Ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro is a musical mastermind on a tiny instrument

Jake Shimabukuro is known as the “Jimi Hendrix of the Ukulele.” He can play nearly any genre, he’s had collaborations with impressive artists, and will play at the Englert on Sept. 21.


Gabby Drees

Attendees enter Englert Theatre as part of the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Olivia Augustine, Arts Reporter

Jake Shimabukuro first picked up the ukulele at the age of four, drawn in by the instant gratification of its motivating and encouraging nature. Shimabukuro, referred as the “Jimi Hendrix of ukulele,” will shred said instrument at the Englert Theatre tonight.

At tonight’s performance, a large portion of the concert will be dedicated to music from Shimabukuro’s latest album, “Jake & Friends.” This is his first collaborative record, with an impressive list of featured artists including collaborations with big-name stars Jack Johnson, Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler, and many more.

“All these great musicians I grew up listening to — to be able to work with them and record these duets with them was just such an honor and really a dream come true,” he said.

Another specialty of the album is that almost all the songs were recorded live, with three exceptions due to the pandemic.

Based on the list of his collaborative artists alone, one might notice that Shimabukuro has a knack for quite a few different sounds. He is known for mastering a variety of genres, which is considered especially unique for a ukulele player.

He attributes his wide array of styles to his upbringing, in which his parents constantly played everything from traditional Hawaiian music to rock-and-roll.

“From a time I was really young, I was exposed to a lot of different styles and I just loved it all,” he said. “I always had all these melodies from these different genres of music that I had heard that I would try to pluck out on the instrument.”

His performance at The Englert will not be Shimabukuro’s first time performing in Iowa City. The ukulele star has been visiting town for years.

Though born in Hawaii, Shimabukuro has family in town that he makes a point to see. He also admires the surprisingly large ukulele community in Iowa City. That aside, he said he enjoys how kind the people are, and he is looking forward to the show tonight.

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“We do an arrangement of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ and the last time I was [in Iowa City] we had an epic sing-along,” Shimabukuro recalled. “I’m hoping we can continue that tradition.”

Of everything that comes with going on tour, Shimabukuro said there is nothing he loves more than the rush of performing, saying there is a ‘synergy’ about it. He said he is fulfilled by engaging with the audience and creating live music.

He also likes to leave the crowd with a message following his shows, especially to children who attend. He encourages them to find their passion and work as hard as possible to get there, whether that passion is music, cooking, or studying to be a doctor.

He also likes to put out an anti-drug message, because he said those are the messages that affected him the most as a child.

“I remember when I was a kid, artists and musicians and people from the community would come to my school,” he said. “They’d say, ‘study hard and don’t do drugs,’ and that really stuck with me.”