In part three of our four-part Ukulele Christmas Spirit 2021 series, we’re featuring another highly eclectic batch of cool holiday videos to accompany your mulled wine, wassail, or spiked eggnog. This time, we’re showcasing songs performed by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; a trio who go by the name the Odd Squad; influential world music giant Daniel Ho; and the talented Hawaiian musician Kaleo Vai. You can also check out part one here and part two here.
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
You’ve gotta love the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain! Since 1985 the UOGB have been delighting audiences with their mock-serious (but seriously well-played) mass-ukulele versions of songs and pieces ranging from classical to rock to soul to movie themes, and more. They’ve toured successfully around the world and put out 30 albums along the way. As you can probably tell from the all-too-familiar array of rectangles above, this delightful rendering of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (which derives from their native England) was recorded in isolation during the pandemic lockdown. But no pesky virus can keep these folks from their mission to entertain!
Daniel Ho & Friends, “‘Po La’i E” (“Silent Night”)
This sublime Hawaiian version of “Silent Night” is from the superb Grammy-nominated album East West Players Presents: Daniel Ho & Friends Live in Concert. The concert was originally shot for a livestream event last year at the East West Players (Theater) in L.A.’s Little Tokyo district. The song features Ho on ukulele, joined by the amazing singer Keali’i Ceballos and hula dancer Kanani Toji. (Also in Ho’s ensemble, but not in this video, are Randy Drake and Lydia Miyrashiro.) This post marks the first time the full video of the song has been available online, so we’re thrilled to be able to debut it here!
The Odd Squad, “Mélange aux Carols Medley”
Here’s another configuration of a trio: two ukuleles and standup bass. Here, Steve Rose, well-known in Southern California for his long tenure as a teacher and uke ensemble leader at McCabe’s Music Shop in Santa Monica, plays reentrant ukulele alongside Marielle Smith on low-G ukulele and Denny Croy on bass. They play a sensational, very imaginative, and, yes, slightly odd medley of Christmas favorites in which they bounce back and forth between songs, shifting keys often and unpredictably, yet still creating a beautifully coherent work. We counted seven songs amidst the intricate melodic weave, which Rose arranged. And speaking of Steve Rose, look for a rave review of his latest album, Ukulele Shorts, in the Spring 2022 issue of Ukulele.
Kaleo Vai, “Can We Pretend That It’s Christmas”
What a marvelous revelation this song is! It was written and performed by Hawaii native Kaleo Vai, and it sounds like a new classic to us! This 2014 video is from the always beautifully shot and immaculately recorded Hi Sessions series, so the quality is absolutely top-notch. A version of this song, now dubbed “Pretend It’s Christmas,” appears on Kaleo’s most recent release, an EP titled 10, which also contains his best-known song, “Aloha for Now.”