NPR logo

Bohemian Rhapsody

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133242454/133220606" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Jake Shimabukuro: 'Bohemian Rhapsody' On The Ukulele

Jake Shimabukuro: 'Bohemian Rhapsody' On The Ukulele

Bohemian Rhapsody

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133242454/133220606" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The young Hawaiian ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro infuses a rock staple with a moment of tropical island Zen. Danny Clinch/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media hide caption

toggle caption Danny Clinch/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

The young Hawaiian ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro infuses a rock staple with a moment of tropical island Zen.

Danny Clinch/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Wednesday's Pick

Song: "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Artist: Jake Shimabukuro

CD: Peace Love Ukulele

Genre: Instrumental

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is high on the list of songs least likely to be covered by a solo ukuleleist. Yet when Jake Shimabukuro delicately yet assertively plucks out the opening notes of the quasi-operatic, hard-rocking power ballad, the 34-year-old Hawaiian is clearly out to show that there are no limits in the world of covers, and that even a seeming stunt can sound both musical and emotive.

Of course, this wordless ukulele rendition differs from the version permanently carved into the brains of Queen fans, Wayne's World devotees and American Idol viewers. No one confesses to his mama that he killed a man. Thunderbolts are never invoked, nor is Galileo's name. Instead of a muscular guitar, pounding piano and an apparent cast of thousands singing backup, the four strings (and two octaves) of the ukulele do all the work.

A standout on Shimabukuro's new album Peace Love Ukulele, "Bohemian Rhapsody" functions as more than a mere gimmick. On an instrument whose name comes from the Hawaiian words for "leaping flea," the familiar melody rises and falls; the pace slows, then picks up. Deftly executed baroque arpeggios glimmer. The thin upper register sounds like a brokenhearted plea for love. The strumming is joyful and relaxing, infusing what was once larger than life with a moment of tropical island Zen.

This story originally ran on Jan. 26, 2011.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.