90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ukulele Sensation Jake Shimabukuro

Ukulele virtuoso  Jake Shimabukuro performs in the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro performs in the Here & Now studios. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Jake Shimabukuro started playing ukulele at the age of 4 and soon fell in love with the instrument. As he tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson, “My parents would have to take the ukulele away from me so that I would do things like my homework, eat dinner, or take a shower, you know I just loved it so much, every moment that I had free I wanted to strum the ukulele.”

Shimabukuro played with some bands and had a solo career in his native Hawaii, but it was the posting of his performance on YouTube of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 2006 that jump started his career.

That video has received well over 12 million hits and made Jake Shimabukuro a worldwide sensation. He’s even performed for Queen Elizabeth. Currently he’s touring supporting his latest DVD “Grand Ukulele: Live in Boulder.”

Shimabukuro speaks with Hobson about his music, his instrument and why everyone should play the ukulele. He also performs several songs.

Video: Jake Shimabukuro performs 'Sakura Sakura' at Here & Now

Interview Highlights: Jake Shimabukuro

On the pronunciation of ‘ukulele’

“In Hawaii we say ‘oo-koo-ley-ley’ because it’s made up of two Hawaiian words: uku and lele. And ‘uku’ means flea and ‘lele’ means jumping, so it really is the jumping flea of instruments.”

On how the ukulele is different from other instruments

“You can take it to the beach. I can sit on the sand, get my feet wet and strum the ukulele. You couldn’t do that with a violin. Even the guitar — the guitar is a little bulky. With the ukulele, I can throw it in my backpack and I can hike up a mountain, and I can sit on the top of that mountain and and strum the uke. If I’m doing a three-mile hike, I wouldn’t want to be lugging a guitar up there with me, right? The other thing is, it’s very durable because of the size. It’s much smaller. You don’t have as many problems when you travel and you go to different climates. Acoustic instruments, the wood is always bowing and that kind of stuff. But with the ukulele, because the neck is much shorter, you have much less of that.”

On the range of music he plays

“It’s amazing because the ukulele, you only have four strings to deal with. And you have a range of basically two octaves. … So you’re dealing with a very limited range and only four strings. There are two things: One, it’s very easy to play, because you’re only dealing with four strings. But on the flip side, it’s very difficult when you’re trying to express complexity in music. So taking a song like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or one of the Bach inventions becomes a tremendous challenge when you’re trying to find the right voicings for those chords.”

Video: Jake's 2006 performance viewed millions of times on YouTube

Guest


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 29 5 Comments

Michigan Coach Faces Criticism For Keeping QB In Play

University of Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was having trouble standing on his own after a major sack. The coach kept him in the game.

September 29 24 Comments

Methodist Pastor Faces Last Church Trial

Reverend Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked for officiating his son's same-sex marriage and later reinstated, awaits one more church trial. He writes about the experience in a new memoir.

September 29 5 Comments

Monarch Butterflies Could Be On Rebound

After precipitous declines in the monarch butterfly population, there are signs the species may be on the rebound.

September 26 4 Comments

Dean Of Boston Sports Journalism Celebrates 42 Years On The Job

Here & Now's Robin Young visits the most-beloved sportscaster you've never heard of: Jonny Miller.