The ukulele has always been seen as something of a whimsical instrument. Its small size making it look like a tiny guitar and plinky plonky tones give it an instant sense of humour. This is probably why it was the instrument of choice for 40’s and 50’s Northern English comic George Formby.
Often, and unfairly, maligned for its lightness of tone, the ukulele is a more versatile instrument in the right hands. In recent years, the popularity of the ukulele has really grown, spawning new artists across the globe.
Here are four of the most notable ukulele acts performing today who deserve your attention.
For an old fashioned, rag time sound, you could do a lot worse that search out the music of The Moonlighters. Although they are known for their “Hawaiian steel guitar swing”, the ukulele is as unmistakable as the sweet harmonies by Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball. Along with guitarist Al Street, bassist Rus Wimbish, Raphael McGregor on steel guitar and horn player Jim Fryer, the band harkens back to a more romantic age.
Multi instrumentalist Amanda Palmer has an incredibly large fanbase, but is still one of music’s best kept secrets. A performer of punk cabaret stylings, Palmer often tackles political and social issues with hard hitting lyrics, but also plays with humour too. Where Amanda Palmer really comes into her own is her use of the Internet, keeping up regular blogs, YouTube videos and an active user on Twitter.
It’s not often you hear the term ‘virtuouso’ in regards to the ukulele, but that is the only way to describe Jake Shimabukuro. His breathtaking technical skill has given the uke a completely different dimension in the eyes, or rather ears, of audiences around the world. Shimabukuro picked up his first ukulele at the age of 4, a gift from his mother, and never looked back. He also experiments with effects and processing to get new sounds from the instrument, creating remarkable, original music.
Bringing a fresh, modern style to the ukulele, Victoria Vox has been impressing audiences with her honest and emotive songs of love and life. Originally, the artist had been performing with different instruments, but it was at the insistence of fans that encouraged her to record a whole album on the uke. In 2006 she released Victoria Vox and her Jumping Flea, which was very well received. Vox is a constant tourer, often playing over 100 festivals a year, and has won accolades such as the Independent Music Awards and Washington Area Music Awards.
- Amanda Palmer performing in Auckland, Australia
If you fancy learning the ukulele yourself, Peterbororugh Music has a great range for beginners.