Thursday, July 01, 2010

NPR and Blender Magazine Catch Ukulele Fever

We knew it was coming. I don’t know how. But we knew. Even at the very early stages of Neutral Uke Hotel, the tiny four-stringed instrument known as the ukulele, was gaining momentum as a “hip” instrument. Now that NUH has a rabid following online, we can only hope that this had added to the popularity of the ukulele that has increased dramatically over the past year.

Blender Magazine recently wrote an article titled “The Ukulele's Unlikely Renaissance.” Writer Conrad Doucette affirmed; “That's right: the humble ukulele has outgrown its nearly provincial roots to become a semi-ubiquitous and fully trendy lead instrument for a growing number of artists looking to distinguish themselves sonically or challenge themselves with an unfamiliar palette. Don't think that the ukulele is back (that is, if it was ever here)? Read on.”



Doucette mentions not only mentions NUH, but also the very unexpected release from Amanda Palmer, formerly of punk-cabaret band The Dresden Dolls. In July she will release an album featuring covers Radiohead songs on the uke. The album is aptly titled Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele. Much of this growth spurt of this now fashionable instrument began with Paul McCartney playing it some 10 years ago and then the ongoing The Beatles Complete on Ukulele project(an inspiration for the Neutral Milk Hotel via uke project Neutral Uke Hotel).

Once thought as a limited instrument primarily used in Hawaiian and Latin music, the majority of people’s knowledge of uke music comes from either Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and the oddly charming 1968 hit Tiny Tim’s “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips” (which was kind of awesome). Dare we say this is a new hipster trend? Well, no because it’s being played by so many diverse kinds of people in so many various styles. Bonus of the stringed instrument: it’s small and easy to transport!

NPR recently ran a feature on the “comeback” of the referring the uke as a “musical underdog.” I don’t know if I’d say it’s a comeback, when it’s only recently that musicians have learned the versatility of playing the ukulele to any genre of music. Scan YouTube for “ukulele” and you’ll be amazed at the viral impact of this new movement. People of all ages are covering songs of all genres from soul, traditional and indie rock. For a new documentary “The Mighty Uke: The Amazing Comeback of a Musical Underdog,” NPR interviewed the filmmakers about the “return” of the ukulele. Documentary director Tony Coleman and producer Margaret Meagher traveled across the country documenting the varying kinds of musicians playing the ukulele. "Initially," Coleman said in the NPR interview, "When we decided to make the documentary, the thing I was interested in was the musical surprise. But I was blown away by the little instrument's power to bring people together." “Coleman also credits Paul McCartney who in 2002 performed a concert in tribute to the late George Harrison — a big ukulele fan. McCartney brought out a ukulele Harrison had given him and sang ‘Something,’” said NPR’s Susan Stamberg.

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