You may have heard that the ukulele was invented by Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii. Credit has been given to Manoel Nunes, Augusto Dias, Jose do Espirito Santo, and Joao Fernandes for its invention though the actual details of who did what are a little murky.
The Madeiran Machete
The ukelele is derived from the Portuguese guitar called a machete. The machete looks similar to a ukulele. The sound is similar, but not quite the same.
This is an example of it’s sound.
This instrument comes from the island of Madeira. Joao Fernandes, who was on the Ravenscrag with the other three men, was a talented machete musician. According to legend, Fernandes upon docking in Honolulu broke out in song.
The other three men were wood workers. After they completed their contracts, they set out to find work in their trades, eventually owning their own businesses advertising their handcrafted musical instruments.
You can read more of their story in Birth of the Ukulele.
Traditional Ukulele Sounds
We are all very familiar with the traditional ukelele music of Don Ho, Tiny Tim, and others. You often found someone like Bob Hope strumming along in old movies and tv shows.
This beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow is an example of a more traditional style. I never really liked this song sung by Judy Garland, but this version really hits me.
The More Modern Ukukele Sound
About 25 years ago, I was watching a PBS special, a Hawaiian music concert. I don’t remember much about it now except for it was the first time I’d heard the name Jake Shimabukuro.
I was in awe of his talent. Even moreso surprised by his modern sound. This ukulele was comfortable alongside a rock n’ roll guitar. It was so cool!
Since then I have heard more musicians creating modern music with the ukulele. It’s sure evolved from those early days of Arthur Godfrey!
This is Shimabukuro’s version of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby.
Bring On Taimane!
Recently, I was reading the local newspaper and read about a concert by a musician from Hawaii, Taimaine. Naturally, I had to scour the web for some of her music.
I was floored to see her finger work! It brought to mind the well known translation of ukulele: “jumping flea”. Her fingers were certainly jumping!
Taimane Gardner was born in Honolulu and learned to play when she was five.
It’s interesting to see how the ukulele has endured the centuries and how the music has evolved. I wonder what the original creators of the ukulele would think of the direction the art has taken. I think they would be pleased.
Want to explore more ukulele music?
Do you have a favorite ukulele musician or song? Tell us about it in the comments!