Ukulele Revolution

Ukulele is the instrument of friendship, love & peace

A renewed interest in the ukulele is happening worldwide on all levels not only with professional musicians, but it is also giving people who have never played music before the opportunity to join a local group and learn to strum and sing. Many clubs have started all over the world in the last five or six years, in both metropolitan and regional towns.

The modest ukulele is enjoying a surge in popularity. Once considered a novelty, the four-stringed instrument is ready to be taken seriously.

Ukuleles sell themselves. They are so portable and occupy very little space. It doesn’t have the baggage associated with the guitar, and very unintimidating. It just says “hold me and play me.” The ukulele can carry a range of moods and can be played virtuosically in many styles including jazz, blues, islander, country, rock, pop, folk, punk and classical. It is an extremely versatile instrument, and not just for novelty songs.

Elvis Presley with ukelele
Elvis UkeMany people have never picked up an instrument before in their lives, but over recent years, there has been a huge surge in interest to play this easy to learn happy instrument. Music stores have been quick to respond to the public’s renewed appetite for the stringed instrument, and sales have soared. Many music stores claim that undoubtedly there has been an astronomic rise in ukulele sales which has been the saviour of their industry. The shortfall in sales of instruments due to the economic downturn has been balanced by a rise in demand for the ukulele.

Rival to recorder?
The magic of the uke is that with its four strings – as opposed to the guitar’s six – it is easy to play. As a delightful consequence, it encourages the formation of ukulele community groups who enjoy singing and playing the ukulele together. It takes very little time to have a few chords down which enables people to play a large amount of music of all genres. There is also a bigger interest in folk instruments and the ukulele is popularly seen as one of them. The ukulele is increasingly seen as a replacement for the old school recorder and widely acknowledged as the first instrument of choice for school children. Professional musicians such as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who, in doing covers of well known songs, have further popularised the ukulele as a ‘serious’ musical instrument, and the community sing-along aspect that accompanies it. The internet has helped fuel the popularity of the ukulele. Fans of the instrument visit ukulele websites in increasing numbers, as many sites offer useful online resources with tabbed song sheets and even free uke tutorials.

Noble Uke

Ukuleles have gone viral
Uke makers are riding the wave of popularity that began around the time of former Beatle, George Harrison’s death in 2001. Harrison was well-known in uke circles, but it was former band-mate Paul McCartney who reignited the public’s fascination by playing the instrument in the 2002 tribute Concert for George and in other performances.

Though big stars helped spur the instrument’s latest round of popularity, the Internet has been “more important than anything” in the uke’s resurgence, said Jim Beloff, a leading publisher of ukulele songbooks and a major promoter of the sweet-strumming, four-stringed, long-maligned uke. In the last two years, singer-songwriter Julia Nunes has parlayed her YouTube videos, most of her own compositions, into online stardom.

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, already big in Hawaii, the uke’s homeland, became a nationwide sensation with his wailin’ on Harrison’s “My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It has attracted more than 13.5 million hits on YouTube since 2006 and earned him tours with Jimmy Buffett, a recording session with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and various television appearances.

As with so many groups the Internet has helped to foster, Ukulele Lovers have been searching for like-minded folk among isolated pockets of uke players and creating online communities. Some music websites host directories of ukulele players so they can find one another in their local communities. Good ukes, once hard to find, are popping up on EBay.

The website Ukulele Underground posts YouTube videos and ukulele reviews and hosts spirited discussions about concerts, techniques, instruments and everything else a ukulele fan would want.

Happy ukeThe novelty aspect still exists, as anyone who listens to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain can attest, with eight men in tuxedos, strumming and picking the tune of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The ukulele even had a revival in Hawaii, where it had fallen out of favour as a tourist cliche, and also has long been popular in Japan. Hawaii’s oldest factory, Kamaka Hawaii, produces 3,500 to 4,000 instruments a year, a quarter of which are sold in Japan.

The Internet has also helped to spread demand internationally. Looks like the once humble big-hearted Ukulele is definitely here to stay – indefinitely.

Permission to reprint from The Mighty Ukes For Peace

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