Up on the Artists in Focus stage this week is champion of the ukulele, king of the four strings, Jake Shimabukuro.

An Instant Connection!

It’s true that nobody has mastered the art of ukulele playing quite like this man. After being handed his first uke at the age of four, on the luscious island of Oahu, Hawaii, Shimabukuro was connected to the instrument immediately, but little did he know that it would change his life forever!

Hours a day would be spent with his beloved uke, right up to 1998 when he began to gain attention on the island for his role in the three-piece band, Pure Heart. With uke, guitar, vocals and percussion, the group’s debut album won them four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, an award that Shimabukuro would become very familiar with throughout his career!

But it was in 2002 that Shimabukuro decided to pursue his solo career. He became the first Hawaiian artist to sign with Epic Records International, an offshoot of recording giant, Sony. In the following years, he toured extensively in Japan, and released many albums in the country which were incredibly well received. But his desire to release albums elsewhere in the world was strong, and to do so Shimabukuro set up his own label, Hitchhike Records - certainly a good decision, as he preceded to release four US albums! The 2005 release, Dragon, made it into the Billboard Top World Music Albums chart, and went all the way to number 5.

While My Ukulele Gently Shreds!

And then 2006 happened - the year that changed Shimabukuro’s already successful career and made it MEGA, all because of one critical cover song. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles may as well have been renamed “While My Ukulele Gently Weeps”, after a video of Shimabukuro playing the song went viral and received over 17 million views! Jake wasn’t even aware that it was uploaded to YouTube, but it ultimately led to his international fame and success.

In the years following the video, Shimabukuro was able to tour worldwide for many months of the year, and received tonnes of interest from big stars interested in collaborating. He decided to go on tour with Jimmy Buffett!

Shimabukuro’s fifth US album rose to number 2 on the Billboard Top World Music Albums chart, but it would be the sixth, Peace Love Ukulele (2011), that would finally make it to the top spot! His later album, Grand Ukulele, features a 29 piece orchestra and rhythm section, with the ukulele soloing throughout – what an incredible stage for the humble ukulele!

In his 2010 TED performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Shimabukuro said that he felt the ukulele, was the “instrument of peace”, that “if everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a much better place”, and we couldn’t agree more! The art of this wonderful instrument is truly a skill worth mastering, and you too can be a part of this movement. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is available in our Grade 8 (yes, 8!) Ukulele syllabus, and is ready and waiting for your time and dedication.

If you’ve loved learning about Jake Shimabukuro this week, then do make sure you catch up on some of our recent additions to the Artists in Focus roster including Lady Gaga, Corinne Bailey Rae and Weather Report!