Ukulele In Orbit

don baduria 2

I am always amazed at the new undiscovered gems out there waiting for me. Like a rare stone sitting beneath the layers of sand, it remains undiscovered by my eyes, until the right gust of wind comes and blows away the top layer to reveal the beautiful shining crystal. Such is the case with this spectacular set of ukulele recordings, which up until earlier today I had no idea excited.

After my last blog post about THE top 5 ukulele albums of all time I was doing some follow up research and I came upon this page on Herb Ohta Jr.’s website. Here he mentions an ukulele player named Don Baduria. I had never heard this name before and judging by Herb Jr.’s musical skill and tastes, I figured he had to be someone important. Reading the short bio posted on the page written by Don Baduria’s son I started to get excited. This guy sounded like a real talented player! Could there be another ukulele player out there that had slipped through my ears?

After clicking on the small media player with some audio clips I quickly realized I was dealing with a serious player here. His rapid fire strums set off a wave of sounds that soon transitioned into precise single note picking lines, is this “Mr. Sandman” on ukulele?! OK, it’s on!!!

After a google search I discovered that there are two albums of material that was released by Don Baduria. One album called “Ukulele In Orbit” is completely out of print and looked as if it would be impossible to find. The other album “Ukulele Magic” had been re-released and was available on iTunes. After a few other searches I was able to locate his son’s Reverb Nation page which is a website for musicians to share their music as a free streaming service. Here in his play list he had a number of tracks from his father’s long out of print album. You can link to that website here. Note that the son’s own R & B recordings are mixed in so look for the songs with the tag “Don Baduria Sr. Bertram Records”.

That’s what I was looking for! While “Ukulele Magic” is a nice set of tunes, it is mostly covers of Hapa-Haole tunes, and like I said they are well done pieces and quality recordings, but it lacks the inventiveness or creative sparks to the playing that I am always searching for. Definitely quality for sure, but nothing like the recordings from “Ukulele In Orbit”. Those songs have depth, they are complex, they have a sense of soul and freedom that I had only heard in a couple other players, most notably Eddie Kamae, Jesse Kalima and Herb Ohta.

I figured I had to do a YouTube search to see if I could find more. While no video of him performing surfaced I did find audio of some recordings put up by his son. Doing a simple search in You Tube for “Don Baduria” you can find seven of the tracks he recorded on his first album, my personal favorite at the moment being “Tea For Two”.

Listen carefully and you’ll hear many of the elements that made Kamae and Kalima so amazing, tremelo chording strums with accented melodies using the pinky, fast chording changes with emphasis on the 6th, 9th and diminished voicings, but there is a sense of jazzy swing that really sets Baduria’s playing apart. Maybe it was his time in the service that exposed him to more jazz, swing and dixieland recordings?

While I thought the exploration had ended there, after more internet sleuthing I found that his son had also made a Face Book page dedicated to his dad. That can be accessed here. On this page you will find two really remarkable videos. One features Don Baduria performing on the Ed Sullivan show on the same night with guests Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Floyd Patterson!

This video is dated June 6 and is about two posts down as of July 21st. At the 2:00 minute mark you are treated to some fabulous playing by Don Baduria. This is remarkable for so many reasons, a local boy playing the ukulele on the Ed Sullivan show, he is doing it in uniform, he is playing a rare Gibson Tenor and he is using a shoulder strap! All those pieces make for a a really historic and important performances, I really couldn’t believe my eyes and ears as I was watching this. Scroll down a little further and you will come across another video from another televised event. Here he is again in uniform playing his Gibson tenor ukulele. Still after repeated watches I am still trying to swallow and grasp what he is doing.

Overall this made for a ear-opening experience that forced me to rethink my understanding and historical knowledge of the ukulele. I must say while I have not listened to the entire album yet, this easily edges out Eddie Bush’s “A Man and His Ukulele” from my top five, as “Ukulele In Orbit” is without a doubt a seminal recording in the history of ukulele music. Now I must go on an eBay and record auction websites and hunt down my own vinyl copy!

What this makes clear to me is there is a need for some formal documentation of the era of ukulele playing after the second world war leading into the Hawaiian renaissance. There was a pocket of playing here in which solo instrumental performance was featured and explored. Players like Eddie Kamae, Jesse Kalima and Don Baduria were finding a new voice for the ukulele and adding songs to create a new repertoire of ukulele numbers. Songs that were rooted in Latin music, pop standards, military marches and jazz numbers. It seems to be that this style of ukulele playing got pushed aside as traditional Hawaiian melodies began to dominate with the emerging Hawaiian music renaissance. Tiki and lounge music seemed to take over on the instrumental and tourist end of things, leaving little room for the humble ukulele. The dominate instrumentation became the vibraphone, steel guitar, piano and horns. Not to mention the burgeoning rock-n-roll scene that came about in the mid to late 60s that threatened even Hawaiian music itself.

I thank God for people like Don Baduria. This is the style that I believe needs to be studied and resurrected. This is the type of playing that needs to be grabbed onto and shared for the next generation of players if the ukulele is to survive and thrive past this current wave of interest. I hate to say it, but retirees picking out Elvis tunes at ukulele clubs in the mainland is not going to present a compelling picture to the young ukulele player, nor will kitchy tongue in cheek covers of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber tunes sung by hipsters on yellow ukuleles posted to Instagram. And while Jake and the emerging set of young copy cats playing soul-less, bland, commercial pop ukulele numbers may present something that is flashy and appears new and exciting, once the initial “wow” wears off there is nothing left.

As an ukulele player who has struggled of late with my own direction and inspiration for moving forward with the instrument in the face of the above noted realities, seeing video like that of Don Baduria and listening to his tracks has helped reassure my own playing and has further motivated me to pursue and continue to develop my own voice and style in order to leave something of value for the next generation of players, I feel it is my duty to do so.

So here we come again, another player doing what is best…HO`ANALU…going beyond the known boundaries. It is amazing that tucked away in a lost Face Book page or in the far corners of You Tube lies recordings, sights and sounds that hold the key to the long lost voice of this subtle instrument. All we need to do is find it, make it our own, and pass it on!

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