The History of the Ukulele


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Above: Jake Shimabukuro stops in at soundcheck with musician, Aidan James.

 

The name ‘ukulele’ is the traditional Hawaiian name that was given to a small instrument called the machete (machete de braga), which was originally developed in the Madeira Islands of Portugal. The machete itself is a descendent of the early European and Middle Eastern plucked stringed instruments (such as the lute), is a member of the guitar family, and goes by several different names including the cavaquinho, braguinha, manchhete and cavaco. The machete was brought into Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, who moved to the islands to work in the sugar cane fields in the late 1800’s. Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias and Jose do Espirito Santo, who arrived in Hawaii on the Ravenscrag in 1879 from the Portuguese Islands of Madeira are believed to have been the first makers of the Hawaiian ‘ukulele’.

There are several different legends about how the machete got its Hawaiian name; the ‘ukulele’ – although there is not enough evidence to prove that any one of these stories is, in fact, the truth. The word ‘ukulele’ itself translates roughly to ‘jumping flea’ in English. One story of how the ukulele got its name states that when one of the passengers on the Ravenscrag, Joao Fernandes, reached the Honolulu port, he was so overjoyed after four months at sea that he immediately jumped off the ship and began playing folk songs from Madeira on the wharf. The Hawaiians who saw Fernandes play the instrument thought that his fast-moving fingers looked like fleas jumping over the fingerboard – and so the name for the instrument was born. Another account of how the ukulele got its name is based on the understanding that the Englishman Edward Purvis played the instrument. Edward Purvis acted as an Assistant Chamberlain to King David Kalakaua, the last reigning King of Hawaii, and a man who was very influential in the early life of the ukulele. Purvis was thought to have been nicknamed ‘ukulele’ due to his small stature and his energetic personality. Eventually, it is thought that the instrument that he played for the King also adopted this name. Yet more tales about how the ukulele got its name survive, with several different translations of the term being used as evidence. The last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, has been recorded as explaining that the term ‘ukulele’ in fact means ‘the gift that came here’ (with ‘uku’ translating to ‘gift or reward’ and ‘lele’ translating to ‘to come’) which indeed is a much different perspective, and one that has nothing at all to do with fleas!

King Kalakaua and Edward Purvis

King Kalakaua (center) and
Edward Purvis (second from left).

After its arrival in Hawaii, the ukulele was quickly adopted into Hawaiian culture. King David Kalakaua was very fond of the small instrument, which is acknowledged as a key factor that led to the ukulele becoming so popular. King Kalakaua was passionate about developing Hawaiian culture in the face of the opposition posed by missionary groups, who themselves saw native cultures as uncivilized, and whose aim was to convert native peoples to Christian worship and Christian values. King Kalakaua promoted the fusion of modern art forms with traditional aspects of Hawaiian culture in order to re-ignite interest in Hawaiian culture. It is King Kalakaua who promoted the ukulele as a Hawaiian instrument, and used the instrument at formal royal functions, to play traditional Hawaiian music, and to accompany hula.

After the Portuguese settlers Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias and Jose do Espirito Santo had finished their work on the early Hawaiian sugar plantations, they are thought to have returned to their woodworking roots in Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii. In 1889, all three men were listed in the city directory as being ‘guitar makers’. As the ukulele became more popular under the patronage of King David Kalakaua, more ukuleles were made by these three men. The most successful of the three was Manuel Nunes, who continued to make ukuleles after the instrument was introduced to the American mainland, and whose sons continued to manufacture ukuleles after him.

While the machete travelled around the world along with Portuguese settlers, the Hawaiian take on the small four-stringed instrument was not introduced to a mainstream American audience until the early 1900’s. The ukulele made a particular impression on mainland Americans during the Panama Pacific International Exposition that was held in San Francisco in 1915. The Exposition featured performances by Hawaiian ukulele players, performing as both soloists and in groups, who were very popular with the fair visitors. After the ukulele began to acquire fans in mainland America, the ukulele was then adopted by local mainland musicians, who used it to play traditional Hawaiian music (which, along with the ukulele, had become more popular among American citizens), and additionally introduced the ukulele into other genres. The popularity of the ukulele boomed through 1915-1920, with Hawaiian music becoming as popular as current mainland music. Mainland American instrument manufacturers saw an opportunity in making ukuleles, and manufacturers in New York and other major American cities began producing and marketing the instrument; causing some tension between the Hawaiian-based and the larger mainland American manufacturers. Despite this tension the popularity of the ukulele kept growing in America well into the 1920’s, and ukulele sales in general continued to increase.

The increasing popularity of the ukulele led to the manufacturing of inexpensive models which gave many people access to learning the ukulele. The ukulele built up a reputation as a good beginner’s instrument because of its relatively low price and small, portable size. Thousands of ukuleles were produced through the 1920’s, and the ukulele became one of the musical icons of the Jazz age.

The ukulele slowly declined in popularity through the 1930’s, momentarily being revived in the late-1940’s through to the 1950’s with some American servicemen bringing the instrument home with them from Hawaii after World War Two. The popularity of pop-rock music caused the ukulele to fade into the background in the 1960’s, although it still existed in mainstream consciousness with the likes of The Arthur Godfrey Show and Tiny Tim’s 1968 hit Tiptoe through the Tulips. The insanely popular band ‘The Beatles’ were very fond of the ukulele, however rarely played the instrument and despite their endorsement the little ukulele lay very quietly in its case from the 1970’s until its revival in the 1990’s.

The Ukulele Around the World

Other countries have also adopted the humble ukulele into their musical repertoires, including (most notably) Japan and Canada. The ukulele was introduced into Japan in the early 1900’s, and was adopted along with Hawaiian and Jazz music. While the ‘western’ instrument was banned during World War Two, the popularity of the instrument surged after the war.
Canada, on the other hand, was one of the first countries to initiate teaching the ukulele in schools (aside from Hawaii) and many music students learnt the ukulele under the school music program devised by John Doane.

The Ukulele Today

Jake Shimabukuro playing the ukulele

A famous ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro

The ukulele is once again enjoying a period of popularity with modern audiences around the western world. The uke has been picked up from music stores, (or pulled out of the attic) and is again being celebrated for its versatility, easy-travelling small-size and its ease of learning. The internet has played a significant role in the ukulele boom, with websites and video tutorials being dedicated to providing easy-learning resources for beginners, many of which are frequented by new players in their hundreds.

The ukulele has also been widely celebrated for its increasingly social side. The ease of strumming along to sung melodies and playing together has made this little instrument a popular choice as a second instrument, and has also led to the formation of ukulele clubs, orchestras and social groups around the world. Ukulele performers often encourage concert-goers to bring along their own ukes and join in for a song or two, and group-learning of the ukulele is increasingly popular (as opposed to formal, one-on-one lessons). The ukulele has also been more widely used as a beginners’ instrument for children in recent years.

Although the ukulele is still associated with traditional Hawaiian music and culture, the development of different types of ukulele has led to the popularization of the instrument in many different musical settings. Over the past twenty years the ukulele revival has maintained momentum, with a number of ukulele players becoming very popular well into the new millennium. The 1990’s ukulele revival has also led to the instrument being used increasingly in popular (pop) music performances and recordings, as well as being a common instrument for performing covers of popular music too.

Tunisia’s Pioneering ‘Calligraffiti’ Artist eL Seed

eL Seed | © PopTech/ Flickr
eL Seed | © PopTech/ Flickr

Born in Paris in 1981 to Tunisian parents, eL Seed began his career on a much smaller, more modest scale, drawing, sketching and spray-painting walls throughout the streets of Paris. Having grown up speaking French and the Tunisian dialect of his parents, he did not learn to read or write Arabic until his late teens, when he discovered a deep love of and connection to his Arabic roots, along with their art, history and contemporary legacy. The title eL Seed was inspired at the age of 16 by the French work Le Cid, or ‘The Lord.’

Combining his love of street art with traditions of Arabic calligraphy, eL Seed has created a vibrant new form of ‘calligraffiti,’ a style originating in the late 1970s which combines graffiti and calligraphy. Dropping a career in business, he converted his passion for street art into a full-time career which allows him to embrace his heritage. His art draws on tradition in the belief that it can prompt important questions about contemporary issues, affecting tolerance and bringing people together. Different works of his art now adorn walls, buildings, museums, galleries and mosques around the world, from the streets of London and exhibitions in Paris to the road tunnels of Qatar, and even forays into the fashion industry in collaboration with Louis Vuitton, for whom he contributed designs for scarves.

Perhaps his most famous, even controversial work was the enormous 2012 mural on the minaret of the Jara Mosque in Gabès, Tunisia which drew worldwide media attention. Inspired by a verse from the Qur’an, the work calls for tolerance and mutual understanding between individuals and nations, particularly in response to the growing power of extremist, ultra-conservative Islamist groups since the 2011 revolution in Tunisia.

Maui AMPFest 2016: Honua/Earth Revival April 15th

HonuaAMPFest flareThe Honua/Earth Revival from The Maui AMPFest. Coming April 15th!

Produced and Edited by Phil Wikel and Peggy Johnson of Maui Salt and Sage Productions. 808-281-6020, mauisaltandsage@gmail.com

Info On Facebook

We’re looking for bands from all music genres to join the party.

The Maui AMPFest is part of
The Aloha Project:
Promoting Aloha, Music, Hawaiian Culture & sustainable living through international collaboration.

This Video Fest strives to showcase diverse bands from around the world with Hawaiian Culture and music as it’s centerpiece, thusly perpetuating the Spirit of Aloha and creating a worldwide bond between socially and politically conscious people and musicians from around the world.

Most recent Video Fest: Songs of Gratitude

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A Child’s Christmas in New England by Philip Scott Wikel

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Hi Folks,

I hope this post finds you and yours well and celebrating the season in whichever way your tradition dictates. Whether its Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, Solstice or Sadeh, Christmas or Pancha Ganapti, I wish you all the best.

Following is my version of the Winter Tradition; at least as it was when I was a child. Ours, my family’s and mine, was one steeped in the Christian and Secular Tradition. Informed by the Christian Bible and embellished with the story of Old Saint Nick, we observed the birth of Christ and the Spirit of Giving embodied in Santa.

I hope you will enjoy this little story of mine and I also hope you will enjoy the company of good friends and family at this magical time of year. “Magical” in that, for many, all differences are set aside and an overarching sense of togetherness and good will are the markers of these days.

So without further ado, here is my A Child’s Christmas in New England (or somewhere thereabout), inspired by my favorite poet Dylan Thomas who decades ago wrote his A Child’s Christmas in Wales and for who I named my son.

Mele Kalikimaka! Slainte! Merry Christmas! Le’chayim! Matunda ya kwanza! Feliz Navidad! Etc! Etc!

A Child’s Christmas in New England by Philip Scott Wikel

(Video At Bottom of Page)

One Christmas was never quite like the other in those years in upstate New York, nearby the black dirt and the pines and Sugar Loaf Mountain all covered since Thanksgiving with a healthy velvet of white; slick, crisp and slippery (depending upon the time of day, night or clouds, and angles of the sun).

One Christmas was never quite like another, but all, from the morning of my eyes to the time when this snow-packed, snow-suited, frost-bit and chapped-lip boy went bounding toward the adulthood that swallows us; left as such to wish for the simple truth of a greyish-yellow snowbound sky, and snowflakes that gave chase and cooled the tips of tongues.

And then there was the radio that gave us the freedom of a snow day:

“Following are the school closings for the greater Middletown area…”

“That’s mine,” said little Philip, squealing with glee.

“Quiet! I want to hear mine,” said Chris, the big brother, chomping at his bit.

“Quiet both of you,” said Carol, the sister sandwiched between two boys and wishing at least one was a sister.

“Breakfast is ready,” mom yelled from the kitchen.

Dad was off climbing poles restoring salvation to the phoneless, cut off by the crack of swirling winds with the intermittently gloved fingers to saving the hands that made us and brought home the turkeys and hams and the makings of egg nog, nutmeg and spice. Trudging in snow, cerrelled and scarfed, he strode like Gawain or Arthur and breathed deep draughts of freezing ether and blasted forth great clouds of short-lived warmth that fought with the air like messianic gospels, swallowed but never digested. His fight was alone in the cold, while we fought each other down the stairs that led to breakfast and a snow day on the edge of a Christmas vacation; two glorious weeks sans schoolbooks with unfettered sledding and ice-skating on the pond turned silver and soft where the seven year wreck sunk slowly in the ice-covered muddy banks and forgot about the factory. The brick factory and all its industry now defunct, but red and lettered forever in the walls of my school and every home that rose from its opening to its closing, decades later; its oral history a tradition known only by the few who dabble in trivia of livings and lives once lead.

Seven days ‘til Christmas,” exclaimed Philip, “better get this letter to Santa, who’s coming?”

The mailbox was just around the corner but, breakfasted and warm and snug in their snow day, the brother and sister couldn’t be bothered.

Perhaps I’ll see Mike McGar, he thought, and his guns and souvenirs from WWII or Mario and eat lasagna or Punky and his seven sisters or maybe still I’ll see Kevin and the whole of the Foley clan and they’ll invite me for egg nog and games and staying up all night if we can.

The days blend then, one to the other, and the clarity is in the coming, and Santa and drummer boys in the whistling wind of carol-singing strollers, mufflered, mittened, and smitten with the instance of meeting a thankful face and regular requests for more.

“Should we shovel driveways? Old Mr. Deanotoris might slip and fall,” said Philip.

“He pays good too,” replied Chris, well on his way to becoming an accountant.

“You’re like Ebenezer.”

“No, I just know what makes things go ‘round… come on little man, I’ll split it with you.”

Each driveway seemed to say something about the occupants of the house. This one had two strips of cement and one must be careful to keep on the track, and, at the same time, in spring they had more places for grass to grow. Another was blacktop and potholed and it might be said these folks could scarcely afford our labors and it was Christmas spirit that gave them to open their purses to two boys of seven and eleven. The Fancher’s house was a grail of sorts, and shiny. Ms. Fancher, the “lollipop lady” in summer, had a park named for her and the icicles that hung from her long porch glistened like silver corinthian columns and we’d get five dollars for just the walk, and tipped with candy canes for the family.

“You boys be good now, Santa’s watching, and be good to your mother and father,” she’d say as we left now moving to the far reaches of a tundra which seemed to encompass the known world. Brother would tell then of Jack London in the Yukon and cutting dogs open to keep your hands warm and I’d be glad that home was just a block away and that we hadn’t a dog for brother to butcher.

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8 Prospect Ave. Middletown, NY

Flour, sugar, water, ginger, oil, baking soda, salt.

Dry stuff first, then wet; mixed in a Pyrex bowl.

Knead it,

roll it,

cut it (allowing for windows and doors)

then bake it.

White frosting mortar,

red & green M&M’s,

peppermint candies and red hots.

The kitchen is filled with the heavy scent of gingerbread.

“Now don’t eat too much of the icing, it’ll make you sick and rot your teeth.”

“Ok mom, but my stomach already hurts.”

“Drink some club soda. And Carol, can you hand me the icer.”

A classic “Saltbox” blueprint pressed in the pages of a 1962 Betty Crocker cookbook. The instructions written in a hand long since passed on.

“It’s important to get the first two walls together straight and strong.”

“Here mom, I’ll hold’em.” says the little boy.

“Thank you Philip, and Carol, can you get me a wet towel.”

Mom breathes heavily through her mouth, though her lips are close together. The air makes almost a whistling sound and Philip thinks how like music or the sound of the wind it is. Mom is copying the weather outside he thinks. Jack Frost north winds blowing across the continent and threatening to collapse the gingerbread walls. The weather sent dad out on overtime, fixing phone lines.

Her thumb struggles against the icer and turns red in places and flushes to white in others and the pressure looks to Philip as if it might hurt.

“Hard to push that thing down Mom?”

“Yes, but I’ve got it. It shouldn’t come out too fast or too slow. Do you want to try it?”

“You better do this first part mom. I’ll try on the next one.”

“Ok, hold the two walls up and steady.”

Philip holds the walls up and hopes his hands won’t shake or wobble. He feels his shoulder muscles tighten and his fingers tense. He starts to breathe like his mother and now he’s Jack Frost.

“Steady,” says mom.

“I’m trying,” says Philip.

Mom squirts the icing all the down the length of the walls where they make a corner together. “Ok,” she says and motions for Philip to let go. Mom then wiggles the walls so they fit tightly.

“Hold’em again, please.”

She squirts more icing on the inside and the outside of the walls and leans and takes a long satisfying breath.

“You guys want to go out and play now? This is going to take a while to dry.”

“I’ll get my sled.” says Philip.

“Your big brother should be down by the pond. Get your warm jackets on and I’ll see you in about an hour.”

Sister Carol has the watch and Philip admires that she will be the one to know when it’s time to come back. Out through the back door, the ground crunches under their feet with Philip nearly falling as he walked down the back steps. There is a layer of ice under a couple inches of snow and his rubber boots can’t find friction.

“Hurry up you little poop,” his sister says.

“It’s icy,” says Philip.

“Well step down hard like me.” Carol steps down hard and Philip sees that her footsteps are deep and the ridges around her footsteps serve as support walls for her boots. They don’t slip and she strides like an eskimo around the back of the garage and into Mr. Van Leuven’s yard.

“D’ya think we could toboggan Mr. Van Leuven’s yard?” Philip asks.

“Not steep enough,” Carol replies.

They trudge through the open space of the yard. The snow is deeper there in the open space away from the trees and it threatens to sneak into their boots. Philip keeps his head down watching for it to do so and runs head first into his sister.

“What’re you doing?” he asks.

‘My underwear is crawling up my butt,” she says, adjusting the seat of her pants.

“You’ve got a wedgie,” Philip says smiling.

“Shut up you little poop.” Carol says.

At the guard rail where [Washington] street turns and goes down they drag their sleds around the end of the rail and look for signs of their brother and other kids. Their breath is like pipe smoke and Philip thinks how it looks like they’re a couple of Godzillas about to burn each other.

“I’m Godzilla,” he says and rushes at his sister, “Rarrrrrr.”

“Get away you little dork.”

“Stop calling me names or I’ll tell mom.”

“I’m sorry,” she replies smiling, “you little dork.”

“How’d you like it?” he says.

“All right, I’m sorry.”

“I’m going first.” he says and jumps in front of his sister. The trail is steep but smooth. In summer it’s strewn with craggy rocks and divots but the ice has filled it in and Philip flies like an Olympic luge racer on a Yankee Clipper. He negotiates the twists and turns with grace, ducking beneath “sticker” bushes as he nearly derails a couple of times, then slows to the opening of the woods, where he grabs the sled’s “leash” and begins to drag it toward the pond.

He looks up at the hills which they call the pines and is projected in his mind along the dusted treetops and imagines himself again as Jack Frost; this time flying and blowing the snow into little tornadoes. The pines are his Sherwood or Black Forest and he situates himself among them as some claymation figure from the Christmas shows on TV.

Carol comes sliding in behind him, red-faced and smiling.

“The trail’s perfect huh?” he says.

“Yeah that was a good run.”

The two continue walking toward the pond.

“Can I drag your sled for ya,” asks Philip.

“I’ve got it, thanks.”

“How do ya think the gingerbread’s doing?”

“We’ve got a little time.”

“I love you sis.”

“I love you too.”

The two would be grounded together soon after and it was because they loved each other that it would be ok.

Snowmen rolled in spheres that revealed the green of grass beneath and, stacked in threes we endeavored to emulate the likes of which we’d seen on TV with Rudolph and Hermy, Silver and Gold, Yukon Cornelius and Heat Miser, the story of Jesus and Nestor the long-eared donkey, an ugly-duckling made blesséd in the great act of carrying divinely chosen mothers.

In the evenings when dad returned from Siberian drifts and pole-high wind-chills we huddled on an itchy couch and wound ourselves for a concert of five voices in the firelight, Mitch Miller songbooks chocked with chestnuts roasting, winter wonderlands and Merry Gentleman resting with the chiming of silver bells and memories of our grandparents in Yonkers and the clean streets of Manhattan made glorious with garlands and “Chock full of nuts” cups of coffee and hot chocolate with peppermints, the buildings lit like candies dancing toward a sky that reached for the convening of Santas race around the world.

John Denver shared Aspenglow and taught us the beauty of a cowboy’s Christmas, myself riding a black beauty in the heart of plains with thanks given to the stars that cities never see. And I would imagine his Zachary as me and think dad would have sung this to me if song had been his life. Talk then turns to the wooded journey for our tree and me pretending I’m Tiny Tim and finding a pine branch to use as a crutch.

And in the end the scene descends to a baby in the manger placed by my mother with loving insistence and a wish for another year filled with love and hardships overcome.

Children asleep, parents take the last minutes of this silent night to assemble that which Santa hadn’t time then settle in for a few hours rest and the best day of the year when all will rise to the birth of Christ and open the gifts given in His honor.

Maui AMPFest – Songs of Gratitude

The Maui AMPFest is part of The Aloha Project: Promoting Aloha, Music, Hawaiian Culture & sustainable living through international collaboration. This Video Fest strives to showcase diverse bands from around the world with Hawaiian Culture and music as it’s centerpiece, thusly perpetuating the Spirit of Aloha and creating a worldwide bond between socially and politically conscious people and musicians from around the world. #‎Revolution #‎Evolution Maui AMPFest – Songs of Gratitude #thanksgiving #gratitude #aloha #mahalo #kealoha https://youtu.be/X3qr3keSYrs via @YouTube

All Four Videos: http://honolulu.craigslist.org/mau/co…

We Claim No Rights To Any Material In This Video Other Than Original Footage Shot and Edited by Mauisalt and Sage Productions.This video is for educational purposes and no money is made from it.

Most of my old friends tried their best not to learn anything in high school…

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Most of my old friends tried their best not to learn anything in high school and many didn’t bother with college. They were neutral on most world events and many were anti-war.

After thirty-five years of getting baked everyday, they’re now militantly opposed to anything that doesn’t benefit them, horrified of anyone having any more material wealth than they do, and wouldn’t pause to help an old woman cross the street since their too busy staring at their smartphones (An ironic label for a phone that turns people into social zeros). On top of that, they’re on the front lines of the “Burn down the Middle East” crowd.

Are these people poster children for the adverse long-term effects of marijuana use or were they always just a bunch of sociopaths, banding together when times were good and, dispersing like rats when things were otherwise? Their politics are now what you might expect from banjo players in the “hollers” of Appalachia. They hate “ferreners,” environmentalists, and just about anyone who makes them feel like they should be doing something other than feeding their faces, satisfying their sex drive, one-upping the Jones’s, or sneering at the less fortunate.

We’re in a sad state of affairs in America. I don’t believe this sort of behavior is isolated to my old friends. I’ve observed shades of this in quite a lot of people.

“Friend” in America is really a relative term anymore. Being a friend is only acceptable when friends serve as playmates and props to occupy our time. Government fear propaganda probably started it all, and Facebook killed it by giving people a false sense of being in touch. No one’s in touch anymore. They’re just performing for each other. Hollywood and Rock Stars won the battle for the new breed of the superficial.

I’m not upset with friends anymore, however, I do fear for the lost souls of America.