Everybody thinks that the ukulele came from Hawaii. Well, while it’s true that the word ukulele is a Hawaiian word (it means, “Jumping flea”), the uke actually has Portuguese origin, taking its characteristics from the cavaquinho and the rajao. It is said that Portuguese immigrants brought the ukulele to the islands in the late 1800’s and that the instrument’s portability and ease of play made it the instrument of choice in tiny Pacific villages.
Mainlanders began to appreciate the ukulele’s allure in the 1920’s when it became a very popular icon of the Jazz Age. But, it found rampant success in the 40’s and beyond, thanks to the artistry of the likes of Arthur Godfrey, Tiny Tim, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and others. In fact, George Harrison of the Beatles was a huge proponent of the instrument and gave ukuleles to friends in the music business his entire career. Even more recently, the ukulele has been making a bit of resurgence in popular music. Jake Shimabukuro took the Internet by storm with a stirring rendition of Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps on ukulele: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puSkP3uym5k&feature=related)
While Shimabukuro is the most famous virtuoso of the instrument, more recently, artists such as Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and the adult contemporary group, Train, have integrated ukulele into their songwriting and performances. It’s unique sound has mass appeal and is distinctive and pleasing to the ear, making it a nice addition to any rock group.
Currently, the uke’s versatility can be heard in mainstream pop, rock, bluegrass, folk, country, jazz and more. It has been played as both a lead instrument and for rhythm in all types of music. Its popularity is rising at a mercurial rate, which makes it the perfect instrument to learn right now.
A four-stringed instrument, the ukulele is simple to learn. Like guitar, once you learn a few chords– and the correct way to strum– you can play hundreds of songs. Many who find learning the guitar too daunting will find the ukulele to be a nice alternative. It may also be the perfect instrument for the novice who has visions of being a guitarist someday as it introduces the player to the family of stringed instruments.
The ukulele’s small size and diminutive appearance shouldn’t be taken for granted. Out of these incredible instruments can come incredible sound. Its portable enough to take anywhere and its mere presence at camp outs, cook outs, jam sessions, beach blanket bingos and company picnics will have everyone gathered around admiring your musical artistry. You don’t have to be Hawaiian to enjoy the sounds of the ukulele and you don’t have to be a master of music to sit down and play one. Pick one up, give it a strum and you’ll see how easy it can be to make music.
by Terry Ayrault
GPMA Contributing Writer
2 locations serving the Metro Detroit communities
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