Jake Shimabukuro is in the airport in his homeland of Hawaii, waiting to begin a tour that will take him across the U.S. and then to Japan and Korea. He says the ukulele he carries with him often sparks interesting conversations.
“Sometimes I’ll be walking around the airport, and somebody will say, ‘What’s in the case?’ and I’ll say it’s a ukulele,” he says. “And that person will go, ‘Oh, have you seen that guy on YouTube in Central Park?’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah.’”
He usually doesn’t tell the person that he has not only seen the video, but that he actually is “that guy on YouTube in Central Park.” Six years and 8 million views later, Shimabukuro wears his hair longer, and doesn’t wear the glasses he dons while playing a virtuoso version of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
“It’s amazing,” says Shimabukuro, who has toured with Jimmy Buffet, Bette Midler, Cyndi Lauper and Ziggy Marley. “That short video has really made a touring career for myself. It’s just been the greatest promotional pseudo music video.”
Shimabukuro’s voice is laid-back and betrays the complexity and ferocity with which he delivers songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and nine exquisite originals on his new album, “Peace, Love, Ukulele.”
Is Shimabukuro concerned that more people picking up his instrument of choice will turn it into yesterday’s fad? Not at all.
“To be honest, when I started playing the ukulele, I really did not think I would be making a living as a ukulele player,” he says. “Up until maybe six years ago, there was no such thing as a touring solo ukulele player. This is all new, completely unexpected, and I’m enjoying it. I mean, I pinch myself every morning — but if one day it all stops, I will die a happy man.”
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