Teenage discovery

Singer/songwriter Manitoba Hal finds success with the ukulele.

Manitoba Hal performs at the Millstone Winery on Wednesday (July 25).

Manitoba Hal performs at the Millstone Winery on Wednesday (July 25).

Manitoba Hal was at a friend’s place when an incredible thing happened.

“I was sitting in a friend’s house and I didn’t even play a musical instrument and he was jamming on a guitar and I just knew right then that I was going to be a musician and that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” Hal told the News Bulletin. “I didn’t even play a note. Seriously it was just that kind of a weird realization.”

At the time, Hal was 18 years old, but in that moment he knew that he would never be satisfied with a regular day job.

“There are many jobs that people do and some people are quite happy to do a job their whole life for the paycheque, but I am not one of them. I find that I get bored and depressed.”

Following his musical revelation, Hal has gone on to become a respected blues musician, having performed around the world with his ukulele.

This weekend, Hal will be showcasing his talents in the Harbour City as he performs at the Nanaimo Aloha Ukulele Festival.

“I have travelled all over the world doing these kinds of festivals and there are very few pure ukelele festivals in Canada,” Hal said about the festival. “So it is really nice to find one and have one on Vancouver Island.”

Prior to his weekend performances in Nanaimo, Hal will be playing his music on board a Via Rail train.

“To get to Nanaimo I am performing on Via Rail as part of their Artists on Board program,” Hal said. “I am crossing the country by train and performing in the lounge cars to get to the festival.”

Unlike the majority of blues musicians, Hal performs with a ukulele. Hal, who was born in Winnipeg, originally started out playing the guitar but switched to the ukulele after his grandfather gave him one as a gift.

“He gave me a nice 1955 Martin, with the condition that I learn to play it,” Hal said. “I loved my grandfather and I still do, but he’s passed on and I think of him everyday. I had to learn a bunch of songs that he knew. This was my idea. I would learn music that he knew instead of just playing what I did.”

In order to play the ukelele, Hal began learning how to read sheet music. He also had to learn and understand musical theory on a deeper level.

“It was a fantastic thing and it opened a lot of doors for me,” Hal said about the learning process. “When I started playing the ukelele what I discovered was that the ukelele moves above my voice. So, I have the music sitting above the sonic range of my voice and my voice below and it created a really nice unexpected balance.”

Throughout his career, Hal has released a number of albums, including Flirting with Mermaids, Devil on the Wall and Down in the Kitchen, which was released this past May.

Manitoba Hal performs at the Nanaimo Aloha Ukulele Festival at Millstone Winery, 2300 East Wellington Rd. For more information, please visit www.prshopper.com/alohafest.htm.

arts@nanaimobulletin.comTwitter: @npescod