Daphné essiet performing at Nublu on Jan 6th 2018

My Ukulele Story: From Hawaii to New York

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daphne essiet with ukulele in uke store

I consider myself to be a “Renaissance Femme” (=woman in French). I create beautiful visual art, write poetry – but I also compose and perform my original songs!

People often asked me why I picked up the Ukulele instead of a Guitar. I like to believe that I did not pick up the Ukulele but instead the Ukulele picked me!

I used to travel extensively as part of my corporate job. At first, I was a bit bummed that I could not make music the way I wanted to but when I realize how privilege I was to travel technically “for free”, it soothed me a bit.

In December 2015, after spending a week in Australia, my team and I headed to Hawaii.
My assistant at the time did not take into consideration that we would cross the international date line (the imaginary line that runs along the Earth’s surface from the North Pole to the South Pole in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When you cross it, you either gain or lose a day depending on which way you are traveling). We boarded our flight on Saturday evening yet we still arrived there on a Saturday morning in Waikiki airport…

back to the future marty
Non de Zeus!

She also thought we would be tired because of jetlag, so she did not schedule our first meetings until the following Tuesday. (Yay)

Needless to say, we were THRILLED when we realized this (which was last minute – as we were boarding the flight and checking our schedules – it had been a very busy week in Brisbane, Australia). I had reports to write and emails to answer, but you better believe it that despite being tired I knocked it all off during my 10 hours flight so I could go to the beach and explore the island right away.

One afternoon, I walking around close to the hotel we were staying in, I stumbled upon a Ukulele Shop that was giving daily free 30-minute classes. I thought to myself: “that would be a fun thing to do” and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to assiduously attend every one of them and acquaint myself with this new instrument. I ended up going to the classes every day for almost a week.

It was me, in the middle and the Japanese tourists hahaha

When I returned to New York, I decided it would be a great idea to purchase one: it was small and lightweight enough to carry it while on the road – and would be an excellent way to finally arrange all those songs I had been writing over the years.

Since I couldn’t take classes, I started to watch Youtube Videos and learn all the chords and fingering I could, and started to work on my own compositions.

In September of 2017, my travel load decreased tremendously and since I had some more time for myself, I decided to register for a poetry class at CCNY. I was to perform on December 6th, this time as a poet. I was nervous, but it was a different type of anxiety this time, milder and more manageable – almost enjoyable.

At the time, one of my good friends and supporters Tiffany was giving me some feedback about this poetry performance. Suddenly she got an idea: why didn’t I participate in the showcase she was putting together the following month. I hadn’t sung publicly since 2015 but I thought “why not”? I agreed without really putting too much thought into it. When she give more details I found out I would be part of a few other acts at this club called Nublu in the Lower East Side of Manhattan my insecurities started to flare up: what if I wasn’t good enough? What if people did not like my songs? Yes, I was spiraling out of control but I had given my word and I could no longer back out at this point.

For the six weeks, I practice like I never before, prepared in between set transitions material, and even rewrote a few lyrics. I was initially planning on hiring a band, but Tiff insisted I do a solo 30-minute solo set voice + ukulele. I didn’t feel ready, but she was very convincing…

poster of Daphné Essiet show at Nublu New York on January 16th 2018
Poster I had created on Photoshop with pics by Brianna Rizada

On January 16th, 2018 I head to the venue. I arrived early and got dressed and made up in the bathroom while the previous act was performing. Before the show started there was a brief 30-seconds soundcheck then I started. I was a nerve wreck. Fortunately, one of my superpowers “being able to fake it big time” nobody seem to notice, although I was shaking throughout the entire set. I also can’t deny that I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if I hadn’t practiced like crazy and I get into “autopilot” more than once! Here’s a video of that night. You can see more on my YT Channel

I was terrified…

After my first solo show EVER, I was so proud of myself that I promised myself to perform at least once a month until the following year, which I did! Over that year, I practiced consistently, try to book shows around New York as well as in Paris and Flic en Flac (Mauritius) where I was vacationing.

Daphné Essiet at Silvana in New York
Silvana Harlem, pic by Louisa

I tried to keep on working on my music and perform at all costs but I knew I needed another source of income to keep doing so. I worked on movie sets as Production Assistant, taught French to preschoolers, and did other jobs. During my off time, I had started to create my own drawings and digital creations. That is when I decided to make it a business. I thought: If I am able to generate some passive income, enough to sustain myself, pay my bills, etc… I will be able to keep doing my shows even if they don’t pay or pay just a little. It could even finance a car and a solo tour (the travel bug…) – That was the dream!

I used regular notebooks to write all my lyrics and chords but I always thought it would be kinda neat to find a product with all the features I was looking for. I searched online and couldn’t find anything that I really liked. So when I had the opportunity to create my own notebook, this was my very first project. I designed the cover as well as the inside and added all the features I loved, including chords charts and a “little history of the ukulele” talking about its Hawaiian origins. Check it out here

Before the first locked down, I was really planning on touring with my ukulele: the plan was to go on the road and create a set mixing poetry and music in intimate venues and libraries. This is still something I would love to put together at some point.

in the grass in Central Park

Daphné Mia Essiet © All rights reserved.

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