Hey you guys, Marty here. I just read an article on the ‘net today about top UK ukelele banjo player Steven Sproat. Mister Sproat, who’s been playing the UB since age 10 apparently, believes we’re suffering from ukelele overload.
His comments that there are ‘too many ukelele players around’ has me baffled. The world according to Sproat, is suffering from the current ubiquitous malady that is ‘ukelele bloat.’ He bemoans and rails at the fact that what first attracted him to the uke was that it was percieved as a ‘novelty’ and thus not many folk played it and yet nowadays he thinks the uke is out for world domination, with so many people taking it up, forming various clubs and such and for him, this is anathema.
As a long time musician who plays piano, keyboards, synth, drums percussion, acoustic guitar, sings and composes and now plays the humble but mighty soprano uke, I find Sproat’s attitude leaves alot to be desired and verges, may I say, on the snobby side.
Why should music be limited to so called ‘afficionados’ or experts and why should any musical instrument be limited to the elite few? It is this, to my mind, wholly unacceptable ‘exclusive’ attitude that would have music and instruments only in the hands of the allegedly capable.
We know there are virtuosos and prodigies, let’s name a few: Mozart, Rich, Fitzgerald, Peterson et al, we could go on, but what Sproat fails to remember, is that music is meant to be enjoyed and shared.
Music has been man’s way of inner self expression among the creative arts for years. Ever since he clacked some bones together and liked the sound as it reverberated around his primeval cave, man has sought to make music, on primitive drums, then harps, lyres, whatever he could find to make a joyful noise with!
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more intimate than lying down in the dark, listening via your headphones to a favourite piece of music, but what can beat the shared experience of adrenalin filled excitement and atmosphere of a live gig or concert?
But let’s get back to Sproat. I believe everyone from small children to oldsters has the inalienable right to play the ukelele, at whatever level they may be, whether three chord wonder to advanced player.
The sheer abundance of uke clubs that have sprung up like weeds in the UK alone is testament to the tiny uke’s growing popularity. Not so long ago, I watched and indeed recorded onto CD, a documentary programme called ‘The Mighty Uke.
It was fascinating, because it charted the history and origins of this small but powerfully popular instrument and contrary to popular belief…no, the uke didn’t originate in Hawaii, but in nearby Portugal!
It was through a happy quirk of fate and circumstance that the islanders of Madeira experiencing hardship, were invited by nonetheless an important personage than the king, to come to Hawaii and stay.
Thus through this happenstance, the ukelele (meaning ‘jumping flea,’ no doubt because of its size) rapidly caught on and became a favourite of the Hawaiians, who took it to their heart and built their own versions of the original, calling it the ‘ukelele’ pronounced ook-oo-lel-e.
What warmed my heart about the programme was the migration of the instrument in recent times and how there is a fever pitch about all things ukelele. Yes, the jumping flea is enjoying a resurgence worldwide.
Everybody, the world over is discovering the joy in playing such a lowly instrument and perhaps that’s why I myself love it so much, because it is the ‘underdog’ of the musical instrument world.
What was once seen as pure novelty, is now in the capable hands of younger players like the very talented Jake Shimabukuro who plays everything from Hawaiian ballads to classical, to jazz to rock…the latter of his repertoire including…would you believe it?…Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen!!!
Even new ‘young’ muso bands like Mumford and Sons or Noah and the Whale include the uke in their instrument line up, so for the moment and I feel, for a long time to come, the uke will continue to endear more people to its veritable charms and people like master Sproat and co will have to just grin and bear it while crying into their coffee.
My own little giant, is a jet black soprano, which I’ve named ELSIE after my deceased mother (bless her). It’s a little ‘cheapie’ job made by Mahalo, a Chinsese firm who licensed the territorial rights to sell it worldwide from the original Japanese manufacturers.
It keeps good tuning, has a nice sonorous tone and is lightweight to carry and store and came with a little carry bag. Okay, it’s not the most expensive uke in the world, but everyday I learn more about it, I caress it, coax it, cajole it and strum the hell out of it and get rewarded by making beautiful, simple music with it!
I can’t see myself ever being a Jake Shimabukuro, but actually, I don’t want to be. I simply want to be a competent player with his own style and that suits me just fine.
So why don’t you go out to your nearest music store and get yourself a uke. You won’t regret it, I promise.