When I was a kid, I spent many summers with family in Hawaii. [Don’t worry, I’m not about to complain about it.] My grandparents were pretty invested in making sure that I, half Korean kid raised on the mainland, got a sense of the varied cultures that made up the landscape of Hawaii, and local music (and food, let’s not forget the food!!) made up a big part of that. My grandfather was a bit of a whiz on the ukelele, and would occasionally bring it out and give me a taste of traditional Hawaiian songs. Thanks to the beauty of YouTube, I can give you an example:
Not bad, right? Mellifluous, lovely…but a bit staid for my young self (who was, as previously noted, busy grooving to The Thompson Twins and the like). Despite the encouragement of both my grandparents and my mother, I never felt inclined to pick up the ukelele. Four strings? No bass? It’s a bit tinny and too high to rock, right?
And thus we get the title of my post—my damnable lack of imagination. Because I was busy trolling the archives over at Angry Asian Man today (all things Asian American pop culture and a Bruce Lee fan to boot!), and he’s got a link up to a Jake Shimabukuro performance on Conan O’Brien, in which he plays George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Reposted here, for your viewing pleasure:
Holy moly! Why, why did no one ever tell me that the tiny but powerful ukelele could do that, in the right hands? Here I thought if I took it up I’d have to be standing on a stage somewhere wearing a grass skirt and a lei. But no! I could have been ripping it up with Beatles tunes! Or, like this kid, classics from the Cars, or even, dare I say it, like Will Smith (who knew?!)! That will teach me to ignore family knowledge.
All hail the mighty ukelele. Don’t let its size fool you like it fooled me.