I had the opportunity to meet our newest featured artist at one of his local Bay Area uke jams, and he was nice enough to answer a few of our questions about the uke and where he gets inspiration. Ukulenny is an amazing performer, educator, and youtube sensation. Be sure to check him out, subscribe to his channel, and attend one of his events or performances if you get a chance!
UI: How did you first start playing ukulele?
Ukulenny: The seed was planted on a family trip to Hawaii when I was 10 years old, I picked up a cheap ukulele and some books and started strumming some chords (I had a little experience with guitar so it made sense to me). The uke was too cheap to stay in tune, however, and I lost touch. It wasn’t until after college that I picked up the instrument again, and rejuvenated with Jake Shimabukuro as inspiration, I decided to buy a real ukulele and began taking it more seriously. In 2010, the magic happened. I was playing bass for a musical in SF, which meant commuting every weekend from the East Bay. I decided to bring my ukulele each way, practicing during each trip, and eventually found myself playing and singing my heart out to the BART crowd. It was then I started going by the name Ukulenny, and found my new favorite instrument, the uke.
UI: How long have you been playing?
Ukulenny: I’ve been playing music my whole life, started on piano at age 5 and moved on to the guitar through my middle school and high school years, picked up the saxophone in the Cal Marching Band, and everything in between – bass, cello, flute, clarinet, drums, among other things. Officially I’ve been playing uke since 2008, so 6 years, but I’ve been able to apply all my love of music to this awesome little instrument.
UI: What is the best part about playing the ukulele?
Ukulenny: My favorite part about playing the ukulele is that I can play it anywhere. Being the music addict that I am, the thought of making music at any given moment with the uke on my back brings me joy. Its portability also means that you can practice virtually anywhere at anytime, which is great for any traveling musician who might not normally be able to find time to practice. That I can play it on BART quietly enough to go unnoticed, yet loud enough to entertain a crowd, is a huge plus. But perhaps even better than that is the fact that the uke is so accessible – it’s an instrument for all ages and skill levels, which makes it such an exciting instrument to teach. I enjoy teaching, and the uke is an incredible instrument for building community and gathering a whole bunch of people together to make music.
UI: Where do you find inspiration?
Ukulenny: The uke community is full of happy, joyful people. How could one be sad with an instrument like this? So I definitely find my inspiration from all those wonderful people out there who play the ukulele and make it such a pleasure to be a part of the uke world. I have to give special shoutouts to my Uke Idols, Jake Shimabukuro, Troy Fernandez, Aldrine Guerrero, Kalei Gamiao, and the many others who have done so much for the ukulele. But all of my friends who are making incredible music now with the ukulele continue to inspire me to do the same – folks like Ben Ahn, Melvin Gutierrez, Cynthia Lin, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Robbie Lee, and Jion Jugo. These musicians make me proud to play the uke and keep me going. Finally, I draw much inspiration from the people I teach, whether it’s folks at ukulele nights and workshops, students in my Ukulele Club at Oakland School for the Arts, or those watching my videos on YouTube. Whenever I’m having a tough day I stop and read nice messages from uke players all over the world, some people that successfully played their first song or something or other from one of my videos. It might seem cheesy but it really means a lot to me to know that people are learning to play the uke through me, and are thus inducted into our amazing community. I’m just so happy to know that because of my work, somebody else is making music and gets to share in the joy I feel every day as an ukulele player.