The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper

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Music

A Brief History Of The Ukulele

What have Dwayne Johnson, Neil Armstrong and George Harrison all got in common?

So what do they all have in common? Well, they are all proud ukulele players!

The Hawaiian instrument is often thought by many in the UK as a novelty instrument for children,
but in recent years, ukuleles are becoming increasingly popular with many adults. They are fun to
play, easy to learn and relatively cheap to buy.

Ukuleles derive from the native Portuguese instrument ‘braguinha’ and were developed by Manuel
Nunes, a Madeiran man who moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1879. Native Hawaiians and the
Hawaiian Royal Family were enthralled by the little instrument when it was introduced and it soon
became a staple of the culture. The name ‘ukulele’ is thought to come from the Hawaiian words
meaning ‘jumping flea’.

“Many American servicemen brought the little instrument home with them after the Second World War and entertained their families with jaunty tunes”

Ukuleles experienced their first boom in the 1910s and 1920s, when Hawaii was first advertised to
mainland America as the sunny holiday destination we know and love today. The instruments were
performed in shows to the tourists and captured the attention of the American public. Interest took
a dive during the 1930s after the Wall Street Crash but regained attention in the 1940s and 1950s,
largely thanks to English performer George Formby and his working-class charm and funny songs. His humour and light-hearted appeal to the British public meant that he was the highest paid
entertainer in the country at the time.

Many American servicemen brought the little instrument home with them after the Second World War and entertained their families with jaunty tunes. The trusty ukulele’s popularity experienced a decline in later years, during the 1960s and 1970s, until recently. With the increased use of the internet and sharing platforms such as YouTube, people are once again discovering the joys of the playing the Uke. Popular artists such as American duo ‘Twenty One Pilots’ and America’s Got Talent 2016 winner Grace Vanderwaal have made the instrument desirable to a younger audience, resulting in many youngsters beginning to learn and play ukuleles.

University of Portsmouth, unfortunately, does not yet have a Ukulele society. However, there are
many local groups in and around the area. ‘Portsmouth Ukulele Jam’ are a group of local players who meet every Tuesday evening from 7.30pm at The Kings Pub on Albert Road in Southsea (on the university bus route). The group play a number of popular songs from various decades. They hope to ‘inspire a new generation of ukulele players and to open the minds of others to this highly versatile instrument’.

The Pompey Pluckers are another group of diverse players and have raised over £51,000 for charity since being formed in 2010. The group meet on Thursday evenings from 8:00pm at The Old House at Home Locksway Road, Milton. The Isle of Wight Ukulele Festival celebrated its second year (from the 9th – 11th November) at The Quay Arts Centre and Riversiders, Newport and attracted a
wide range of players and enthusiasts.

There’s every reason to grab your Uke (or buy one!) and get playing. The instrument has remained
popular for nearly 140 years and should be destined to remain in our hearts for many more years to
come.

Do you play the ukulele or want to start? Share your thoughts and feelings on the instrument by
leaving a comment!