Brit breaking down uke barriers


A YOUNG American aims to dispel misconceptions about the ukulele during the inaugural Queenstown UkeFest.

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Brit Rodriguez, from Hollywood, California, is teaching and performing at the festival, which runs from tonight till Saturday night.

Rodriguez, 21, says people often pigeonhole the ukulele as a beginner instrument and think it’s limited to Hawaiian or island-type music.

“It is very easy to get started with but once you get started you realise how much you can do with it – I play mainly blues and folk.”

Rodriguez, who’s released her songs online and put out a CD or mixtape, prefers playing originals.

“It took a while for me to actually learn a cover just because it’s hard for me to learn other people’s words.”

Despite an upsurge in ukulele sales, Rodriguez says “people still kind of look at you like you’re not a real musician”.

“But if you look into it, the ukulele is the first choice of a lot of full-time musicians.”

Rodriguez says festival host Hugh McCafferty, a former Queenstown Anglican vicar who lives in Geraldine, feels people in hard times often gravitate to the ukulele because it’s cheerful.

Rodriguez discovered the ukulele about six years ago when she was at high school.

“I went down the rabbit-hole of YouTube and I found an arrangement of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Jake Shimabukuro and it was the most amazing performance/arrangement I’d ever heard in my life, on the ukulele, so I then continued watching ukulele over and over again.

“My friend had a tiny ukulele in her closet that she had gotten in Hawaii three years before, she let me borrow it and I ended up learning how to play with it.

“I played a few open-mics and from the open-mics people booked me for huge gigs with the tiny little toy so my dad had to get me a real one.

“It just kind of snowballed and now I’m getting free ukuleles from amazing sponsors.”

UkeFest programme
Tonight: 7pm, UkeJam with Brit, Kinloch Lodge
Friday: 7pm, Dine with Brit, Hotel St Moritz
Saturday: 10am, Uke Workshops, Wakatipu High music suite, $15 adult, $10 under 14
2pm, The Big Strum, Wakatipu High music suite, $10 adult, $5 under 14
7.30pm, UkeFest Concert, St Andrew’s Church, $20 adult, $10 under 14
Tickets: Wilkinsons Pharmacy, Eventfinder