Journeying With The Ukulele: A Brief History
The four-stringed instrument, which is somewhat akin to a guitar in appearance, has often been said to have originated in Hawaii, but this widely known story is a misconception. The idea of the instrument was originally borne out of two older instruments which are the Cavaquinho and the Machete, also known as the Braguinha or the Machete de Braga. The name Machete de Braga originated from the fact that the instrument was usually produced up-north of Madeira in Braga.
This Machete was a locally popular instrument of the people of a Portuguese city called Madeira. It also could have been said to be their cultural instrument. Madeira is a small mountainous island in the Atlantic. It is an autonomous region of Portugal, located southwest and close to the coast of North Africa. The climate is known for its thriving timber industry. Back in the 19th century in Madeira, Funchal, the port city was a bustling city where tourists would travel to watch street performers play their music.
The history of the circumstances through which the Ukulele was born is very much intertwined with the economy of Madeira as well as Hawaii in the 1880s.
As at the mid-1880s, Hawaii was known for a lucrative sugar industry. But later within the decade, the country suffered a continuous series of natural disasters and deadly diseases that were a result of the European colonization. These diseases led to several deaths and thus caused the population to decline sporadically. This equally meant that the economy had stopped thriving as there weren’t enough workers to work on the sugar plantations and factories. The farmers in Hawaii were desperate for help and thus extended a search for contract workers to the world. Coincidentally, the people in Madeira also needed a change of environment because they had also been encountering natural disasters and they could no longer cultivate timber to keep their economy robust. This is how Madeira and Hawaii became affiliated by business and the people of Madeira they took up Hawaii’s job offer.
Among the 25,000 people who had signed a work contract and were headed to Hawaii to make a new life, were some woodworkers who were originally from Madeira’s port city, Funchal. And after a long four-month journey, the people of Madeira finally arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii’s port city. In the high spirits of celebration, one of the formerly mentioned woodworkers, Fernandes Joao, began to sing and play music with their city’s signature machete to commemorate their arrival in a new land. Hawaiian locals who stopped by to listen were fascinated by the instrument, the melodies it created, and the speed at which the player’s fingers were flying across the strings. The astonishing speed and movement of the player’s fingers were what led to the first name of the instrument, “the jumping flea”, a rough translation of “ukulele”. And later on, the King at the time was a patron of arts and he strongly supported the promotion of the instrument. And gradually like that, the ukulele became a part of Hawaiian music and culture and was also incorporated into performances at royal gatherings.
THE UKULELE IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
At a steady pace, the ukulele gained fame and the knowledge of it spread across the world. It particularly gained the attention of the mainland Americans during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (a Hawaiian ceremony that was held to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal) that was held from spring to fall of 1915 in San Francisco. The Exposition featured Hawaiian ukulele players, who performed in groups and as soloists. Afterwards, the ukulele began to acquire fans in mainland America and was subsequently introduced and integrated into other music genres. Later in April 1923, a vaudeville performer, Roy Smeck, appeared playing the Ukulele in a short film, titled Stringed Harmony. The increasing popularity and the availability of inexpensive models made the ukulele to be viewed as a suitable beginner’s instrument. And soon enough, the instrument became one of the musical icons of the Jazz Age.
Also in 1929, the Ukulele arrived in Japan through a Hawaiian-born Japanese man who had come back for his father’s funeral. And together with his brother, they bred enthusiasm for the instrument. Although all western music was banned later on during World War II, the fans and players kept the instrument and its knowledge in secret. And after the war, it resumed its popularity on an even higher level.
While in the United Kingdom, the ukulele was introduced as a hybrid instrument, called the Banjolele, alongside the Banjo by George Formby. He was a singer and a comedian. The popularity and demand for the ukulele and the Banjolele surged even higher, and this was due to the simple nature of the instrument and also its portable size.
In the 1960s, the Ukulele made its way to Canada and the United Kingdom. Canada was said to have been one of the first countries to have initiated teaching the ukulele in the school curriculum (asides from Hawaii). The ukulele was taught as an affordable version of teaching stringed instruments in a music program and was considered as an adaptation of a beginner’s instrument. It was also meant to raise children’s awareness of music instruments and foster musical literacy to a degree.
From the introduction of the ukulele to its spread around the world, it has received quite the warm reception. This could be attributed to the types of occasions through which it has constantly being introduced and the ability of the instrument to conquer the ears and hearts of its listeners through its melodies.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF GUITAR
The guitar is an exciting instrument that has gone through different changes since the onset of civilization. From Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Persia and other ancient places where civilization started from, discovered carvings and paintings of string instruments dating back to the early 3000s revealed the existence of these instruments. The "long-necked string instrument with a pear-shaped body" had different names like the "lute" and "oud" being the common names given to these instruments.
The lute had 4 to 5 strings and came in different sizes and shapes with the instrument being a favorite of the Egyptians and the Greeks after which it spread far and wide all over Europe. Later development had the lute having more than 20 strings after which it was later abandoned.
The Spain & Moors
The early invasion of Spain in 711AD by the Moors brought about the Moors bringing the Oud to Spain. The Spaniards made the oud theirs and tweaked it to their perfection thereby giving birth to the "chitarra" or "quitarra"—the Oud which was an instrument with 4 to 5 strings or courses with a shorter neck. The Spanish modified the Oud into the quitarra, designed to have 6 to 8 courses and shaped like an hourglass.
Spain became the home of guitars with the rest of the world looking up to them for ideas and inspirations on designs and styles with the Vihuela being a typical style. Each century, the guitar evolves. The classic design which was close to the structures seen today was the creation of a Spanish luthier and musician, Antonio Torres during the mid-1800s. Torres increased the body size of the guitar, changed the pegs from wood to machined head, with his design giving the instrument more tone, volume and projection. Torres' guitar was the modern classical guitar, and his designs paved the way for other configurations of guitars.
Andres Segovia, who was a well-known guitarist in his time, took the classical guitar and made it a "concert instrument". He composed "classical" guitar music by transcribing early polyphonic music.
The acoustic guitar came into existence when Christian Frederick Martin, a German-American guitarist, made the X-braced guitar body. This body design accommodated the steel strings' amplification which unfortunately, the Torres guitar couldn't withstand. This change brought about the use of the pick to play the guitar. The use of the pick gave birth to a new louder sound from the guitar compared to the smooth and low sound of the Torres classical guitar.
Acoustic -The Archtop
Orville Gibson modeled the archtop acoustic guitar. The archtop guitar model had an arched top and back, an adjustable bridge, F-holes or violin-like holes which amplified the volume and sound of the acoustic guitar. Gibson figured out that creating a louder sound would be possible if he allowed the guitar to vibrate freely. If the design looked like a cello, the bridge exerted no torque at the top of the guitar. The archtop guitar was famous during the jazz age and used by big bands and country musicians.
The electric guitar came out of the wish for a louder guitar. During the 20th century, guitarists felt the need for a louder guitar as the jazz age, rock and roll needed heavy and louder instruments. Bands relegated the guitar to back up louder instruments like the saxophone and other bass instruments. The only way guitars could be loud enough was through the microphone to amplify the sounds.
Adolph Rickenbacker came to the aid of the guitarists and made the first electric guitar. Adolph was the vice president of the National Guitar Corporation, he and George Beauchamp, a Hawaiian guitarist, found a breakthrough. Through Rickenbacker's company, Beauchamp helped invented an electromagnetic device which helped amplify the vibrations of the guitar. The Hawaiian bands first used it before its usage spread to other parts of the world. Other companies saw the wide acceptance of the electric guitar and started making their own—companies like Audio Vox, Vega, National, Dobro, Gibson, Volu-tone, and Epiphone.
The first successful electric guitar that underwent commercialization sold for 150 dollars, aptly named the ES150, by Gibson in 1936 cable and amplifier came with it.
Charlie Christian brought the guitar solo back to limelight which turned the guitar into a lead instrument and not a backup. Eddie Durham, a jazz guitarist, was the one who introduced Christian to the guitar .
The Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jazz Bass, Percussion Bass, and so on, evolved from the Fender Esquire, the first solid-body guitar to be successful commercially. Leo Fender, an amplifier maker and radio technician, created the Fender Esquire in 1946.
Gibson didn't stop from creating electric guitars; instead, Gibson improved and in 1951, brought out the first electric guitar that could either be played with an amplifier or played as an acoustic guitar. It was the L5CES; which was a best seller and loved by rock and roll bands. Since then, guitars have become to be a widely known and played instrument all over the world to date.
The guitar is a musical instrument that is part of the chordophone family of musical instruments. The specific part from other chordophones is the way it is built and tuned. Examples of different musical instruments in this family are; Harps, Banjo, Cello, and so on.
The Guitar has become a musical instrument that has evolved through time with visible improvements in body, sound and string. The guitar is very much still one of the most used musical instrument today. The heavy metal genre of music which is popular today, the guitar is the key instrument used. The guitar is used in almost all genre of music making it one of the essential musical instrument that can never be abandoned.
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