Constantly overshadowed by its bigger, louder cousin the guitar, the ukulele doesn’t get much love. But Jake Shimabukuro is trying to change that.
The uke virtuoso takes a pioneering approach to his art — he covers Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for one — that infuses rock and blues into what many view as an unassuming string instrument. One listen to Shimabukuro’s sound and it’s obvious the ukulele was meant for more than Hawaiian luaus.
He comes to the Birchmere on Tuesday as part of his “Peace Love Ukulele” tour.
Alexandria Times: Tell me about ‘Peace Love Ukulele,’ your newest album.
Jake Shimabukuro: “Peace Love Ukulele” is an album compiled of songs that I hope will bring joy and happiness to listeners near and far. I hope the emotions expressed in the music will connect people and make them realize that we all feel the same things — we just express them differently. Music is the greatest gift and the ukulele is the friendliest way to present that gift to the world. A few favorites are “143,” a song inspired by the pager code 143 which simply means I love you and “Go For Broke,” a song written for the Japanese-American veterans who served in World War II.
How does this album differ from your last studio album?
“Peace Love Ukulele” is my first independent release. I had a lot of fun putting things together for this album. I really took my time with this one and tried to present the ukulele in ways that were fresh and exciting.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
I hope listeners experience the same joy that I’m experiencing when I’m strumming the ukulele. The ukulele is probably one of the easiest instruments to play … anyone can pick it up for the first time, learn a couple chords and immediately start strumming songs. It’s so relaxing. I always tell people that playing the ukulele is like an entire yoga session in one strum.
What musicians have inspired you?
All the greats of course. But a lot of my inspiration comes from figures outside of the music world — people like Bruce Lee, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana and other artists who are passionate about what they do. Bruce Lee and Bill Cosby were my heroes when I was growing up. I loved Lee’s philosophy and applied a lot of his ideas to my approach in music. He embraced all forms of martial arts and didn’t believe in having just one style. I love all forms of music and try not to get locked into one genre. Bill Cosby’s HBO performance of “Bill Cosby — Himself” inspired me to be a solo performer. Cosby could simply sit in a chair with a microphone, tell stories and entertain millions. He’s the greatest.
When did you first pick up the ukulele?
I first picked up the ukulele at the age of 4. My mom played and taught me my first few chords. I started out strumming mainly traditional Hawaiian music as a child. But later I enjoyed the challenge of trying to play other styles of music on the four string, two octave instrument — like rock, jazz and classical.
After taking on covers of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” are there any other songs or artists you’d consider covering?
There are so many great tunes out there. I love covering tunes that were written or performed by my favorite artists. Covering a song of your favorite artist is like wearing your favorite basketball player’s jersey.
Jake Shimabukuro plays the Brichmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29.50. Visit www.birchmere.com for more information.