Phil Natividad is a self-taught ukulele player. He bought his first ukulele on a whim while working as an English teacher in Japan.”I felt motivated after meeting several teaching colleagues from Hawaii who were good ukulele players. I was intrigued by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s soothing rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” Then I was blown away after seeing Jake Shimabukuro play “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on Youtube – what he did with the ukulele was a real revelation! Unfortunately before leaving, I never actually followed through with learning how to play.”
Fast forward a few years, and the release of “Ukulele Songs,” (2011) an album by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. It was an album of original songs, with a few standards like “Tonight You Belong to Me,” “Dream a Little Dream,” and “More Than You Know.”
“I was at a wedding reception where I heard “Without You” and had a ukulele epiphany of sorts. Who would have thought that a 90s grunge rock icon would would inspire me to dust off my ukulele and attempt to play again? I was impressed that the ukulele was being used to play more than just conventional Hawaiian ukulele songs.”
In recent years, Phil joined the Ukulele Club of Winnipeg which plays at the King’s Head Pub. Joining the club exposed him to the ukulele’s application to blues, Tin Pan Alley, Hawaiian folk music, and to past and current pop songs. One of his favourite to play, though an unlikely uke song, is “5 Days in May” by Canadian band Blue Rodeo. In addition to playing with the UCW, he enjoys the occasional open mic night, and drop-in jam sessions with Lindsay White and the kids of the Valour Rocks music program in the West End. In addition to Vedder, Phil also counts among his immediate ukulele influences Ukulele Underground’s Aldrine Guerrero, UCW’s Kate Ferris, and Bob Brozman. He finally got to see Jake Shimabukuro live, and he is even more impressed and inspired by his playing.
“I’ve pretty much abandoned my guitar as my appreciation for the ukulele has grown: the ukulele has a rich history that started in Hawaii, spread to the mainland, but then fell out of favour as a novelty instrument. It has made a remarkable comeback in recent years with Eddie Vedder’s album and songs like Train’s “Hey Soul Sister.” I like that it’s portable and can be taken anywhere. Plus, it’s such a happy instrument. It makes people smile!”
Phil hopes his students enjoy learning how to play…AND that the ukulele makes them – and whoever they play for – smile, too!