Today we are going to take a look at an ‘ukulele virtuoso from Okinawa named Ryo Natoyama. At 23 years old, Natoyama has risen to international popularity with fans hailing from Australia to Hong Kong to the UK. He started playing after an elementary school summer trip to Hawai’i where he incidentally picked up his first ‘ukulele. Since then he has appeared on one of Jake Shimabukuro’s tours, released four albums, and received two nominations at the 2015 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards. Natoyama is truly a gift to the ‘ukulele world.
Featured off his 4th album UKULELE SPLASH, this beautiful piece titled Precious is a shining example on how an ‘ukulele player can be technically proficient and still be expressive. Natoyama uses robust harmony and a wide range of very cleanly executed techniques to create interesting yet cohesive variations. He starts the tune with some Tommy Emmanual style harmonics (0:12) and begins the hook of the song. He launches into the first section with a beautifully written melody and also the main theme of the tune. Filled with minor 7th chords, augmented 5ths for tension (0:30) , and open voiced chords (0:56) give both a sweet tone and lots of harmonic movement for the melody to follow. Passing in between with double stops (0:23), sliding (0:22), and a natural sounding vibrato makes his ‘ukulele sound vocal (0:46, 0:56, 1:11, etc.). Not to mention his phrasing and control of reverb leave perfectly placed pauses with just the right amount of decay (1:14). Leading mostly with his thumb yet a light and articulate touch with both his fingerpicking and strumming shows his influences such as Jake Shimabukuro, IWAO, and Kalei Gamiao. He also uses his great control of tone as an arranging tool as he changes the last variation with high energy strumming as the summit of the tune (3:49) . Softly winding down back to the original hook, Natoyama lays down the listener on a feather bed of Gmaj7 inversions (4:29).
UkePrints is a curated playlist of some essential ukulele tracks that all ukulele player should listen to. These songs have left a legacy for future players and in essence, sound impressions of the ‘ukulele or what I like to call them: UkePrints.