Elof & Wamberg Exclusive Interview
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Elof and Wamberg
One of the many impressive performances at GNUF last weekend came from the Danish duo Elof & Wamberg. They wowed us with their inspirational music and Nordic undertones, demonstrating how the ukulele can be used in completely new and fresh ways. Tobias Elof is the world’s first ukulele player to have received a degree in the subject. He has studied under several great ukulele players like James Hill, Kimo Hussey and Byron Yasui. Nicolaj Wamber is a double bass player whose playing style is characterised by a lot of movement, depth, subtle nuances and brave improvisation. Together they create harmonious Nordic soundscapes with a gentle ukulele and a juicy double bass.
Here is our exclusive Yo! Kulele interview with this talented pair of musicians.
Tobias Elof – ukulele
Nicolaj Wamberg – double bass
How did you first get together?
We joined the same folk music gathering called ROD (meaning roots) in Denmark in 2009, and in 2010 we started exploring the opportunities of playing the ukulele and double bass together.
What style of music do you like to play the most?
We play folk music with influences of our backgrounds in Hungarian fiddle music and Jamaican music. We have also been influenced by improvising together.
For Tobias: How much influence did living in Hawaii have on your music?
I learned quite a lot from lessons with the master Byron Yasui and also the incredible ukulelist Kimo Hussey, but besides playing Kimo also introduced me to great ‘ukulele luthiers like Joe Souza. I visited the factories of the 4 K’s, The Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, listened to ukulele concerts with Jake Shimabukuro and Bryan Tolentino, jammed with many different people like Corey Fujimoto, Kalei Gamiao, Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel. All together the trip made me reflect upon how the ukulele fitted in in its homeland. Finally, when I got home, I understood that I had to play music that was affected by my own culture, and that’s what I seek to do.
For Nicolaj: How did being educated at the Academy of Music in three different countries influence your style and musical creativity?
For me it has been a part of my musical journey led by my curiosity in music people and their culture!
The folk music is deeply related to the movements of the Dance and that has been very interesting for me to study. Both the Dance and the way the musicians are moving to make it groove and feel good.
I must admit that the biggest part of my musical Education has been participating in the culture, being at the festivals and gatherings where the music has been played and the Dance has been Danced. The Academy has been more like a technical support and helped me to understand theory and solfege.
So I guess the cultures I have been studying and practising – Danish, Swedish, Hungarian and even 4 months in Newcastle with Ian Stephenson and Catriona MacDonald are all forming my style of playing the double bass. I see music as movement and these cultures are all different ways to move that I can combine when I play.
Do you ever meet up or play with other artists?
In Elof Wamberg we have done a few collaborations with a viola and a violin, to enrich the soundscape .
Then we have done a video with the Richie & The Leo Twins and from Pakistan and played some double concerts with James Hill and Anne Janelle and played with the Danish folk band Phønix.
We also have our other projects – Tobias is releasing his solo album, ‘Ukulele Meditation’ this summer with collaborations together with the jazz duo Bremer/McCoy and Nicolaj is playing in a trio with violin, cello and church organ.
The ukulele and double bass could be seen as a musical version of David and Goliath, why do you think this combination works so well?
When plucked the two instruments complement each other perfectly. It sounds great.
Where have you travelled? Most memorable experience?
We had a lot of great travel experiences. We did Ethno in Estonia, where we were artistic leaders and we played at the Danish embassy in Pakistan.
Arriving in Islamabad was special, as the security staff had never seen a double bass before. First, they had lots of difficult questions about us and why we were entering the country, and then after answering these, their attitude changed totally and they wanted to take selfies with us and the double bass.
Playing the Ukulele sur Meuse club in Liege during our Belgium Tour in 2016 was great too! Good vibes, nice organizers, and performance wise it was probably one of our best concerts we have played.
What are you currently working on? Plans for the future?
This summer we are playing and teaching at Re-Think Folk Music Camp in Denmark, Viljandi Folk Festival in Estonia, Kukulele Festival in Finland and Music over Præstø Fjord in Denmark.
What advice do you have for people who want to make playing the ukulele into more than a hobby?
Copy your favourite music and musicians, write songs/tunes, record yourself, listen to different kinds of music, make videos, take private lessons. Have fun!