Hawaiian Ukulele Goes Mainstream

For years, the ukulele was seen as a novelty outside the Islands. These days, though, a new crop of Mainland rockers and hipsters are getting serious about Hawaii’s favorite instrument.

Photo: Courtesy Danny Clinch

Photo: Courtesy Danny Clinch

Eddie Vedder

Ukulele Songs

Ukes have been popping up in pop culture more and more frequently. Train won a Grammy Award this February for its Kamakawiwoole-esque “Hey, Soul Sister,” and one of the contestants on the new reality show Glee Project proudly wields an ukulele.  However, Pearl Jam front-man Eddie Vedder has just become one of the uke’s highest profile champions to date.

For this new solo release, he traded in his electric guitar for a Kamaka ukulele and spent at least part of his recording session time on Oahu, to get an authentic Island feel to the songs. Of course, this is Vedder we’re talking about, so Ukulele Songs isn’t a happy-go-lucky Jack Johnson outing by any means, or even a particularly Hawaiian-sounding one. He’s still sporting his well-worn baritone, and his fondness for themes of heartbreak and loneliness—managing to make his ukulele sound not sunny, but reflective. pearljam.com.


Photo: Courtesy Amanda Palmer


Amanda Palmer

Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele

Rock fans may recognize Amanda Palmer as half of cabaret punk band The Dresden Dolls. Much like Vedder, though, Palmer’s got an acoustic side, and here she throws together emotional Radiohead covers and ukulele plinks with only the tiniest bit of tongue in her cheek. In a sign of the times, Palmer released the album digitally online last year, and as a limited-edition vinyl edition—no CDs. music.amandapalmer.net.


Photo: Courtesy Kristianna Smith


The Rip Tide

Far from using it as a one-off novelty, New Mexico artist Zachary Francis Condon has turned the ukulele into the heart of his indie-folk band Beirut. Combined with flugelhorn, accordion and a host of other instruments, Condon’s ukulele makes for a unique, Balkan-inspired sound. Beirut’s new album, The Rip Tide, comes out at the end of this month, beirutband.com.


Photo: Na Palapalai Music


We talk with musician Kuana Torres Kahele about his new solo album, Kaunaloa.

Q: What’s the significance of the album title?

A: Kaunaloa means “persevere.” This album is dedicated to my mother; It’s a promise to her I put off for 15 years. She wanted me to do a solo album before I did the first album with Na Palapalai. My mom passed away in ’02, but I’m finally doing it. So there’s that sense of persevering.

Q: How has your music developed in the 15 years you’ve been performing?

A: I used to sing much higher. As a young, ambitious falsetto singer, all you want to do is sing everything in C, as high as you can. But there’s more to the art of falsetto than that, more subtlety and depth. It’s like wine, you get better as you get older.

Q: How does recording solo compare with being part of a larger ensemble?

A: Less stress? (laughs). No, Na Palapalai are still going strong.