2018 Feature Instrument

2018 Feature Instrument

2018 Feature Instrument

The Ukulele!

2018 is the year of the ukulele at the Illawarra Folk Festival! We're planning ukulele workshops at the Folk School, special concerts and we have a swag of superb ukulele wielding musicians from around the country and the globe ready to entertain and delight you with their chordophonial cacophonies!

The tone and volume of each ukulele (uke) vary with its size and construction and ukes commonly come in four standard sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone but also appear in the form of the banjolele.

A brief history of the humble ukelele *

By the 18th Century, Europe already had a long history with stringed, fretted instruments. Larger instruments such as guitars and lutes had developed smaller cousins to benefit sea-faring musicians. In Portugal the guitar had shrunk down to became a machete (machete de braga), retaining the figure of 8 shape despite the size making it redundant.

In 1879 the Ravenscrag set off for Hawaii with four Portuguese cabinet makers on board. The market for large, ornate Portguese furniture amongst Hawaii's largely poor and agrarian population presumably not being large enough to support them all, the four started to make instruments. The one that took hold was the machete in a new form - the ukulele. It became a big hit with the Hawaiian Royal Family and Hawaiians in general, that it became firmly established as their instrument by the start of the 20th Century.

After the US's annexation of Hawaii, the new owners were keen to sell it on to mainland America as a dream tropical island. Their big push was the Panama Pacific international Exposition in 1915. Their show included plenty of ukulele music and featured the ukuleles of Jonnah Kumalae. It sparked the original ukulele boom in the 1920's among people dreaming of a mythical island getaway.

Inevitably, the ukulele started to move away from purely a Hawaiian novelty and became such a part of music making that by the start of the 30's most piano scores featured ukulele chord diagrams. Thanks to Ukulele Ike, the uke's image turned almost 180 degrees to become associated with smoky bars, trilbies and jazzy songs. When Wall Street collapsed in 1928 the economy and the uke's popularity in the US took a big dive.

The booming consumer economy of 1950's US, saw mass produced plastic goods flooding shops. The ukulele was a prime instrument for mass selling to kids and azz guitar manufacturer - Maccaferri - jumped on the opportunity with their ranges of plastic ukes. This was bolstered by the use of the ukulele by huge TV star Arthur Godfrey and the second ukulele boom came into being.

The rather less aspirational figure of Tiny Tim was the soundtrack to the uke's crashing popularity in the 60's and 70's.

For most of the 90's, the alternative music scene was dominated by traditional guitar bands and, as a reaction to this, the first decade of the 2000's saw a growing acoustic alternative scene start to emerge, using more eclectic sounds and more unusual instrumentation. The ukulele found its place in this sound with bands like 'The Magnetic Fields'.

Two huge trends that helped bring the ukulele back to popularity, were the proliferation of the internet and the huge increase in imports from China and the East. The internet has put ukulele music in front of people and has created a groundswell growth of people being inspired to pick up the instrument by others like themselves who are just playing for their own enjoyment.

* https://ukuguides.com/information/very-brief-history-of-the-ukulele/

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