The History of the Hawaiian Ukulele with Master Luthier Joe Souza of Kanile’a Ukulele at Habilitat.
The ‘Ukulele (pronounced “oo-koo-le-le”) was introduced by Portuguese immigrants who migrated to Hawai’i. They were looking for new lives, but even more so, work.
The braguinha, or “machete de braga” as my ninety-five year old Portuguese Grandmother calls it, is still a hit on the island of Madiera in Portugal, where she is from. In late August of 1879, legend has it that the ‘ukulele first arrived in Hawai’i. Upon arrival in Honolulu, a musician named Joao Fernandez strummed his braguinha while singing Portuguese folksongs.
On one of the many ships that arrived in Honolulu Harbor from Portugal, there were three men: Augusto Dias, Jose do Espirito Santo and Manuel Nunes. All three were excellent craftsmen and they are credited with making the first true ‘Ukuleles.
King David Kalakaua can be attributed not only with the “Merrie Monarch”, our annual hula competition, but also the popularity boom of the ‘ukulele. King Kalakaua was an excellent composer and he loved playing his ‘ukulele. So, of course, he made playing the ‘ukulele very fashionable. The ‘ukulele grew in popularity. Prior to the ‘ukulele, Hawaiians relied mainly on percussion implements to accompany their hula and chant. Now, they had found a perfect way to accompany themselves melodically.
Today, as you well know, the ‘ukulele or uke is famous the world over. There are many well-known names that are associated with the ‘ukulele. Here in Hawai’i the ‘ukulele has had a major resurgence. It is not uncommon to see children playing their ukes at the beach, or at “The Bus” stop. The majority of accomplished musical groups in Hawai’i have at least one or two ‘ukulele players. Even in Japan the ‘ukulele has gained in popularity by leaps and bounds.
Kanile’a means “joyful sound”. Experience this joyful sound for yourself, a heartwarming reflection of these Hawaiian Islands that we call home.