Invented at the end of the nineteenth century, curiosities about an instrument that has regained popularity
New life for the ukulele. He is a relative of guitars, he shares their shape and strings, but unlike the latter he emits a sweeter sound. In the world ukulele dayon February 2nd, the Monopolele team, the most important Italian festival dedicated to the instrument, celebrates the anniversary by giving us a list of anecdotes and curiosities about the most versatile instrument in music.
History and present
Invented at the end of the nineteenth century by Portuguese immigrants who moved to Hawaii as a Hawaiian adaptation of the cavaquinho instrument, the uku – this is its nickname – is beloved by many music stars, is celebrated in national and international festivals, is so popular in elementary and middle schools that in many of these in Italy it is replacing the traditional recorder and is even the protagonist of a university level study course in the Alessandria music conservatory. A transversal popularity which fully reflects the instrument that was born with a spirit of accessibility to music, understood as a means of joy and sharing, capable of bridging distances and creating community.
Now in its third edition, Monopolele – Ukulele Mediterranean Fest, is the ukulele festival held every year in Monopoli. Here, between May and June, international artists and ukulele virtuosos, whose talent is widely recognized by the national and international music scene and coming from all over the world, perform engaging live performances. Three days of free concerts, jam sessions and workshops but also of street parades involving everyone, from musicians, to residents and even tourists. Seeing is believing: appointment in Monopoli from 30 May to 2 June.
Ukulele, the ‘hopping flea’
Although the ukulele is an instrument invented by the Portuguese, the name seems to come from the Hawaiians. The inhabitants of Honolulu, in fact, called the four-stringed instrument that the Portuguese immigrants played “hopping flea” (in Hawaiian, ukulele), moving their fingers so quickly that they were reminiscent of jumping fleas. However, there is also another interpretation on the origin of the name: according to the queen of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani, the word ukulele is composed of uku (gift) and lele (to arrive) and means “gift that comes from afar”.
For the death of George FormbyEnglish actor and musician, who became famous for the numerous films shot during the Second World War, 21 of them, and as an entertainer for the troops (obviously with a ukulele in hand) three days of national mourning were proclaimed.
Find the differences
Unlike the guitar, the ukulele does not follow the order “thin string equals high note” and it is precisely from this particularity that the characteristic sound produced by the instrument arises.
Somewhere over the rainbow
The Hawaiian artist Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwo’ole, known as IZ, released a medley of the songs Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World on ukulele in 1993. A performance that gave new life to the two songs and contributed to making the ukulele known throughout the world.
Famous fans: George Harrison and more
Many stars have fallen in love with the ukulele sooner or later. Starting with George Harrison, the historic member of the Beatles who, in the last years of his life, played the uku more than the guitars, praising its sonic and spiritual virtues to the whole world. Not only him, however: in Italy Rino Gaetano even took him to the most famous stage of Italian music, that of Sanremo, with the song “Gianna” and the singer of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, in 2011, released the album Ukulele Songs, entirely played with this little instrument. And then also Taylor Swift who, from time to time, offers new versions of her songs on the ukulele in her live shows and the very Italian Santi Francesi who, during a performance on X Factor, “made the audience stand up ” playing the ukulele.
There are entire ukulele orchestras. The most famous is called Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britainhas been active since 1985, and holds concerts filling halls all over the world, performing pop and rock songs in an acoustic version.
The Californian artist, in collaboration with Fender, a historic American company producing musical instruments, designed and launched a new ukulele model on the market in 2020. The choice is no coincidence: it is precisely with the ukulele, in fact, that Billie Eilish he learned the first musical rudiments and learned to play his first song, “I Will” by the Beatles.