It’s ‘Time’ to applaud uke virtuoso Shimabukuro

January 23rd, 2011

Jake Shimabukuro continues to evolve as the Hawaii music magnet of the moment.
He’s getting the kind of national buzz worthy of a mainstream wonder. Shimabukuro is pictured and hailed in the current Time magazine (Jan. 31) and credited, along with the late Israel “Bruddah Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole, as a champion for the growing appeal and lingering adoration of the ukulele.
Further, ex-Islander Nate Chinen (son of onetime performing duo Teddy and Nanci Tanaka), is a music critic with The New York Times, and said in a review of Shimabukuro performing at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg last week:“Mr. Shimabukuro, who hails from Hawaii — where his chosen instrument is neither a conversation piece nor a punch line — comes by his fame with buoyant musicianship and brisk proficiency. The innovation in his style stems from an embrace of restrictions: the ukulele has only four strings and a limited range. He compensates with an adaptable combination of rhythmic strumming, classical-style finger-picking and fretboard tapping.”
Mighty praise indeed. Shimabukuro in both Time and The Times. The publicity means more ammo for the ukulele’s popularity.
And folks are not just buying his new “Peace Love Ukulele” CD, which is No. 1 on the Billboard World Music Chart (see review, below).
Increasingly, you see and hear the uke in unexpected places.
Consider: James Franco strummed the uke to woo Julia Roberts in last year’s “Eat Pray Love.” In the new Oscar-buzz film “Blue Valentine,” Ryan Gosling also strums to attract Michelle Williams.
Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” — one of last year’s hits, and background staple for TV Samsung’s commercial — has that happy, sunny disposition because of ukulele accompaniment.
You’ve seen and heard it in a number of TV shows the past few years, from “Glee” to “American Idol,” from “House” to “Modern Family,” from “ER” to “Hawaii Five-0.” (A thought: shouldn’t Kono be a sometimes strummer — something that would complement her surfing passion — while not in pursuit of no-gooders?)
Years ago, local uke wizard Herb Ohta, aka Ohta-san, scored a national hit — elevating the modest four-string instrument into a solo entity — with his “Song for Anna.”
A generation later, this Ohta signature might have been an early inspiration for Shimabukuro to focus on the simple charm and voice of the instrument first introduced in the Islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century.
It was Shimabukuro’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” going viral on YouTube, and seen and heard by more than seven million, that provided the fuel and shaped the fame for the 34-year-old Shimabukuro. No wonder Farmers insurance tapped him to be the face, the sound and the voice of their current TV campaign.
Of course, the Bruddah Iz “Over the Rainbow,” with the ooo-ooos and uke-playing, has been a steady source for more than a decade to put Hawaii and the ukulele in the spotlight, in films, on the charts, and in commercials.
Certainly, the ukulele’s not new. Depending on your age, your first contact locally might have been Roy Sakuma, who has studios that have taught legions of strummers young and old alike.
Or maybe it was Tiny Tim, tip-toeing to the charts, with his kitschy “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips.”
Or Arthur Godfrey, who strummed it on TV. Or Poncie Ponce, who played uke on the old “Hawaiian Eye.”
Eddie Kamae has cradled an ukulele for decades; Peter Moon played a mean uke when he wasn’t guitar-strumming. Ditto, the late Moe Keale.
Its size and portability make the uke a natural companion for those with musical inclinations.
George Harrison, the late Beatles member, played it and was a fan of the instrument; he even sneak-peeked at young uke players at one of Sakuma’s annual Ukulele Festivals at Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
Elvis Presley played the uke in films. Eddie Vedder and Peter Townshend have featured the uke in concerts.
Even non-musicians like actor Adam Sandler are uke fans. And, according to Time, film critic Roger Ebert said in a tweet that his revolution was to “learn to play the ukulele.”
Shimabukuro now has been the face and sound of this movement. And he’s liberally quoted, and has a decal sticker that sums up his mission: “If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.”

“Peace Love Ukulele” (Hitchhike Records)
Jake Shimabukuro
Rating: 4 stars

Jake Shimabukuro’s chart-topper is a very personal, state-of-his-art sampler, reflecting who he is and where he is in life. Nine of the 12 songs are his originals.
The opening track, “143 (Kelly’s Song),” typifies his status: The title refers to his pager code number for his fiancée, who is a Queen’s Medical Center OBGYN (Dr. Kelly Yamamoto) — a sweet love song with both Asian and pop riffs, as his fingers (and heart) do the talking. Nice pulse here, with both intimacy and invention in technique and temperament.

“Boy Meets Girl” also sounds autobiographical, with endearing gentleness; music to cuddle by.
Then there’s “Ukulele Bros,” a composition by his real-life uke-brother Bruce, which is an expressive anthem for playful filial harmony.
For contrast, “Pianoforte” adopts a classical posture with subtle strumming that might take you back to Bach, one of the original longhairs.
I love the implications of “Five Dollars Unleaded,” which has a drip-dripping element and pop template, of pumping gasoline with pricey payouts. There’s a segment of the tune where you can imagine the numbers dancing wildly, higher and higher, to the $5 level — which someday might be a reality for all.
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” appearing twice here (as an acoustic studio piece, as well as a live-in-concert version), respects and redirects the Freddie Mercury creation from a classics-rock powerhouse by Queen to a melodic recreation demonstrating Shimabukuro is king of his domain of ukemanship.
“Go for Broke,” with a military cadence, is his touching tribute to the celebrated and much decorated World War II 100 Battalion 442nd Infantry Regimental combat team; it’s a flashback to his past, when, as a kid, he frequented the veterans’ group meeting hall near his elementary school.
Peace. Love. Ukulele. You’ll find lots of each here.

Jake of all trades

January 16th, 2011

No doubt, Jake Shimabukuro has been a mover-and-shaker, as far as the ukulele is concerned.
Orchids are in store for the local dude with an international following. His new CD, “Peace Love Ukulele,” last week topped the World Albums chart, debuting at No. 1, his best showing ever.
Shimabukuro also landed on the Heatseekers listings, debuting at No. 4 and dubbed a Hot Shot — meaning lots of ammo to his release.
On yet another chart for Independent Albums, “Peace Love Ukulele” was No. 31.
Shimabukuro also is receiving beaucoup visibility on TV, now that he’s the spokesperson for Farmers insurance here. His Farmers spot, taped nighttime at the parking lot of Aloha Tower Marketpace, captures his easy-going manner and accessibility, incorporating his iconic strums, leading the assembled autos in the lot to toot horns, blink lights, and “applaud” with doors shutting and opening...and clapping.
He also recently was featured on NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” opining “if everyone played the ukulele, the world will be a better place.” For the segment, go to
We’ll soon do a review of the “Peace Love Ukulele” CD.

An ukulele weekend, with one of the best — Jake

July 16th, 2010

Jake Shimabukuro arguably is the ranking ukulele stylist today. For him, practice makes perfection.
And he credits the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studio, where he learned the principles of strumming, even though his mother was first first instructor.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, if it weren’t for Roy’s commitment to teach,” says Shimabukuro, who, with the uke, will be in the limelight this weekend.
Tonight (Friday, July 16), Shimabukuro will be among the stars at a gala at the Ala Moana Hotel, and he will be on the roster of Sunday’s (July 18) 40th Annual Ukulele Festival at Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
“The popularity of the instrument is growing tremendously,” says Shimabukuro.
And he should know, with his extensive tours on the Mainland, in Europe, in Asia.
“On the Mainland, I talk with people who have music stores, and they all tell me, what’s keeping the shops alive is ukulele sales. Guitars are down, ukuleles are skyrocketing.”
And folks who come to his shows, domestically and abroad, include the young and the old.
“People bring their ukuleles to my concerts; and heavy metal musicians, with pierced ears and black outfits, bring ukuleles, too.
“I keep hearing stories that people are learning to play the uke after playing other instruments; it used to be the other way around, that you start with the uke and then branch out.
“But clearly, you get at a good time with the ukulele. It brings peace and joy. And in concert, even before you play a note, people see it and they smile. It’s a very special instrument.”
Shimabukuro played at the ukulele festival while still a student; of course, in recent years, he’s been a headline guest artist.
Yep, he got the jitters while still a student strummer.
“One year, they featured me with the instructors; I was so nervous; we had to play ‘Delicato.’ My teacher at Roy Sakuma’s was Tammy Omuro (she was Tammy Akiyama at the time) and I still keep in touch with her,” he said. “She was one the great teachers — still passionate about teaching, still teaching out of her home now. She’s amazing; one of those human beings who, if you’re in the same room with her, you just smile, because she makes you feel good. She made my half-hour class so encouraging, it motivated me to go home and practice. I credit her, and Roy Sakuma, when people ask me how I started playing ukulele, even if it was mom who first taught me. After all, Tammy was a student of Roy’s, too; when she was my teacher, she was still a student at Kaimuki High School.”
It’s all about the practice, he insists.
“Honestly, I enjoy practicing; it doesn’t get tiring at all. I do spend a lot of time at the airport practicing while waiting for planes; when we’re driving from city to city (someone else is at the wheel), I’m in the back seat, arranging, composing, practicing. You have many opportunities to practice.”
The proof of his practicing will be heard in “Peace Love Ukulele,” his newest CD, which will be released in September.


Ukulele Gala
5:30 p.m. today (July 16)
Hibiscus Ballroom, Ala Moana Hotel
Also featuring Danny Kaleikini, Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta, Nando Suan, Natalie Ai Kamauu

Ukulele Festival
9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday (July 18)
Kapiolani Park Bandstand
Also featuring Cecilio & Kapono, James Hill, Herb Ohta Jr., Bryan Tolentino, Natalie Ai Kamauu, Tommy D, Hookani Pila, Da Hawaii Seniors of Cerritos, Sunset Strummers, Yuji Igarashi, Kolohe Imamura, George Matsushita, Nihon Ukulele Assn., Yam

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Jake Shimabukuro 'goes for broke' in July

June 29th, 2010

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro is offering a free download of his haunting and beautiful tribute to the 442nd Infantry Division’s 100th Battalion at his website,, beginning July 1.
He composed the tune, reaching back to his small-kid-time memory of the 442nd’s Club 100 hall near his grade school, Ala Wai Elementary, to honor the most highly-decorated U.S. unit in military history.
The tune will be part of Shimabukuro’s unnamed new CD, due in August.
“I was inspired to write it for the vets because of a funny story; I lived on Lauiki Steet near Ala Wai School, where I attended, and my buddies and I used to ride bikes around the block and we used to sneak into Club 100 to drink ice water and then sneak out,” said Shimabukuro. “Only years later, I learned of its significance; the 442nd story is so awesome.”
The song features a military-cadence snare drum counterpoint to Shimabukuro’s restrained, but poetic and poignant uke-strumming sure to resonate with vets and families.
“Go For Broke” is the trademark motto and battle cry by the Island soldiers to give it all they had to risk everything, including their lives, to honor their country amid the challenges of the wartime battlefront. The slogan was popular during post-war Hawaii, particularly to boost morale and fighting power.
Shimabukuro, spending time at home this summer, has a series of local appearances in July, promoting the anthem as well as celebrating Independence Day in this Islands.
His schedule:
• July 1, 5:40 a.m. and 6:10 a.m. —Appearance and performance on Hawaii News Now.
• July 2, 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. —Appearance on KHON2.
• July 2, 10 a.m. — Hickam AAFES Bxtra Main Store. Military ID required.
• July 2, Noon to 1 p.m. —“Go for Broke” CD release event at NEX Pearl Harbor. Military ID required.
• July 4 , 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. —Independence Day Celebration Event at Maunalua Bay, Hawaii Kai.
• July 10, 8:30 a.m. — Perry & Price morning show, at Jimmy Buffett's at the Ohana Beachcomber Hotel, live in KSSK-AM and FM.
• July 15, 7:30 p.m. — Solo Sessions with Jake Shimabukuro, Peace Love Ukulele event, at Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
• July 16, 5:30 p.m. — Ukulele Festival Hawaii Gala 2010, Ala Moana Hotel Hibiscus Ballroom.
• July 18, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Ukulele Festival at Kapiolani Park Bandstand.
• July 18, 4 p.m. — Pacific Rim Children's Chorus Festival Concert, at Blaisdell Center.
• July 23, 7 p.m., Chai's Island Bistro, Aloha Tower Marketplace.

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An ukulele gala, to keep the Ukulele Festival a freebie

June 23rd, 2010

For four decades, the annual Ukulele Festival at Kapiolani Park Bandstand has been free, a summertime favorite where youngsters and oldsters strum together to have fun together.
The audience, too.
To keep the event — set from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 18 —admission free, presenter Roy Sakuma and his Ukulele Festival Hawaii board, will present its first-ever fundraising gala, at 5:30 p.m. July 16 at the Hibiscus Room of the Ala Moana Hotel.
“This is the first time our 40-year history that we are holding a fundraising event to support the ukulele festival,” says Sakuma, festival president and proprietor with wife Kathy of the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Studios, where thousands of youngsters have learned to strum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and move on to such tunes as “I’m Yours.”
This is a red flag — that the non-profit organization, like other arts organization in the community, needs kokua to stay afloat to maintain the free admission policy.
The fundraiser will showcase ukulele virtuosos such as Jake Shimabukuro and Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta, accompanied by Nando Suan, plus singer Natalie Ai Kamauu. Hawaii’s Aloha of Ambassador Danny Kaleikini, veteran entertainer who has hosted the ukulele festival for many years, will also perform.
The event features a buffet dinner as well as the music, and a silent auction that offers ukuleles, uke lessons, jewelry, dining and retail gift certificates and art work for browsing and bidding.
Admission: $65 per person; sponsor tables of 10 seats are available at $1,200, $3,000 and $5,000 levels.
Reservations and information: 486-0546,, or email
Proceeds will help offset the cost to put on the Ukulele Festival, the largest ukulele festival of its kind in the world.

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