People thought my ukulele was a toy, says world-class player
Ishta Nupa Paynter is dreaming of the day he can get back to travelling around Bermuda with his ukulele.
In 2017 he was ranked Number 3 in a competition of players from around the world. Before the pandemic hit, he loved being able to pull out his instrument and play songs for random people he’d meet.
But that stopped with Covid-19 and all its social restrictions.
“My passion is playing for people up close. I used to always have my ukulele with me so when I ran into someone I could just play them a song right there on the spot. That's what I like to do versus being up on stage or something like that. That's where my passion lies,” said Mr Paynter who performed on Friday at the opening of a KBB art exhibit at the former Dog House bar on Front Street.
“I don't mind if someone wants me to play a few songs at an event. I have no problem with that. But [playing on the spot] that's what I used to do and that's what I still enjoy doing. But the pandemic kind of ended that. You can’t do it right now.”
He remembers watching a man play the ukulele in St George’s as “a small child”. Although it captured his interest, the guitar was the first instrument he picked up and taught himself how to play.
About ten years ago, his attention returned to the ukulele.
“I think it was probably more to do with Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwo’ole’s [version of] Somewhere over the Rainbow,” Mr Paynter said.
The song was enough to inspire him to head to Music Box where he selected from the “one or two” ukuleles that were there, and started practising.
“I learnt on my own. I never sat in a music class or had a teacher teaching me anything. You go online nowadays and you get a lot of information on what to do but what I went back to was when I taught myself how to play guitar.”
To do that he took the advice of a friend who played piano: “Learn one song and play it a million ways”.
“I learnt one song called Horse with No Name. I started with two chords and went from there. So I applied that principle to the ukulele: learn a chord, two chords and play one song. And then play it many different ways. And then you learn another chord, another song, and you progress like that.
“You look around online and you get a lot of tips, there’s a lot of knowledge out there. I just applied it to what I do in my own way.”
He began writing and recording songs and posting them on social media and then playing in public, at Chewstick open mic nights and at Beachfest where the sound technician looked at his ukulele and said: “Are you serious bro?”
“I think people had this image of a ukulele as being like a little toy or something but it’s an amazing instrument,” said Mr Paynter who released an album of his songs, Bermuda Love.
In 2016 he was online when he came across an international ukulele contest in Hawaii and sent in a video of himself playing a song at St Catherine’s Beach.
To his surprise, he was invited for the finals.
“I couldn’t afford to go but people came together and I made it to this international ukulele contest. It was a great experience,” he said, adding that he received praise from Trey Terada, “a living legend” in the ukulele world who was one of the judges.
“The following year I was invited back as a finalist. This is the Number 1 ukulele contest on the planet – and I placed third playing a song that I wrote about Bermuda. It was awesome.”
Despite the honour he describes himself as “just a guy who likes to play ukulele”.
“There's nothing special about that,” he said. “I wouldn't say that I'm a good ukulele player or that I’m better than someone else.
“It will be nice for me when we can take our masks off and I can take my ukulele around with me and play for people, one on one.”
Although many people assume he plays by ear, Mr Paynter insists his music comes more from “what I feel”.
“If I'm writing a song, maybe it’s supposed to be a certain chord there. Even though it might sound kind of okay, if it doesn't feel okay, it shouldn't be there. So I kind of put what I feel more versus what I hear.”
Look for Ishta Nupa Paynter’s album, Bermuda Love, at Music Box on Queen Street
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