With the release of his latest CD—Peace. Love. Ukulele.—Jake Shimabukuro has cemented his reputation as the greatest modern player of this classic Hawaiian instrument. With flashing speed, great musicality, and loads of imagination, Shimabukuro broke through the online clutter back in April 2006 when his arrangement for solo ukulele of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral, earning him more than 7 million fans via YouTube. Since then he’s exploded in popularity worldwide, and he will be at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, March 31, courtesy of Arts & Lectures. I spoke with Shimabukuro by phone last week at his home in Hawai’i.
Your instrument has an idiosyncratic sound that seems to bring people a lot of pleasure. How would you describe the sound of a ukulele? To me the ukulele sounds like children laughing. The fact that there are no really low notes gives it a childlike quality that can take us back to that more innocent time.
You have two solo versions of the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the album, one live and one done in the studio. Why did you include both? At a certain point after recording the studio version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I had this realization that a lot of the arrangement relies on the audience. When everyone in the room already knows that song, they fill in the missing parts imaginatively. The thousands of things in the song that I can’t cover they are covering in their heads.
I am guessing that you are sick of hearing about YouTube at this point. Is that the case? No, actually. I will always be so grateful to YouTube that I will never get tired of talking about it. That one video created a touring career for me. Without it I would never have done this. It literally changed my life. At the time, there was simply no such thing as an international touring ukulele player, and thanks to that video, now there is.