Jake Shimabukuro: the ukulele man


There is no more peaceful sound than an ukulele. And there is no a better musician to play it than Jake Shimabukuro.

His mother taught him how to play the ukulele when he was four years and after being in two groups, he became a solo artist. Nowadays, he is in the middle of his Grand Ukulele Tour presenting his newest album.

In a conversation with The Outsider Argentina, Jake spoke about his beginnings, the Four Strings Foundation and his documentary film, which will be released in May this year.

How did you start playing the ukulele?

My mom played the ukulele and was my first teacher.  I remember when she taught me my first chord – I was four years old.

How did the trio with Lopaka Colon and Jon Yamasato start? How have you met?

We met in high school.  We were just kids back then having fun – just trying to meet girls.

Why did the group change? Were you doing the same music than before or it has change?

We were all in school trying to figure out what we were going to be when we grow up.  I had no idea that I would be a touring musician.  I didn’t think that was possible.

How is it like being a solo artist after being in two groups?

I love being a solo artist because it gives me the freedom to try different things – I can collaborate with other artists, play with an orchestra, etc.  There seems to be more opportunities available when you have a very small footprint – you can fit yourself into more scenarios.

How can you describe your music?

I would describe my sound as acoustic world music.

How was it like winning so many awards?

It’s always nice to be recognized by fellow musicians.  I feel very lucky to have so many wonderful musician friends that have supported my career.  In the last few years, I’ve collaborated with artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Bette Midler, Ziggy Marley, Cyndi Lauper, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jimmy Buffett, etc.

Do the awards change something in your career or is it the same?

The recognition for your work is always nice – and it always encourages me to try new things – to really push myself.

How was it like composing the music for the film Hula Girls?

About 7 years ago, I worked on my first film score.  It was a Japanese film called “Hula Girl,” based on a true story.  I really enjoyed that project because it was something new and completely different.

What can you tell us about the “Music is Good Medicine” organization?

As a kid, I always enjoyed volunteering and taking part in community service projects.  It is such a privilege to serve and give back to the community.  Since the Music Is Good Medicine program no longer exists, I started my own non-profit organization called Four Strings Foundation.  My primary focus is to inspire kids through music to help them find what their passion is in life.  The message is simple – strive to be the best, live drug free and have fun.  The ukulele is a way of life for me.  It’s simple, friendly, humble, happy, practical, low maintenance, travel friendly, and fun.  I believe this positive attitude can be applied to every aspect of your life.

What do you think that music can do in people’s life?

I truly believe, if everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.

What can you tell us about “Grand Ukulele”? Where are you performing?

Grand Ukulele is my most recent recording project, produced and engineered by Alan Parsons (Beatles’ Abbey Road, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon).  Working with Parsons was a dream come true for me.  He is absolutely brilliant.  It was such an honor to work with him.  I’m currently in the middle of my Grand Ukulele Tour – a 120 city tour that’ll take me through the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Which are your projects for this year?

I have a documentary film called “Jake Shimabukuro: Life On Four Strings” that will be premiering nationally on PBS.  The film is scheduled to air on May 10, 2013.

Samantha Schuster