Something very odd has been happening in ukulele social media circles lately. For some time the ukulele community has been plagued with the 'you can't do that brigade', but some now seem to have taken a dislike to any music that is not played in the style of their preference.It's one thing telling beginners that they 'can't use a strap' that they 'can't use a pick' or 'you must use these strings', and in a sense their constant drum beating in that regard is rather amusing (if tiresome). But it's quite something else when they start sending public and private messages telling performers they are 'an embarrassment to the ukulele community'. You heard that right. That actually happened.
Now, for some time I have been wanting to get hold of this imaginary rule book that tells people what they can and cannot do with a ukulele, but it seems that it's had a new chapter added - 'What you can and cannot play'.
It's a staggering concept - that the ukulele is only built for one style of music. In fact I blogged on the subject before which you can read here. This post is not intended to go over that again (just read the post). Rather, it's here to showcase some of the great variety that is out there on the ukulele that sits far away from the norm. In fact, I would rather spend my time watching videos like those below than the lift musak that is Jake Shimabukuro or endless ukulele clubs, all dressed the same and all playing Wagon Wheel or Folsom Prison Blues with exactly the same strum patterns.
Embrace different styles people - it's all music. I am not saying you MUST like any of it (tastes differ), but please, don't ever dare to suggest that it is not ALLOWED, brings 'shame' or 'let's down' the imaginary community you seem to have elected yourself to the committee of by saying so.
So here come the ukulele videos!
First up, the video that caused one group of ukulele players to suggest that Robin Grey had brought 'Shame on the ukulele world'. That's right. Shame... Oh please..
And talking of sweary people called Robin. How about Robin - a great performer I met for the first time at this years GNUF. The people who claimed Robin Grey brought shame on the ukulele will have palpitations at this one.. (please do note the explicit lyrics warning!)
Next up a band I'd love to see perform live. Any song that uses the term 'Bum Head' is ok in my book.
The purists must surely despise punk on a ukulele?
Hey, I like punk. And UkePunk has it right here...
So you get the idea. Hawaiian aloha mahalo stuff is fine, but it's not the be all and end all on the ukulele. The uke is a tool. A musical instrument and surely the fun comes from seeing people try something different. I'd never dare to suggest you 'can't play that on a ukulele'. You can play what you damn well like.
Last year when I blogged on this topic I ended up in a 'debate' online with someone with who I was trying to get to the bottom of. You see they had something against anything different, loud, rock etc on the ukulele. What about blues I asked? Oh yeah, that's fine. What about country? yeah thats fine... And so it went on. An imaginary list being built in their heads as to what was and was not allowed. What they were actually listing was their personal tastes and making the mistake that their own tastes in any way mean something to another player with their own instrument.
I get the importance of tradition and keeping the old styles alive. But there is plenty of that about and just because someone plays rock or something far out on a ukulele is not a threat to tradition in any way.
And before you want to claim someone has 'brought shame' or 'embarrassment' on your beloved community - tell me - who put you in charge?
STOP PRESS - I don't like doing stop press additions to opinion pieces like this one, but I felt this was worth saying. Had a couple of comments today suggesting I am being hypocritical by posting this and also saying that I don't much care for Jake S. I found that comment odd, but it was worth adding this to state that it precisely describes the difference I am talking about. I don't care for Jake and that is just MY opinion (as is my right). What I am talking about here would be akin to me messaging Jake and saying 'Jake - you are an embarrassment to ukulele players - Bohemian Rhapsody should NOT be played on a uke'. World of difference! This is not about tastes - we are all entitled to those. Just don't go the extra step and impose your tastes on others as if they are rules!
© Barry Maz