GearHeads

News, reviews & great ideas from your GearSource Team!

Do you know the history behind the ukulele?

Leave a comment

The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument, which was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, many from Madeira and the Azores. It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally.

Although the ukulele has long been regarded as uniquely Hawaiian, the instrument could be considered a creative adaptation and redesign of the Portuguese machete de braga, commonly referred to as the machete. The machete was introduced to Hawaii about 125 years ago by Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira who came to work in the sugar cane fields. When the ship Ravenscrag docked in Honolulu in August 1879, the immigrants celebrated their safe arrival with Portuguese folksongs accompanied on the little four-stringed machete—the instrument that was known in Madeira. It was an immediate sensation. Less than two weeks later, the Hawaiian Gazette reported that “a band of Portuguese musicians, composed of Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts. The musicians are true performers on their strange instruments, which are a kind of cross between a guitar and a banjo, but which produce very sweet music.”

The ship Ravenscrag brought from Madeira not only laborers for sugar plantations but also three talented cabinetmakers—Augusto Dias (1842-1915), Manuel Nunes (1843-1922), and Jose do Espirito Santo (1850-1905), who were to play key roles in popularizing the little machete. Responding to a growing local interest in this small guitar-like instrument, Dias, Nunes, and Santo all opened their own instrument shops in Honolulu by 1886.

origins2The machete – renamed ukulele in the Hawaiian language, meaning, literally, “jumping flea” – rose quickly to popularity among the native population and became regarded as Hawaii’s national instrument. The key reason for this immediate acceptance was the patronage of Hawaii’s royal family, most notably King David Kalakaua (1836-1891), an accomplished musician and composer who became an avid ukulele player. Dias had a long-standing relationship with King Kalakaua—he regularly performed at Iolani Palace, demonstrating his unique Portuguese style of playing melody and accompaniment, and even taught the king to build his own ukuleles.

 

Apart from royal patronage, the creative redesign of the machete into the easier-to-play ukulele—with its endemic koa-wood construction and a slightly different tuning—helped the popularity of this portable instrument. Because of the use of Hawaii’s native koa wood, which had been long associated with royalty on the islands, the ukulele became a symbol of aloha aina, or love of the land, and of support for Hawaiian sovereignty during that era of great political turmoil, when the monarchy was struggling to preserve Hawaiian independence.

4bb2a887-f7ee-4378-9497-9a7563daf1cfRipTide EUT-5NS Electric Tenor Natural Mahogany Ukulele : The Riptide EUT-5NS features a traditional laminated Mahogany top, back, and sides for a classic look and tone. The built-in UK-300T Preamp and pickup system also includes a fully automatic chromatic tuner to help keep you in tune. The two-port sound design allows the front port to project the sound to the audience while the upper side port directs the sound to the player. By moving the front sound port away from the center of the soundboard, the tone and sustain is increase by not placing a large port in the center of the top. Die cast tuning machines help to provide the maximum in tuning stability. Great tone by playing acoustically or plugged in. We really love this small ukulele from RipTide.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s