I love finding out how people from different countries have come to play the ukulele. It is a nice way to travel to different places and at the same time document the progression of the ukulele in the world.
Giacomo, an Italian ukulele player living in Finland has offered to tell me his story. Giacomo calls himself Jaakko ja hänen mahtava ukulelensa, which in Finnish means ‘Giacomo and his amazing ukulele’.
U&L : How long have you been playing the ukulele ?
Giacomo : I have been playing ukulele for a little more than one year now. I nearly bought a uke in Sweden, where I lived for two months in 2007. A lot of artists I like are Swedish and play / used to play ukulele, such as Jens Lekman (which I guess was the first artist playing ukulele I have ever seen, if I exclude Oliver Hardy in ‘Sons of the Desert’).
Anyway, there was a sign in this music shop in Norrköping that said ‘ukulele for 200 crowns’, which is 20 euros, so I went in and asked to try one. The shop owner took a yellow one from behind the desk and tuned it for me. The tuning sounded amazing! I just held it in my arms and played the 4 strings over and over again and I was loving the GCEA ! The shop owner got bored I guess and put a booklet with the chords on my lap and I started playing a Cmaj, which is my favourite chord and I just fell in love.
I didn’t buy it though, as it was some kind of cheap toy and the frets were bad.
I bought my first ukulele back in Helsinki on a Friday, after work. I had to go around a bit to find one. Helsinki guitar shops are either full of heavy metal gear or vintage instruments. I found an ukulele in the 5th shop I visited, it’s a shop by the sea.
U&L : What is your magnificent ukulele ?
Giacomo : My ukulele is a Lanikai LU-11, a pretty basic uke I guess.
U&L : Why did you choose to play the ukulele ?
Giacomo : I have been playing guitar and mandolin in different bands for the last 20 years. I still play guitar in a pop band called The Sininen which I guess is the only band in Finland singing in French.
At the end of the 1990s, I was very much into lo-fi electronic music and I bought myself a pair of casiotone keyboards etc…
At a certain point I got fed up with gears, cables and the whole idea that I needed electricity to make music. What’s that? What if electricity stops, what do I do? Why such a beautiful thing has to depend on such a stupid thing? All the other aspects of my life already depended on electricity, so music-making had to stay out of it. The ukulele saved me: it’s small, it stays under my sofa in its little case and whenever I want to play, it’s there, ready.
U&L : You are Italian, live in Finland but sing in English and German. Why the choice of language ?
Giacomo : well, all my favourite music is in English, that’s one reason, it sounds good, lyrics in English are easier to write, as the words fit the melodies. German is great, it is a language which is so analytical and precise, it’s the language of philosophy, but if you don’t master it or if you just use it in a very simple way, it becomes very very down-to-earth and naive. That’s why I like it. Artists like Tocotronic, Stereo Total, Barbara Morgenstern, Die goldenen Zitronen did this and turned German into a pop language.
I would like to start using Finnish too. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Finnish traditional children music, which is great and maybe something will come out of this.
U&L : Are there many ukulele players around in Helsinki ? How is the ukulele perceived there?
Giacomo : Oh yeah, there is a very active group of ukulele players, they hang around a bar called Mendoncino, they have a website and they organize a lot of events. They seem to be nice guys. They even put together a Helsinki international ukulele festival and the program was amazing! Unfortunately, I still haven’t had a chance to meet them, as my life has been quite busy in the last months, I couldn’t even make it to the festival! I hope they read this and that i could get to meet them and play in one of their events.
Here is a song by Giacomo, called Riga.
Giacomo is on MySpace.