A lot of enthusiasts buy ukulele, yet many may not be aware of the origin of this very popular musical instrument.
Most ukulele lovers consider the instrument to be uniquely Hawaiian. But the fact is, ukulele is a creative version and remodel of the Portuguese machete.
Here we are not referring to machete, which we normally understand as a large cleaver like knife. The reference is to Portuguese machete de braga, a small stringed musical instruments with origin in Madeira Portugal.
Ukulele was introduced by Portuguese immigrants into Hawaii in the late 19th century. As mentioned earlier it is a hybrid, very likely of the machete and the five –string rajão. Rajão was taken to Hawaii along with the braguinha and finally evolved into the ukulele.
The story goes that some of the immigrants surprised and delighted dockside natives by playing tunes on this instrument. These little instruments were carried to the taro fields by farm workers and became known as “taro patch fiddles”.
Not before long, ukulele also known as uke quickly became popular across the world. There was no dearth of people keen to buy ukulele.
But by the late 1930s, guitar muscled in, displacing ukulele in popularity. This was mainly due to introduction of electric guitar that had the superior ability to amplify and record. Besides, guitar could increasingly blend with bands and orchestra groups of those times.
Ukes went through periods of ups and downs during 40s, 50s, and 60s. In was not until 1990s when the fortunes of ukes began to change for the better.
Thanks to the web revolution, uke makers, performers, and aficionados got together, exchanged ideas among themselves and shared music. The upshot was the rise in popularity was so phenomenal that uke is now one of the most popular musical instruments around.
Uke now is famously regarded as the “unique Hawaiian 4-stringed wonder”. The trend in popularity is building up with no end in sight. It is fueled in no less way by movie directors, business advertisers, and professional musicians who are searching for a new sound.
Amateurs discovered how easy it is to play; now we even see the demand for kids ukulele going up.
A connoisseur may frown upon ukes for lacking the resonance of the guitar and the twang of the banjo. They may show contempt for its narrow range of performing styles. Uke lovers think otherwise. According to them the limitations of ukuleles are its strength.
As one uke retailer put it, “People buy ukulele because they believe it is impossible to play it badly”.
May be less strings may mean more music. Whatever, ukes are all over the place – in ads, on YouTube, social networking sites, in college campuses, and even in schools.
Possibly the renaissance has just begun.
Ukeshop.com.au is Australia’s biggest store for customers who want to buy ukulele in Australia online. This webshop stocks a wide assortment of ukulele products including kids ukulele, ukulele books, uke music, and uke accessories.