The Rise Of The Ukulele

in Instrument

If you're to believe Krusty the Clown, the Ukulele is the thinking man's violin. As the entertainer it is clear to see where he gets his fondness for the instrument from, over the last century the ukulele has become a very popular comedy prop, it is hard not to think of the George Formby songs, or Laurel and Hardy plucking away.

In recent years we have seen Ukulele acts blossom with, ukulele orchestras popping up all over. The British Ukulele orchestra have become an internet sensation with their all uke covers of pop and rock songs like Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

Perhaps it is the bizarre look of the Ukulele that has made the instrument so popular with comedy, or perhaps it is the simplicity with which one can strum a tune, either way they seem to have become a comic institution. Though when you think of Ukulele it is just as easy to think of a man in a grass skirt with a lei around his neck.

This is to do with the instruments national origins, its Hawaiian descent. Nearly two hundred years old now, the Ukulele was created in Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. Since then they have become part of the country's mise-en-scene, the hoolah singer is now a national convention and clich.

The term ukulele roughly translates to 'jumping flea; many musicologists suspect this is due to the way that the fingers jump on the strings as they are strummed.

It is a small but mighty instrument with a very distinct sound that is perfect for a breezy summer's day, it certainly feels very much part of Hawaii and this is in part due to the its royal support from King David Kalakaua. Very much a patron of the instrument he had it played at many royal ceremonies and personal occasions.

Up until the 20th century the Ukulele remained natively Hawaiian. But over the time we see it popping up in America, before crossing the Atlantic to Britain where it was picked up by comic performer George Formby.

The Uke also became a fixture of the jazz age for its portability and its inexpensiveness. It also works as a good instrument for the rhythm section, keeping a steady time while others improvise on top of it.

Now we see something of Ukulele renaissance. They have always been popular with musicians for their relative cheapness and small size, but they are seldom heard on record. Yet they have some big supporters, George Harrison was a big advocate as was the keyboardist for The Cars, Greg Hawkes..

The British Ukulele orchestra formed in 1985 and has proven a very successful live act, utilising many ukes to create a big sound. Now the ukulele is becoming particularly popular with children with the orchestra becoming popular on television.

But if you want to go to the land where it all started why not hop on a plane to Hawaii step out from the Hawaii rentals and listen to the hoolah players in the evening, just as an old king used to do.

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The Rise Of The Ukulele

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This article was published on 2010/09/30