When all you have is four-strings

Jake Shimabukuro with his ukulele.| Photo courtesy of Jake Shimabukuro.

Jake Shimabukuro with his ukulele.| Photo courtesy of Jake Shimabukuro.

Acclaimed ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro has stretched the small four-stringed instrument to its limits. As pioneer, Shimabukuro has achieved fame all over the world, especially in Japan, and has an extensive discography featuring collaborations with Jack Johnson, Yo-Yo Ma, Cyndi Lauper, and more. Shimabukuro will be in Vancouver at the Evergreen Cultural Centre for a ukulele workshop on Dec. 12 before performing at the Chan Shun Concert Hall on Dec. 13.

Shimabukuro’s fate was sealed when his mother handed him a ukulele when he was four years old. Growing up, he practiced many instruments but always had an affinity for the ukulele. Recognition first found Shimabukuro when he played shows with Pure Heart. The trio played mostly Hawaiian music and enjoyed local popularity.

In 2001, Shimabukuro captured the hearts of Japanese audiences and soon found his ukulele wizardry featured for the soundtrack of the indie movie, Hula Girls.

“The first time I was in Japan it was Tokyo and Osaka, but then I got outside of the city to places like Hokkaido, Kyoto, Okinawa, and it’s all so different,” says Shimabukuro. “It’s really cool to experience the countryside and the seaside.”

Shimabukuro, who hails from Hawaii, accredits his international fame to a 2005 YouTube ukulele cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison. Now after over 15 million views, the video gave Shimabukuro the acclaim to show the world what a ukulele could really do.


Shimabukuro sprinkles original melodies alongside ambitious covers, taking on feats such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Rolling in the Deep, and ukulele staple Over the Rainbow.
Shimabukuro’s new album Nashville Sessions is his first album with all original music and will be featured at his upcoming show in Vancouver.

“For me it’s always like problem solving,” says Shimabukuro. “I just see myself as a student of music and a student of the instrument.”

Shimabukuro’s single Go For Broke honours D-day and all veterans with a marching drum line and a remorseful yet hopeful ukulele melody. The song specifically is meant to recognize the 100th battalion and 442nd regiment, a group of highly decorated Japanese-American soldiers who met heavy combat during World War II.

“I have a special connection to them because the first group of Japanese-Americans who volun-
teered to fight on behalf of the United States to prove their loyalty was a group of Hawaiians,” says Shimabukuro. “I realize I have a better life because of the sacrifices that they made.”

Learning to ‘uke’

Shimabukuro’s workshop in Vancouver is a special occasion as his technique can be appreciated by those musically involved or not. For those dabbling in the ukulele, it is a great opportunity to learn from one of the best; for Shimabukuro, this is a chance to resume his passion for teaching.

Shimabukuro enjoys passing on his knowledge and skill, especially to a younger generation, having two children of his own. He had a ukulele school in Hawaii before he started to tour and has been involved in many school music programs. Shimabukuro believes the ukulele’s size makes it less intimidating and therefore more
approachable for those looking to engage in music firsthand.

“It’s not so much about the ukulele, but also the importance in finding a passion and working hard at it,” says
Shimabukuro. “I’m also a big advocate of being drug-free.”

Vancouver is the last stop on Shimabukuro’s West Coast tour and gives him two days in the city. Although it is Shimabukuro’s fourth time in Vancouver, dense tour schedules have made it difficult for him to experience the city in full force. With the extra day, Shimabukuro looks forward to his workshop and the free time.

“I’ve never really had the opportunity to really be a tourist, to walk around and check it out,” says Shimabukuro. “Hopefully on this trip I’ll get the chance to see it more.”


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