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Ukulele virtuoso touring after first all-original album

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jake Shimabukuro is a confident man.

And it’s rightfully so.

The musician is a ukulele virtuoso and composer who carved out a niche for himself in the music world.

Yet the 40-year-old did have to overcome some fears while writing his latest album, “Nashville Sessions,” released last fall.

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“This album is my first all-original record,” he says in a recent interview. “It was scary to do. My whole early part of my career was purely covers. This was a challenge for me. I had to come up with my own tunes.”

Shimabukuro is known to combine elements of jazz, blues, funk, rock, bluegrass, classical, folk and flamenco.

Well-known in his native Hawaii and Japan during his early solo career in the early 2000s, Shimabukuro became famous internationally in 2006, when a video of him playing a virtuosic rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was posted on YouTube without his knowledge and became one of the first viral videos on that site.

Widespread acclaim brought high-visibility collaborations with a wide range of artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler, Cyndi Lauper, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Dave Koz, Michael McDonald, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Tommy Emmanuel and Marty Friedman.

Gaining this high visibility also put some pressure on Shimabukuro.

“That’s why I went to Nashville,” he says. “It’s home to some of the best songwriters. I began to feel at home, and the music came in waves.”

Though the album came out months ago, Shimabukuro has been hard at work on a new album.

Finally tackling the hurdle of writing his own, original music, he will continue to write originals.

“I don’t have a system or method to my writing,” he says. “The new album is going to be somewhere in between for me. I’m writing originals, but I’m also working on getting some new covers in my repertoire. My bassist and I have come up with a great cover of (The Beatles’) ‘Eleanor Rigby.’ We’ve been starting the shows with that song. It’s something familiar, and people really enjoy it.”

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