Ukulele & Languages

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

Ukulele Albums & Ebooks Posts

Today’s feature is a lovely song by Icelandic band Ylja, Á rauðum sandi.

It will take you on a road trip across Iceland towards the end of the summer, to the sound of guitar and ukulele accompanying the vocal harmonies of singers Gígja Skjaldardóttir and Bjartey Sveinsdóttir.

This song is taken from Ylja’s album Ylja which you can purchase on Bandcamp here.

I can’t help adding the lyrics to the song for those of you, who, just like me, are learning Icelandic. There is so much to be learnt from songs !

Enjoy the rhymes !

If anybody is interested, I could try and translate the song for you. Please leave your request in a comment.

source : Á rauðum sandi by Ylja on Bandcamp

Með tærnar grafnar í rauðum sandi,
sól og blíða úti á landi.
Ærnar jarmandi, fólkið raulandi,
fjöllin hvíslandi, lækurinn svalandi.

Hlaupandi á rauðum sandi,
í golunni svífur góður andi.
Dansandi, hoppandi
blaðrandi og blístrandi
og allir hlæjandi.

Við sitjum hér á rauðum sandi,
undraveröld, svo lokkandi.
Fánarnir flöktandi,
sólin hún er blindandi,
blómin eru blóstrandi,
náttúran dreymandi.

It is about time, with Halloween nearing, for me to wake from the dead…
Rest assured, dead I have not been, I have merely chosen for a while to remain unseen!

Ryan Taylor, a composer, conductor, baritone vocalist and ukulele player from the US recently sent me an ebook for review, entitled The Haunted Ukulele, which consists of “a monster collection of 59 spooky songs”.

Cover of The Haunted Ukulele

Buy on (paperback format)

Buy on Sellfy (PDF version)

So Trick or Treat ?

General presentation :

The book definitely falls into the treat category. Besides being  a vocalist, Ryan Taylor leads the UFO HUM (Ukes for Others : Happy Ukulele Movement). Over the years he has collected over hundred songs on the theme of Halloween from which he has selected the 59 he found most compelling. Drawings by Ryan pleasantly illustrate the book and emphasize the humorous side he is taking on the macabre theme.

The Haunted Ukulele has been written by a musician and it shows : you will find scores that are professionally laid out for each song. The songs selection covers several musical styles, from traditional, ragtime, to classical. All arrangements are very neat with a good mix between strumming and fingerpicking. A diagram of the chords used is displayed for each song which come in quite useful as there are many songs with numerous chords. Where the songs are strummed, rhythm patterns are indicated. When the songs use fingerpicking, Ryan gives guidelines using different types of notation according to the complexity of the song.

If you’d like to widen your range of chords from the usual major chords, there’s plenty to learn from The Haunted Ukulele as there are many challenging songs with frequent chord changes using fancier chords. These may look complicated for beginners but the book also features several two-chord songs so you need not worry, there are songs for all ukulele levels. To help you learn the songs, Ryan Taylor has recorded 33 of the 59 songs from the book on his YouTube channel, The Haunted Ukulele. You cannot see him play on the videos (apart from this one : “Welcome,” Said the Spider) but you’ll get to hear the melody of the song as well as the ukulele strum/fingerpicking. Ryan also intends to write tutorials to go alongside the book.

The selection of songs in this ebook is very interesting on many accounts and you will find :

Nursery Rhymes, Children Songs :

Classics such as Three Blind MiceThe Crocodile, Old Roger and many more…

If you’d like to add some language spice into your playing, I suggest learning The Cat Came Back. Once you know the lyrics in English, try practising in French. Lyrics in French can be found here (Le Matou Revient). Here is the video for The Cat Came Back :

Traditional songs :

The book supplies many pleasant traditional folk songs such as Sweet Molly MaloneShe Moved Through the FairThe Three Ravens (a favourite version of mine, sung by Alfred Deller can be heard here) and Waltzing Matilda to name but a few. There is even a song in Old English by Thomas CampionThrice Tosse These Oaken Ashes.

Here is Ryan Taylor‘s version of Sweet Molly Malone, nicely fingerpicked :

Songs composed by Ryan Taylor :

Ryan seems to enjoy playing with the English language and he has composed a certain number of the songs that are found in the book.

His tongue twister song Midnight Applicant is very enjoyable and will get you work on articulating while increasing your strumming speed :

Classical :

Danse Macabre is a piece written in 1874 by Camille Saint-Saëns with a French text by poet Henri Cazalis.

Poetry – Nonsensical :

Last but not least, Ryan has put to music the famous poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll thus exploring yet another aspect of the language. There is no video available for this song yet, but I’d love to hear Ryan‘s version one day, I am sure it is quite difficult to learn. Here is an excerpt :

” Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe. ” […]

I too have been inspired by Lewis Carroll and the sense of rhythm that emanates from his poetry. I put the poem Dreamland into song a while ago. Thinking about it, it would have been a good choice for Halloween too : “When midnight mists  are creeping /  And all the land is sleeping / Around me tread the mighty dead / And slowly pass away ” [ …] You can read the full poem here.

Conclusion :

I certainly recommend this ebook, a lot of work has been put into it and the selection of songs is excellent. It will have you navigate through time, history, language in a fun and musical atmosphere ! You’ll have plenty to sing for Halloween !


Norwegian singer and ukulele player Siri Nilsen has just released a new album, Alle Snakker Sant (Everybody is telling the truth). Those of you looking to learn or pratise Norwegian will definitely appreciate her lovely voice and very clear lyrics together with her ukulele fingerpicking.

[Update of the 16.11.2011 : Lillebjørn Nilsen, who is a renowned Norwegian singer and songwriter and also Siri‘s father sent me the link to a performance of  ‘Alle Snakker Sant’ Siri and himself gave a few days ago during a TV show. It is the first time I see Lillebjørn perform on the uke, the guitar being his instrument of choice. The complicity between father and daughter is obvious in the video which you can view here (after a short ad).]

Here is a live version of the title song of the album, Alle Snakker Sant (Hvor skal du gå?)

And here is the studio version of the same song:

The album can be purchased on iTunes here.




I have discovered the French band Stoned Popes a couple of months ago and I have really enjoyed the mood brightening effect their songs had. The band features a ukulele and their songs have a catchy rhythm and feature many instruments, borrowing from different musical styles.

I couldn’t resist asking them a few questions to find out more about their music.

U&L: When and how was your band Stoned Popes formed ? Can you tell us a little about the different members of the band, where everybody is from and what instruments everyone is playing ?

Stoned Popes: The band in its current form was formed two years ago in Paris by 6 crazy frenchies:

U&L: Where does the name of the band come from?

Stoned Popes: It’s a well-kept secret…

U&L: Your music creates a contagiously happy atmosphere and before you know it you feel like clapping along to the rhythm of your songs. Who are your musical influences ?

Stoned Popes: Thanks! We mix a lot of musical influences including British and US pop, Caribbean music such as reggae, rock, folk and all music with good rhythms and vocal orchestrations!

We try to create a happy and contagious melting-pop with all these influences. We were influenced by The Beatles of course, Cake, Beck, Calexico and innovative projects such as Gorillaz. All good bands who are not locked in any stereotype! We all listen to different music styles and we try to put that in our music.

Listen to What’s Coming After by the Stoned Popes:

What's Coming After - The Stoned Popes

U&L: Where did you learn the Dum Clap?

Stoned Popes: Seb, our drummer, lived in Brazil a few years ago. He learnt typical body percussions there. He tried a combination on Loser song and we all loved it. That’s how Dum Clap was born!

Stoned Popes performing Loser Song live.

U&L: A question aimed at us ukulele fans: how did you discover the ukulele?

Stoned Popes: We were lookin’ for kind of an “island sound” in our meting-pop. What instrument is better than a ukulele to get this sound?! Plus the ukulele has a lighter sound than the guitar so it allows us to have complex orchestration while having a very soft sound.

We use it as well in Loser song. This tune has a rocksteady rythm, the ukulele helps to push the song further, far from the classical reggae sound.

U&L: You have just released an EP called Stereo On. Can you tell us a bit about it? How many tracks featuring the ukulele are there?

Stoned Popes: Our EP Stereo On is now available on all good download platforms!

There are 3 songs out of 5 featuring the ukulele: What’s comin’ after, Loser song and Money on my mind.

Listen to Loser Song by the Stoned Popes from the EP Stereo On
Loser Song - The Stoned Popes

The Stoned Popes performing their song Money on My Mind

The Stoned Popes YouTube channel

The Stoned Popes on MySpace

The Stoned Popes on Facebook

I have featured a cool video of  Les Poupées Gonflées in one of my Weekly Ukulele World Tour post before and when I saw that they were about to release an album in which the ukulele played an important part, I set out to interview Valérie Charlot, the ukulele player in the band. Valérie seems to be seriously smitten by UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome).

Version française de l’interview des Poupées Gonflées ici.

Here is my translation of the interview. To read the original version in French, click here.

U&L: How was the band Les Poupées Gonflées formed? Can you introduce the different band members?

Valérie: Les Poupées Gonflées have been around for a year and a half but I started writing songs in the Poupées Gonflées style about 2 years ago. After writing my first originals, I started looking for accomplices!

Bebop was an obvious choice as we had previously been singing together in a band (swing) and because we had been friends for a long time. She plays the guitar as well as unlikely percussions (everyday life objects used as musical instruments such as keys, a necklace, a watering can…).

Meeting Titi was a stroke of good fortune. She plays the acoustic bass.

I play the ukulele and chromatic concertina. My uke is a soprano Kapono from New-Zealand, made of koa, which I really love. I sometimes steal my son’s Hamano to get a more muffled sound. I dream of a Koaloha (like you Armelle) or of a Lo Prinzi, in koa as well. I am also tempted by a soprano Chevalier but I will first invest in an electro-acoustic Risa to play on gigs.

As I had already written songs for Bebop and Titi’s personal repertoire before starting the Poupées Gonflées project, they both trusted me to write songs for the band.

We started rehearsing intensively about a year and a half ago and did our first gig in October 2009 (as first part for a band). Our first CD was released in October 2010 so as you can see we have not waisted any time!

Les Poupées Gonflées sing Où est-il?

U&L: What would you say are the characteristics of your band Les Poupées Gonflées ?

Valérie: A rather cheeky sense of humour which speaks to women and makes men laugh. Elaborate vocal harmonies, modest but effective instruments. No musical taboos whatsoever.

U&L: You are working on a new CD which is going to be released in January. What will be on the CD and how much ukulele will be featured ?

Valérie: We’ve just recorded 14 tracks, 11 of which being original songs. The CD also features an adaptation of Django Reinhardt (vocals), an old French standard completely revisited with the help of a skillful arranger friend _ the only man of the crew with Mathieu, our sound engineer_, and a cover of a song by Ricet Barrier (an old rogue from the Chanson Française and a ukulele player).

The ukulele is prominent in our repertoire except on 4 of the tracks (one of them being an a cappella song). All the rhythms are played on the uke. I write all the songs on the uke and check all vocal harmonies with the piano as I only have 2 vocal chords!

U&L: There is a lot of vocal work in your songs, how do you work on vocal lines in your songs? Do you write lyrics first and then work on the instruments or do you start from a melody played on an instrument ?

Valérie: This varies quite a bit. For example, in the song Badoum I started playing a few chords, the melody then came by itself and the lyrics followed. However in most cases, I am guided by the lyrics. On one of the songs the melody came to me while driving, so as you can see, there are no constants.

Les Poupées Gonflées : Les Copines de La Femme de Mon Mari

U&L: Do you sing your songs A Cappella to adjust your vocal lines ?

Valérie: I write the vocal lines and I then input them into a software program called Finale which makes beautiful music sheets. I then submit them to the other two and I try to take their tessitures into account as I know them well.

We make the necessary changes at the end of the first rehearsal, I rework my music sheets and it takes us about 6 weeks to get a song which sounds really right, especially when the song includes a chorus of harmonised voices.

U&L: You have recently played as first part for Bob Brozman, how did that feel ?

Valérie: It has such an effect that I first refused. We were in the middle of our recordings in the studio and I wanted to remain calm and composed…

But as the request came from our excellent friend and inspired musician Mathieu Presqué, I eventually changed my mind two hours before the concert (so I didn’t have time to get stressed out!)

We played Stand by Me on ukulele and lap steel guitar for the first time in front of Mr. Brozman himself!

Besides the excellent evening I spent in his company (he is delicious and his concert was excellent) it will remain a good memory, especially since I am a fair rhythm ukulele player and not at all a ukulele hero!

Les Poupées Gonflées performing Carlito

Les Poupées Gonflées on MySpace

Les Poupées Gonflées on YouTube

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