Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

Ukulele & Languages Posts

As you may or may not have noticed, I have considerably slowed down on my blog writing lately. Fear not, although I have made myself scarce to reflect on some essential life questions, I have no intention of giving up writing about Ukulele and Languages and I am hoping to come back to speed from November 2011 onward.

While I have been taking time off the blog, Al Wood, the witty web author of Uke Hunt has striven and achieved the amazing mark of 1500 posts written. Being a blogger, I can easily imagine what kind of hard work, tenacity, creativity and organization such a feat requires.

Hard Times Come Again No More by Stephen Fosters, ukulele cover by Al.

2011 is definitely Al Wood‘s year as he has also written a book, Ukulele for Dummies which has recently been published.

These amazing achievements make Al Wood a forefront contributor to the ukulele community.  I wanted to hear how Al felt about it all so I asked him a few questions.

U&L: In the interview I did of you a couple of years ago, I asked you where you saw yourself in 10 years time. This is what you said :

‘Looking at the history of the ukulele, it seems unlikely that it’ll be as popular in ten years as it is now. So I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a living out of writing about ukuleles like I am now.’

Do you have a different view on the subject now that your book, Ukulele for Dummies, has been released? It seems to me that such a book is a contribution which makes the ukulele accessible to a greater number of people thereby potentially increasing its popularity.

Al: No, my opinion hasn’t changed. The history of the ukulele hasn’t changed. It’s always been an instrument that goes in and out of fashion.

I heard an interesting idea – I think it was James Hill – that there’s a ukulele boom whenever a new method of communication takes hold. So there was a ukulele boom after the radio took off, one after there was a TV in every home, and now one on the internet. So I think we’re still following in the pattern of the past.

Maybe this time will be different. Who knows? Certainly not me.

U&L: With Ukulele for Dummies, you have written a book which explores many different styles of music, demonstrating the versatility of the uke while at the same time making it interesting both for the beginner and the more advanced ukulele player. How did you go about structuring the book ?

Al: Thanks very much!

It was really important to me that I covered the different ways that the ukulele is being used now rather than just covering the traditional ways of playing.

The Dummies books have quite a set way of doing things. Their books are always structured like reference books. So you can dip into a certain section and find what you want. So Ukulele for Dummies is structured a lot like Guitar for Dummies and Banjo for Dummies.

U&L: Even though Ukulele for Dummies is written with a certain sense of humour, there is quite a difference with your usual Uke Hunt writing style. Can you tell us about some memorable editing you’ve had to make?

The editing process certainly made me realise how out of touch with mainstream morality I am. I wrote a line that pointed out the similarities between ukulele parts and body parts and listed, “necks, bodies and nuts.” And that was a no-go. On the other hand, a reference to torture techniques used in Guantanamo Bay was waved through with a giggle.

Quite why testes are worse than torture, I haven’t managed to fathom.

Another big difference was in the references I can make. On the blog I have no problem referring to something maybe only a handful of people will get. For the book I made reference to Barney the Dinosaur and that was questioned.

Al performs a cover of the King of the Hill Theme by The Refreshments. Tabs available on Uke Hunt.


U&L:  You have just reached the impressive amount of 1500 posts published on Uke Hunt over four and a half years which tells a lot about your dedication to the Uke World. What are your best and worst experiences with your blog writing?

Al: The best part is hearing from people that the site has helped. It’s always great to hear that people are using what I put up and are enjoying it.

I remember one email I got. It was from a girl who learned ukulele songs from the site and then played them for her Grandad when he was in a hospice.

I’m trying to think of a worst experience. It never gets as bad as having a real job. Writing books/ebooks is always testing. The size of it is overwhelming. It turns into an endless and very painful grind.

U&L: You have written a book, published 1500 ukulele posts, do you have any new projects up your sleeve? Any more things you’d like to achieve ?

Al: It’s starting to seem like the reasons I started the blog don’t apply so much any more. You couldn’t really say that the ukulele is under-utilized or over-looked. Or that there aren’t enough learned materials.

So I’ve been thinking about starting a site about playing world music. It’s impossible to find tab or much instruction on that stuff. And there are a few bands picking up on the Afropop sound like Vampire Weekend and Fool’s Gold. Even in the ukulele world you’ve got people like Tune-Yards and Givers. So I think that’s an interesting area.

U&L: What is your most controversial Uke Hunt Post (judging from the amount and the vehemence of comments it generated).

Al: There are two that spring to mind. When I said Stairway to Heaven was the worst Led Zep song I got racist and homophobic insults for that one.

And when I did a write-up of the Wukulele Festival. I got so much shit for that I took down the post and vowed never to go to a ukulele festival ever again.

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You can get a copy of Ukulele for Dummies from the various Amazon sites. It’s the perfect book to let you figure out the many possibilities of the uke.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Buy on Amazon.fr

Buy on Amazon.de

Once you have explored the different styles of music with Ukulele for Dummies, you can get more detailed aspects of the various styles from Al’s many ebooks available on his site.

The FIUL, International Ukulele Festival of Lerrain was the first ukulele festival I’ve attended which didn’t take place in Paris, which, for a countryside dweller like myself, was just perfect. Here are some highlights of the weekend.

Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar, the organisers of the festival have done a great job making ukulele players attending the festival very welcome. Upon arrival, all ukulele players who had registered on their site received a bag containing items that would help them look and sound good on stage (a set of strings from Aquila, a thick and neatly laid-out songbook, a toothbrush, toothpaste, mascara,  and other things, including some deodorant to make sure our playing didn’t stink). It’s worth mentioning that the bag was a world tour in itself with products from France, Italy, New-Zealand, the US and Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole village of Lerrain seemed to have been converted to the ukulele before we all arrived. Gardens, walls, signs, everything spoke of the ukulele.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The FIUL started out at the campsite where a crowd of ukulele players joined to play songs from the FIUL songbook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Xavier, a French ukulele player, has found a cunning plan to fight stage fright…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole festival was very laid back which is something I really liked. Whether you were a party goer or a shy ukulele player, you had your place at the FIUL.

My friend Guillaume and I especially enjoyed playing in the old wash-house which gave a very good acoustic rendering. We met with a really nice little group (special mention to Frédérique and Vincent) and started playing together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herman Vandecauter captivated his audience there when he played several beautiful classical pieces. I was so focused on listening that I forgot to film while he played.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the other side of the street, ukulele players could register to play open stage. Various YouTube ukulele players from Europe and the US performed.

Gus and Fin, the famous ukulele duo from Scotland warmed up the crowd with their wild strumming and cool vocal harmonies. Here are a couple of songs they played:

You can find many more pictures of the FIUL on their website here and videos here.

I’d like to end this post by thanking Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar for organising this festival which I really enjoyed. I hope there will be more FIUL‘s in the years to come.

 

There’s been plenty going on in the Ukulele World lately and it’s about time I break my silence to share some important ukulele news.

1. Ukulele for Dummies soon to be released

First and foremost, best friend of the blog Al Wood from Uke Hunt has worked hard on writing a Beginner Ukulele book for the ‘For Dummies’ series.
Knowing Al, Ukulele for Dummies is bound to be packed with details and thorough explanations. Find out all details about the book in Al’s post.

Ukulele for Dummies can be preordered on all the Amazon sites.

Ukulele for Dummies on Amazon.fr (Release date: 24th of June 2011).

To give you an idea of the quality work you can expect from Al, make sure you read his last post ‘Barre chord Tips‘.

2. Lou Armer’s new website

Music maker, ukulele player and good friend of the blog  Lou Armer aka Bossarocker has set up a cool-looking new website where she shares ukulele news, ukulele radio shows and details about the Uke Hunt Podcast she is presenting on a monthly basis.

If you have missed the Chorlton Ukulele Radio Shows she has presented, you can listen online on her website here.

Lou will be releasing her first EP in July so don’t forget to sign up to her mailing list to be informed of the release date.

3. FIUL : International Uke Fest. of Lerrain

This weekend, the FIUL, the International Ukulele Fest. of Lerrain will take place in Lerrain, a tiny village in the Vosges region, in the North-East of France.

The idea behind the FIUL is to gather ukulele players of all levels from around the world, in the fashion of the UWC (Ukulele World Congress) but with an added French touch.

Meylie-Mellow and Rel-Bar, the organisers of the festival, have worked hard on keeping their website regularly updated with news concerning the festival, interviews presenting the ukulele players who will attend, pictures of the ukers and their favourite ukes, chords to the ukers favourite songs and tourist information about the Vosges region.

Lerrain, a tiny village of about 500 souls has been getting ready to welcome ukulele players, with ukulele silhouettes cropping up just about everywhere.

I will be attending the FIUL with my friend Guillaume so if you are too, do leave a comment to let me know.

I am looking forward to the event where I’ll be able to meet Herman again and plenty of ukulele players I have seen on YouTube but whom I have never met.

4. Tim’s ukulele secrets

Skilled ukulele player Tim from Austin, Texas, whom I have interviewed some time ago has set up a blog to share his ukulele secrets.

His posts provide detailed step by step instructions on various ukulele techniques (triplets, clawhammer, folksy fingerstyle to select a few examples), detailed notes as well as video tutorials.

5. What happened to the World Tour Posts ?

This is a question nobody has asked yet but I’ll answer it anyway. The reason I have not published any World Tour Posts for a very long time is that I have started working on a personal project which does take up a lot of my rather limited spare time.

It might not look that way but writing a World Tour Post does take ages. It involves a daily scan of the latest ukulele videos, a careful selection of those I will feature and quite a bit of thinking on how I should order them so that they unfold well in the post. Add to this some research about the origin of the songs when available and you have a pretty good picture of the work needed.

Despite this being a very highly enjoyable process, it does require more time than I have available these days. I’d rather not post than throw a few videos in a post just for the sake of posting. I will be publishing more World Tour Posts in the future, but not on a weekly basis any longer.

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you might have been wondering why I haven’t posted in a while.  Be reassured, I haven’t dropped the ukulele nor decided to stop blogging. The reason for my silence has been a one-week business trip to Beijing, China.

Thanks to my friend Al from Uke Hunt, I have been able to add a ukulele aspect to my trip and to meet really lovely ukulele players from the Philippines and from China.

After a 10-hour flight during which I couldn’t sleep a wink, I arrived in Beijing on Saturday morning at 7:00 am local time, my Fluke carefully packed in my rucksack, ready to start the day despite the lack of sleep.

At 2:00 pm I met Connie, a ukulele player from the Philippines living an hour and a half away from Beijing and who had the extreme kindness to travel the distance to Beijing, meet me and introduce me to a ukulele shop owner in the North West of Beijing.

Let me invite you to a virtual visit of this ukulele shop in Beijing and to meet the lovely people I have met there. The shop is called The Modern Musical Instrument Company and is owned by Liang Xin Ming. Liang Xin Ming, who also teaches how to play ukulele, was not there when I visited but I met his wife Zong.

In case you ever travel to Beijing and wish to visit this ukulele shop, here is their card. If you don’t speak Chinese, you can use the card to give instructions to a taxi driver.

The music shop is divided in two halves, one part dedicated to Chinese instruments and the other half to the ukulele (and to a few guitars).

There is nothing like being made so welcome by the nicest ukulele player around, like the sight of many ukes and the pleasure of holding your own to bring a smile on one’s face…

A closer look at the ukuleles on display. Notice the concert uke with the Chinese mask painting.

Time to look inside the shop…

Apart from a couple of Kala and Ohana ukes, most of the ukulele brands on display were unfamiliar to me. Most of the ukes were mounted with GHS strings (not my favourite strings) and a few with Aquilas.

And now meet Zong (left), the lovely wife of the shop owner who made us feel at home in the shop and played along with us, and Connie (right), to whom I will never be thankful enough for her kindness and for that memorable ukulele afternoon in Beijing.

The Ukulele & Languages motto ‘Different countries, different cultures, one common language… the ukulele’ has never been better illustrated than that afternoon as I didn’t speak Chinese and Zong didn’t speak English

Zong showed us a few videos of the activities of the Beijing Ukulele Club so I could see her husband perform with other Chinese ukulele players, some of them very young (notice the little kid on the screen).

More ukulele fun followed as we tried to find common songs in our respective songbooks. The atmosphere of the shop became even more international when two more of Connie‘s friends, Filipino-Chinese Shasha and Craig from England joined us. Craig played the guitar along to my and Connie‘s ukulele strumming.

After this memorable ukulele session, we went out to eat together.

This afternoon has been so brilliant it’s been the highlight of my trip to China. I am so very grateful to Al for putting me in contact with Connie and to Connie for her kindness, her welcome and for organising the afternoon so I could make the most out of it. I definitely hope we will meet again one day.

Thanks a million to Zong who let us try all the ukuleles and play all afternoon in her shop.

Once more the ukulele has proven its magic!

Quite a few people have asked me if I knew Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar, the organisers of the FIUL festival (International Ukulele Festival of Lerrain) and I couldn’t say that I did.

I have therefore contacted Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar to find out more about themselves and about the upcoming Uke Fest which will take place on the 17th/18th and 19th of June 2011 in the North-East of France, in the tiny village of Lerrain.

U&L: Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar, what can you tell us to introduce yourselves ?

Meylie Mellow: I’m 25, I was born in the Vosges region where the festival will take place.

I’ve met Rel-Bar, my boyfriend, in Paris where I have moved because of my job as a web designer. During the day time I work for Le Figaro, the famous French newspaper and in the evening my skills come in handy for the FIUL!

Otherwise I’m an outgoing person, I like to welcome people and make them feel at home. I also have a great family sense.

Rel-Bar: I’m Aurélien aka Rel-Bar, 35 years old and born in Pau in South-western France.

I moved to Paris 6 years ago for my job and am now Business Consultant for a Danish software company.

Adeline aka Meylie Mellow and I met in a music store around a Martin ukulele and it was love at first sight… for the uke of course! ;o))

Otherwise I’m a retired skateboarder, been riding for over 20 years and I guess I’m an easy going person.

U&L: Can you tell us about your ukulele background, how you’ve discovered the ukulele, how long you have been playing and the style of music you are playing.?

Meylie Mellow: I discovered the ukulele 2 years ago. My brother bought me one for my birthday. I tried it out but I stuck to playing guitar until I went to Corsica for the summer vacation. Since I couldn’t bring my guitar along with me I took my uke. Gradually I played less and less guitar and more and more uke.

I have a tendency to play sad emotive country or folk songs.

Meylie Mellow performing Jimmy (Moriarty)

Rel-Bar: Back in the years I had tried out playing guitar but I couldn’t be bothered to play bar chords so I quit! 3 years ago I walked past a music store where a uke was on display. I thought I could probably handle bar chords on 4 strings so I bought it. Since then I have never let it down and bought many more! I love music so I play everything that sounds good to my ears!

U&L: Who are your favourite ukulele artists ?

Meylie Mellow: I like the fact that ukulele is a bit underground. Usually, I’m not interested by major music stars which I think lack of soul.

I can’t really say that I have favourite ukulele artists. I just love the uke’s musical & personality diversity, mostly when it’s without any kind of pretension thus the mellow in Meylie Mellow!

Rel-Bar: I consider every single uke player as an artist! Roy Smeck and George Formby have amazing skills, UOGB is really good but I can’t go without GUGUG, khillbillycaldera, unclejeff64, ukecrazybitches, …

Meylie Mellow and Rel-Bar covering an original song by UncleJeff64, Git off the road Mamaw

U&L: Could you describe the concept behind the FIUL festival ?

Meylie Mellow & Rel-Bar: The concept is quite simple, inspired by Mainland Mike‘s UWC (Ukulele World Congress), with our added “French Touch”.

The FIUL is a laid back international ukulele get-together where every single player will be welcomed and considered as a star no matter his/her level.

Our goal is to focus and to put into the light casual ukulele players thru our festival & website. On a daily basis, we update www.fiul.fr with contents sent to us by attending ukulelists: interv’ukes, pictures, songs…

U&L: Are there any ukulele players or bands booked for the festival ?

Meylie Mellow & Rel-Bar: We won’t have any “performers” but expect Gus & Fin to be the patrons of this first edition.

Every attending uke player will be considered as a performer and have access to our open mic stage. The list of players is available here. You can register to attend or play on our website or at the following address: festival.ukulele@gmail.com.

U&L: Can you tell us about the workshops that are planned ?

Meylie Mellow & Rel-Bar: At the time being we expect to have two non-official workshops (to be confirmed): the first one will be a beginner’s workshop for kids or newbies, the second one would allow the players to record a song of their choice for us to put out a FIUL souvenir CD.

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For more information about the FIUL, visit their website and register for their weekly newsletter.

The FIUL website is updated on a regular basis and provides a wealth of information about the Vosges region where the festival will be held, places to visit, etc…

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