. The talented musician will play songs from his recent release, “Peace Love Ukulele.” He has performed on television shows such as “The Late Show With Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference.

Shimabukuro’s music might be best explained as an updated indie version of traditional ukulele playing. There are influences from jazz, rock, folk, and classical all meshed together and emerging from the four strings.

Probably his most well-known song is a cover of the Beatles song written by George Harrison, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the same song that he plays in the popular YouTube clip in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. Shimabukuro turns the song into a dreamy and harmonic instrumental, stripping the song down to its soul with heart-tugging finger picking and powerful chords.

Hawaiian-born Jake Shimabukuro has become an internationally famous virtuoso of his state's native instrument, the ukulele. (Sencame/Shore Fire Media)

Hawaiian-born Jake Shimabukuro has become an internationally famous virtuoso of his state's native instrument, the ukulele. (Sencame/Shore Fire Media)

Even more interesting might be how the musician puts down so much of his own soul in what he plays. Cover songs get a distinct flavor of their own when Shimabukuro interprets them. Video recordings of his performances show him playing with closed eyes, and with a look that makes you believe that he is feeling every note his instrument lets out.

Truly, the ukulele might seem like an unusual instrument to build a career off. But for the Hawaiian-born musician, learning to play was not that far of a stretch. The ukulele is a traditional Hawaiian instrument, and it had an upswing in popularity during the 1990s thanks to internationally known artist Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (famous for his ukulele renditions of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World”).

Now Shimabukuro is making the music current and up-to-date once again with not only his beautiful takes on known songs but also his own creations.

His new album “Peace Love Ukulele” includes some of both. Queen fans will recognize the title “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which has gotten itself a ukulele makeover, and also Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Hallelujah” is covered.

The album, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard World Album Chart, is a good representation of Shimabukuro’s style. Even though the songs are varied in style, from feel-good to slower and melancholic to fast paced and rock inspired, they all have the same foundation. All of these songs prove to be very soothing, letting the listener hear the emotion in between the finger picking and the chords.

If you like beautiful melodies, enjoy acoustic music with a twist, and are curious about the ukulele, make sure to pick up Shimabukuro’s album, or better yet see him live, to get a taste of a fresh take on contemporary Hawaiian music.

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