Hawaiian musician Jake Shimabukuro.

Hawaiian musician Jake Shimabukuro. Photo: Mike Lawrie

Jake Shimabukuro still isn't sure who to thank for setting him on the road to stardom.

The ukulele virtuoso had been well-known in his native Hawaii since the late 90s, but in 2006 a clip of him playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps in New York's Central Park was uploaded to YouTube.

“To this day, I still don't know who put that up,” says the now 36-year-old.

“It's a mystery.”

The clip, from a little-seen TV appearance, went viral, sending Shimabukuro's internet credibility soaring. He now tours the globe living his philosophy that the ukulele (pronounced “ooh-ku-lay-lee” not “you-ku-lay-lee”) is the instrument of peace.

“There's something about it that just makes you smile,” he says, ahead of an impending trip to Brisbane.

“Growing up in Hawaii, all little kids learn the uke. My mother was my first teacher, and it really stayed with me.”

Shimabukuro is renowned for his complex finger work, and incredible covers of pop classics.

He jokes that a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody nearly killed him.

“It was a nightmare of a song to learn, it kept me up night after night.”

His skills are also in demand as a collaborator, and he's worked with Tommy Emmanuel, Taylor Swift, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett and Alan Parsons, among others.

“For me collaboration is so important,” he says, adding that for wannabe uke players it's also the best way to learn the instrument.

“Find a friend who plays – it's more fun when you're playing with someone.”

Shimabukuro first caused waves at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2008, and will return there on March 29. Before that, on March 27, he'll bring the uke to the Brisbane Powerhouse for a special one-off concert.

“I'm looking forward to it, very excited,” he says. “I love the people there, love the culture.”

It all helps spread his message that what the world needs now – is ukulele.