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William Wilson, the assistant director of the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra, is recording an album of Flamenco music on the ukulele. Photo by Aaron Burgin
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Encinitas guitar teacher to create Flamenco album — on the ukulele

ENCINITAS — As William Wilson strums the four strings of his ukulele, the music that flows from the instrument is not what you would expect.

Rather than the high-pitched chords that evoke images of sandy beaches, Aloha shirts and laid-back island culture, the tune is decidedly sultry, like the sounds you would hear from a Spanish guitar.

That’s because the tune is one you would hear played on a Spanish guitar — it’s flamenco — but on the ukulele.

Call it “Flamencolele.” That’s what Wilson is calling it.

That is the title of Wilson’s latest project — a 15-track fusion of two decidedly juxtaposed styles, which could be one of the first full-length albums of its kind.

“These days, it feels like everything has been done, and you may say, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great idea,’ but then you go on the Internet and 20 other people have already done it,” said Wilson, 38, who lives in Spring Valley but teaches guitar out of an office suite near the corner of Encinitas Boulevard and Manchester Avenue.

“In this case, though, I looked it up, and you see that one person has written a song here, and another guy has one song here, but no one, at least from what I could find, has really done a full album,” he said. “And I thought, well this would be cool.”

William Wilson is raising funds through a kickstarter campaign to finish recording his “Flamencolele” album. Courtesy image
William Wilson is raising funds through a kickstarter campaign to finish recording his “Flamencolele” album. Courtesy image


To date, Wilson, who is the assistant director of the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra, has finished three tracks off the album, and has launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund the album, music videos and concerts associated with the project.

He got the inspiration for the album earlier this summer from a student who sparked his interest in the ukulele. Wilson said he was thinking about his next project, which was going to be a four-string quartet album (“very original, right?” Wilson said in a playfully sarcastic tone), when his student asked him to teach him the ukulele.

“This student was super into the ukulele, just crazy for the thing,” Wilson said. “I’ve played the uke before, but not a ton, but I thought to myself that this student had such an interest in it, that I should step my game up.”

Wilson said he purchased a “nicer” ukulele than the one he had owned, and in the process of teaching the student, started playing around with the instrument, strumming chords in the flamenco style that he had been immersed in since he was nine.

“I ended up having a ball playing the thing,” Wilson said.

Wilson said when you play flamenco on the ukulele, it produces a fresher, higher-pitched quality than the deeper, more sultry sound of the Spanish guitar.

“That’s when I said to myself, wouldn’t it be super cool to write some tunes, and then later, wouldn’t it be cool to write an album,” Wilson said.

And so for the past four three months, Wilson has been experimenting, writing, recording and mastering songs and engaging his followers with the kickstarter campaign, which gives donors an opportunity to take ownership in the project.

For example, donors who give $100 or more to the campaign get to name a song, donors who pledge $500 or more get an exclusive invitation to watch him record a song for the album, and those who drop $750 get an in-home concert.

Wilson said he’s done this because the album and the sound don’t necessarily have a built-in audience.

“It’s not like I am going to publish this and all of the flamenco-ukulele fans are going to grab this up because there probably aren’t a lot out there,” he said. “So I felt that I should try to get people involved with the project and excited about it so that when it is finished, it has an audience, and I feel that it has been successful to this point.”

Wilson points out that he has blown through his initial campaign goal of $1,000, and is nearing its next goal of $2,000, which would allow him to live stream the album to donors. Additional contributions beyond that goal would enable him to produce additional tracks and possibly have an album-release party.

But Wilson realizes that even if he reaches those goals, he is taking a risk with the album- potentially alienating purists on both sides of the aisle.

“San Diego has a really vibrant ukulele community, and there are several active clubs and people are really into it here, and there is also a flamenco and Spanish guitar presence here,” Wilson said. “And you’re offending the ukulele players because you’re not playing it right and not using right music, and then the flamencos, especially the traditionalists, are going to be sensitive because they may feel it is adulterating their art.

“I think my audience is going to be the causal music lover who likes both, but I don’t think either side (of purists) will be carrying my banner,” Wilson said.

But Wilson said he hopes that both sides will see his album as adding to both cultures, not taking anything away. He also hopes that when the album is completed to submit it for consideration for the San Diego Music Awards.

He hopes to complete the album in summer 2017.

“We have this Spanish culture, and we have this vibrant surf community, of which the ukulele is a prominent part of it,” Wilson said. “So, I think the sound of it is kind of San Diego.”