I just saw an ultra-cool indie documentary.  It's called Rock that Uke, and it's
all about the ukulele as a growing force in current music.  Now, being
a uke player myself, I had always thought I was alone in my adulation;
how wrong I was!  The ukulele, as it turns out, is beloved by a wide
range of crazed musicians, all sharing a common belief that the ukulele 
is more than an instrument, it's a statement.  The uke is an instrument
of the Revolution.  

If you are lucky enough to catch this movie, you'll see what I mean.

Why the uke?  I have been playing the baritone ukulele for 5 years, now,
and this film has prompted me to question why.  Seriously.  Is it because
the uke is not a guitar, not the instrument of a million little boy-men
stroking their electric dongs, eyes closed in a fury of masturbatory
self-delight?  Is it because the uke is inherently sweet and naive, but
capable of making real music and carrying a serious message?  
Is it because it's really easy to carry it to gigs?

All of those, and more.  Maybe I'm tired of popular music, the way it all
starts to sound the same, the same chords, the same boys playing it, the
same empty messages carried in the same empty songs year after year.  
Change this one simple thing:  don't have a guitar in the band, and
suddenly the possibilities open up.  The ukulele fills a similar role, 
but in a more humble capacity.  The ukulele does not overpower other 
instruments, it's more democratic than that.  The range is smaller,
the sound is smaller, you can hear and focus on vocals and lyrics, other
instruments filling the spaces below and above and in between.  

And the ukulele is the instrument of choice for those enchanted with the
faux naive.  Such as Ed's Redeeming Qualities, perhaps the greatest ukulele 
band ever to walk this earth, which featured a soprano uke in the hands of Dan Leone.  
The faux naive approach to song-writing uses the simple, the innocent, the 
humorous veneer to disarm the audience.  You can sneak in the most cutting 
messages with the sweetest approach.  The uke is disarming in this way.  
A child's instrument, a cute sound.  Underneath, the biting subtext, 
offered up in all innocence.  It's my favorite kind of song-writing.
WEEN, the Toy Dolls, they could have benefitted from a uke or two.

And there is perhaps nothing more hilarious and fun than really wailing
on a uke, strumming power chords and sending up all the great guitar 
players.  Of course, the length of the arm in relation to the uke makes
it difficult to truly windmill a lá Pete Townshend, but it's worth
a try.

Both of my bands, Joe Schmoe and lemon juju prominently feature
the ukulele.  Give 'em a listen and see if you don't agree:  for such
a tiny instrument, the ukulele sure packs a mean wallop.

©2003 cynsa beans all rights reserved