Entertainment

Top of the tots - new Northern Ireland musical animation Yukee comes to CBeebies

The show features the musical talents of Wet Leg, Tom Odell, Maisie Peters, Ezra Collective and many more...

Yukee will air on February 5 and episode will be available on BBC IPlayer.
Yukee presents the magic of music in an imaginative new way - and in a Northern Ireland accent, with a host of critically acclaimed artists

A new music-based pre-school animated series set in Northern Ireland and featuring a host of critically acclaimed acts is entertaining - and educating - young children on CBeebies.

Described as being created by musicians for the musicians of the future, Yukee follows a six-year-old girl of the same name as she experiences the sheer joy of making noise with friends and promoting the inclusivity of music.

Yukee offers young audiences a gentle introduction into the world of music, exposing them to simple but important musical concepts in the hope that it will enhance both their understanding and enjoyment of the subject.

Executive producer Mark Gordon, of Belfast-based Score Draw Media, has an extensive background when it comes to working in children’s television, having written music for shows on Amazon, Sky, Milkshake, Nickelodeon and Disney Jr.

However, he noticed that there was a gap in the market when it game to teaching children about the basic fundamentals of music.

“The idea with Yukee is to let the kids swim in the ideas,” he explains. “What it’s not about is a sort of down-the-lens didactic approach to teaching really young ones about music - it’s about introducing ideas in a really soft lovely way as part of gentle storytelling.”

Executive producer of Yukee Mark Gordon  and actress Nina He.
Yukee executive producer Mark Gordon with Nina He from Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh, who voices Yukee

Mark came up with the idea alongside children’s media writers Sam Barlow and Sean Carson before pitching it to CBeebies.

“It’s a dream partnership and then we have Aardman, another dream partner who are involved with all of our sale and distribution of Yukee as well,” he says.

“I couldn’t have wished for better people to be working with on the show.”

Part of Yukee’s charm is that it fosters the idea that music is all around us - all we have to do is listen. In every episode Yukee takes her own beloved red ukulele into a magical garden filled with instrument-playing animal friends; adventure is never far and song ideas come from everywhere and anywhere.

Yukee will air on February 5 and episode will be available on BBC IPlayer.
Yukee airs from this week and episodes are available on BBC iPlayer

“Lots of people feel like they’re not musical,” says Mark. “We’re trying to present Yukee as both a fun and entertaining show but also a resource that completely demystifies those simple ideas about music and to do it early so that when you pick up an instrument there’s no fear or anxiety about it.”

Another element that makes the series unique is the fact it is set in Northern Ireland and Yukee herself is of Northern Irish and Chinese heritage – much like Nina He from Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh who voices her.

“I was really excited when I was picked to play Yukee,” Nina enthuses.

“I couldn’t wait for my first day to go down to the studio and meet everybody.”

At just eight-years-old this was Nina’s first foray into television and it’s clear multitasking was a skill she needed to master quickly between having to sing, act and learn the ukulele.

“They gave me a ukulele the first day and I had to learn how to play it.”

Yukee star Nina He.
Yukee star Nina He from Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh

Nina has the unique ability of being able to play different instruments by ear. Her mum firmly believes she has music in her bones as she rarely misses a beat - but then again, she does fall asleep listening to the fierce lyrical flow of Eminem.

“It’s really relaxing,” she exclaims.

“It was fundamental that we emphasised amazing Northern Irish voices like Nina’s in the show,” adds Mark.

“I think it’s just brilliant that people from Northern Ireland will be able to hear these voices speaking and singing at the very centre of a show like this.

“Historically it would have been unusual - everything would have been quite a traditional RP [received pronunciation] inflection but it’s testament to CBeebies and BBC for really wanting to showcase and amplify regional dialects and voices.”

Accompanying the Irish voices at the forefront of the series is a star-studded line up of special musical guests including Wet Leg, Maisie Peters, Tom Odell, Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Sam Carter (Architects), Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), Ezra Collective, PP Arnold and Dame Evelyn Glennie, while Lauren Laverne plays a roving reporter called Roxie Rabbit from what other station but, of course, Sticks Music.

Radio host Lauren Laverne as Roxie Rabbit.
BBC 6 Music host Lauren Laverne voices Sticks Music's roving reporter Roxie Rabbit

“I can’t speak for the artists but what I think they wanted to be a part of was something that focused on music education,” says Mark.

“If you talk to Ezra Collective’s Femi and TJ and you look at the acceptance speech that they gave at Mercury Prize awards last year, front and centre was the idea that they were coming through with an amazing sense of the importance of music education, music communities, hubs, youth groups, all of it was central to where they are now as musicians.

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“I think that early opportunity to engage with music and the chance to reach out to a really young demographic - almost to younger versions of themselves in many ways was a key thing for all our guests.”

As is often the way in the cartoon world, all guest stars were cast as different music loving animals within the show. For example, indie rock group Wet Leg appear as a travelling troupe of snails called The Slime Sisters, Maisie Peters is a mouse in need of a magical musical map and Tom Odell is a piano playing peacock...

“There were a couple of times where the writers would come back with the story and I would go, ‘I wonder how this is going to go down,’ but every single person was completely cool with it – nobody pushed back everybody was really happy with who they got to play,” Mark assures me.

“With Wet Leg playing The Slime Sisters, we’d written that episode for them and it was all about the fact that the best instrument that every single person has is their voice.

Yukee and Stripes the rock n roll loving badger.
Yukee and Stripes, the rock n' roll loving badger

“I think that idea coupled with the fact that they are great singers was the thing that made them want to get involved.”

Yukee aired from February 5, with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer; however, kids can sometimes be the toughest critics...

“It would be impossible not to have nerves” says Mark ahead of the first airing of Yukee.

“But we’ve led with the heart. It’s a show for the next generation of musicians and I hope that’s what people take away from it.”

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