Archive | August, 2016

The uke-connection by Mia Lotus

One of the things that fascinates me and that I like the most about the ukulele is how it connects people. Of course all instruments and all types of music have this power, but because of it’s characteristics, the ukulele makes this connection so easy in many ways!
 shimo ukuleleAs a multi-instrumentalist I have had the chance to know many different types of “communities” virtual and real, of different types of players, instruments and styles. I started piano at 4, played in punk bands as a teen, I was trained in classical and jazz guitar at university, I sang in choirs, played in all kinds of bands, created electronic music, met with the banjo, harp, cello, and even dulcimer communities on the net…. But nothing could ever prepare me for the ukulele folks!!
 Peace, Love, Ukulele…  it says it all… After having been through the crazy punk rock scene, and to the other extreme: the rigidity and competition of the classical music world, to meet with the ukulele community was like a breeze of fresh air!
 What is it about the ukulele that makes it so special? First it is so easy to learn: anyone can play a C chord, and most people can pick up a ukulele for the first time and play a song under a hour: how amazing and fun is that!
 It’s so small and you can carry it anywhere, jam with anyone anytime! Because it is so small you can have many people together in the same room playing together, that would not be possible with the guitar and it’s longer neck. That is why you have so many ukulele clubs and not many guitar clubs!
 The ukulele sounds really great when played in gang: when everyone plays together the acoustic volume of the ukulele make it possible to hear yourself along with the rest. I have hear someone say that even if half the people in his ukulele club can’t get the right note, it still sounds great! I have experienced that in my ukulele club, it is true, and I believe it has to do with the acoustic qualities of the uke. Not all instruments would give the same results: can you imagine how would sound a club of banjo or violin, especially if most people were beginners? I like to imagine how would be bagpipe clubs or harp clubs… How would the world be today if noseflute clubs were popular instead of ukulele clubs?
 The ukulele brings the fun of playing music together possible to people of all levels and all ages. Even kids and old people who never played an instrument before can learn the ukulele easily. This creates a climate of fun and family.
People of all levels get together for the fun of playing music in group!
From what I’ve seen and experienced, the motivation of those people is much greater than if they were alone. People share their knowledge of chords and other techniques and the progress is sometimes so impressive in little time!
 This climate of fun and family that emerged from the uke clubs can also be seen on the net! The ukulele community is probably one of the most fun and active community of players on the internet: they share videos, scores, knowledge in a climate of fun and no competition that naturally emerged from the “real” ukulele club to the “virtual” ones: the forums, Facebook groups, and sites like this very fine one.
 It fascinates me to see people from all over the world sharing their love for the ukulele and connecting online and communicating easily with the help of translators now.
Now we can even see the people play live on our phone  or tablet, from across the planet, with the help of technology. Then those virtual connection sometimes becomes real! I have seen ukulele bands travel around the world, with minimal equipment, at minimal cost, using their network and connections over the world to find them gigs and places to stay. The ukulele folks are always fun, open and welcoming, and all over the world you can now find this feeling of the big ukulele family!
I think this is a beautiful phenomenon and it is indeed very well resumed in the phrase:  Peace, Love, Ukulele!!
 Let’s spread the love of music and, the fun of playing together, and take over the world one uke at the time!

The Impending Famine by Matt Hicks

What is it to “find ones voice” in both writing and performing?

This is a huge question for many performers and songs writers young and old in this day and age. It is also associated with a considerable amount of anxiety.
Just this week we heard that Ed Sheeran is being sued by the family of Ed Townshend who wrote “Let’s get it on” because Sheerans song “Thinking out loud.” Copied the heart of this Marvin Gaye song.
It is the second time in two years that someone has been sued for plagiarising Marvin Gaye songs. To me it sums up what is wrong with our increasingly warped view of songwriting as an industry and as a pass time. I am not suggesting we give up ownership of one’s songs or creations. Artists have a hard time as it is making a living from writing and performing, but I I can’t help thinking that law suits such as this only serve to starve creativity and “finding ones voice”.  And whilst this is a situation only likely to affect the song writers who make the most money, may I remind you that it wasn’t long ago that Ed Sheeran was holed up in a cottage writing songs with Amy Wadge as an unknown hopeful.
The idea of ownership of music and lyrics is not a new idea but the extent and depth of how one can be sued is. If we used today’s law, you could probably sue every blues player that exists through linking their music to a previous artist.
Music is a communal activity. Admittedly whilst there is something very fulfilling about belting out your favourite song in the shower, chances are you’re imagining an adoring audience. We make music to be listened to and responded to. This is why over hundreds of generations , it has served as such a good medium for telling stories.
I once played “drunken sailor” in a gig once. During the middle of the song a Morris dancer stopped me abruptly and very aggressively pointed out that I wasn’t playing or singing it in keeping with its recording as no 322 in the Roud Folk song index. I was genuinely in fear for my life at the point but it did inspire me to go back and look at the history of the song. What amazes me was how it had literally evolved as it was passed through merchant and fishing communities, changing according to the people that owned it for themselves to tell their own stories. It seems almost perverse then that it should be laid down in stone or ink on a copyrighted page never to change again. The story is over, the song becomes historical as opposed to heritage and part of our future. The young no longer keep it treasured because it has no relevance to their identity of being.
That’s the price we pay for ownership of a song. Whilst it may well end up recorded and revered, actually I wonder whether it could ever be immortalised as much as a song such as drunken sailor which has been sung and adapted over hundreds of years.
So the major issues to me are. In a climate of ownership and copyright, how is someone going to feel able to imitate, innovate, and absorb those that have come before them? I will always maintain that I would probably have never found my songwriting and performing voice without Neil Finn, Ray Lamontagne and Kelly Joe Phelps. I have been hugely influenced as a song writer by Norah Jones and Tom Waits. I dare say that should one of my songs ever make money, there might be grounds at some point to sue me. It’s unavoidable because music and its genres rely on imitation and a natural desire to carry on a tradition. To find a platform on which to tell a story. If the threat of legal action looms at every corner of the song writing process, we risk losing a heritage of creativity that has existed almost since the dawn of humanity.
Yet interestingly there are some areas of the music industry where this isn’t an issue. It would seem that in the world of dance music, there is a forum through which imitation and plagiarism are almost requirements . I don’t know how this works but somehow the copyright lawyers are holding back because everyone knows his approach makes the most money. This kind of takes me to my next issue. Community.
The music industry has taken songwriting to the point where it is highly individualised. One name is attributed to one person. And yet if you look at the credits you will often see a team of songwriters. Music is best written in community. Music exists to bring people together and it thrives on performance, interaction, innovation, celebration. It transcends generations both past and future. I guess this is why I love bluegrass and folk music so much. Music that spawns from generations of families and communities jointly owning a genre or technique or song. It is why the ukulele community is so precious to me. We are seeing a sea of excellent writing emerging without that craving to bag it up and lob it onto the music industry cart. At least not at the moment

Why create something new?

I was recently on a social media forum talking about music festivals and one promoter commented (I paraphrase) “We know what people want, its just about giving it to them”  The same day I’d been watching an interview with Ricky Gervais about his process for writing and producing TV shows and movies. He talked about not using focus groups for his work and the need for creating original creative work. Whether you like his humour of writing, one thing is clear, he has been highly successful in his career which only started in his late 30s.

I love the old classic songs, especially from the early 1970s. Many of the best albums were created during that period including “Blood on the Tracks” “Hejira” and “Sticky Fingers” Neil Young also released the seminal “Ditch trio” of albums “Tonight’s the Night” “On the Beach” and “Time fades away”. The record company were shocked that after the commercial best selling “Harvest” album, he would take such a radical turn. In subsequent years his record company tried to sue him for making “uncommercial music” Neil of course remains one of the best selling global artists, uncompromising in his attitude.

My point is that the best artists strive to do more than just give the public what they have always had, they do something extraordinary, often talking a risk in doing so. I applaud such folks. If we want a musical work that stretches beyond “X factor” production line music and simply recycling existing ideas, then that requires doing something new. Gervais made this exact point in another interview and I  agree totally with this view.

“You should make something. You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening-everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, ‘I did that.'”

In 2017 there will be phase three of Original Ukulele Songs. I have no idea how it will turn out, that’s part of the fascination of course…

nick cody