If there is an instrument that reminds me of summer, it is definitely the ukulele. I can imagine it encouraging Hawaiian dancers to make gentle moves and incredible acrobatics on a remote white-sand beach on the Pacific coast.
However, doing my own research I have realised that it is not as tropical as it seems. I want to share with you ten interesting facts about this instrument, while the legendary SpongeBob SquarePants tune keeps running in my head…
Ten funny facts about ukulele
- 1. Not as Hawaiian as it seems
- According to this interesting article on the history of ukulele, at the end of the 19th century an English ship arrived in Honolulu, which had sailed in Madeira, Portugal, well loaded with workforce for the sugar plantations. One of the crew members, João Fernandes, played his cavaquinho, a well-known four stringed instrument of Portugal and Madeira (also called machete, braguinha or braga machete) and the open-mouthed locals called it a ‘jumping flea’, I mean, ukelele.
- After three years working on the plantations, several former crew members started making furniture and musical instruments. About the year 1886 they created a hybrid, in the form of cavaquinho but with a tuning similar to the rajão, which is a five stringed instrument of Madeira… this is how the modern ukulele was born.
- 2. A flea…not really!
- The last queen of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani, held that the word ukelele meant ‘the gift that came to us’, referring to its Atlantic origin.
- 3. Symbol of Hawaii
- Maybe it became a symbol of Hawaii because it was closely linked to royalty (in addition to the natives, kings and queens also learned to play it) and was built with native Koa wood; Symbol of respect for their identity and nature.
- 4. Four sizes
- The Wikipedia maintains that there are four sizes of ukulele: Soprano , Concert, Tenor and Baritone. In addition, there are Sopraninos (smaller than the Soprano) and Basses (larger than the Baritone). The original one is the Soprano ukulele, known as the standard one in Hawaii.
- 5. Let’s go party!
- The Ukefesta is the Ukulele music festival in Barcelona, two days in March to have a great time.
- 6. Ukulele Orchestra
- The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has a very nice page and encourage the Uke-culture around the world.
- 7. Quarantine after space
- The first man who stepped on the moon according to the official version, Neil Armstrong, spent the quarantine after his space travel playing his ukulele. They were afraid he would have caught some alien bacteria (read this to check it).
- 8. The eternal blonde
- Yes! Marilyn Monroe played this instrument, as this link demonstrates.
- 9. La-La-Uke-Land
- Ryan Goslin too. Don’t you believe it? Play this video!.
- 10. SpongeBob SquarePants
- The catchy tune that introduces this animated television series is indeed ukulele music… please take a look at this page to see in the first photo the similarity of the marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg to his spongy creation!