Interviews

Jack & Rai take on the ukulele

By Anjali RaguramanEvents - 01 May 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 02 May 2014

Jack & Rai take on the ukulele

The first Sentosa Ukulele Festival takes place this Saturday, 3 May. With the sea front beach vibes and the strains of the ukulele in the air, it’ll be just like being on sand in Hawaii.

From 4 to 10.30pm at Palawan beach, you can indulge in the cheery sounds of the ukelele, or even pick up a ‘uke’ for yourself. Among the lineup due to play are well-loved Singaporean duo Jack & Rai. We caught up with them to find out what it takes to be a rock star on the ukulele.

The perennial question is- how do you pronounce ‘ukulele’?

Oo-koo-lay-lay! 

When did you first pick up the ukulele?

For Esplanade's Flipside festival some years back. We decided to do some rock songs ukulele style just for kicks. 

What make or model or ukuleles do you use?

Rai uses a Boulder Creek ukulele and Jack uses a Washburn.

A lot more pop stars are including ukuleles in their live shows – like Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz. What’s the draw of the ukulele?

It's just a happy instrument. For some reason (it) just enhances the feel-good vibe and you just can’t resist singing along! 

cry baby
Jack & Rai

We know you both more for your guitar-driven songs. What’s different about playing a ukulele as compared to a guitar?

(There’s a) big difference. For one, we don't use guitar picks, and they use nylon strings. So the sound is naturally warmer in tone. Also, a ukulele has four strings with slightly different tuning, so chord shapes do differ from guitar. (It) takes some motor memory reprogramming sometimes! 

Does your range of songs become limited? Is it easy to transpose guitar songs to the uke?

Admittedly, we do get limited as we don't often play ukulele. For those who are more familiar, almost any song is a cinch. It's just a matter of getting used to the chord shapes, and hitting the right notes, like any other string instrument. 

The ukulele is such a cheerful, happy-sounding instrument. Is it hard to do more intense numbers or experiment with different styles of music?

We try to do songs people won’t expect on a ‘uke’. (It) involves a bit of rearrangement sometimes, but it's not impossible to experiment with. We've even seen electric ukulele guitars and basses! The instrument is evolving for sure. 

Will the ‘uke’ be featuring in your regular Jack & Rai sets from now on?

We tend to take to the mandolin and banjo more than the ukulele.  Guitar is still at the fore for us, and provides the greatest versatility. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pick up the ukulele?

Go get one and start strumming! Invest in a chord dictionary, or get some lessons. We know our friends from Ukulele Movement offer such services! 

What can we expect from your set at the ukulele festival? Will there be any special guests?

We have a special item that we are putting together, in collaboration with Sungha Jung and violinist extraordinaire Eileen Chai. Who knows we might even jam with James Hill if given a chance. 

Is there any chance you’ll be playing ‘Ohhh Moyes’?

Haha, unfortunately some of the lyrics might not be appropriate for a family crowd :) But you can still see it on Youtube at jackandraiTV