The Music of the Ukulele

Save surfing and hula, the most well-known symbol of Hawaiian culture is the ukulele. This musical instrument’s ancestor, the cavaquinho, was first brought to the islands by Portuguese explorers in 1879. As with most legends in Hawaii, there are a few accounts of how it was named. According to Queen Liliuokalani, it was “the gift that came here,” from the Hawaiian words uku (gift) and lele (to come). However, its name also translates to “jumping flea.” When Native Hawaiians saw how the fingers of the Portuguese sailors skipping all over the fretboard, the only word they could use to describe the enchanting object was “ukulele.” It became a standard part of the culture when King David Kalakaua began incorporating it into royal gatherings.

The ukulele only has four strings: G, C, E, and A. Unlike the guitar, the strings are strummed over a fretboard, rather than an open soundboard. There are soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles, as well as a larger baritone.

To absorb as much of the Hawaiian experience during your travels as possible, try catching a free live performance at one of the resorts or listening to the famous ukulele stylings of such artists as Troy Fernandez, Raiatea, or Israel “Iz” Kamakawioole, best known for his otherworldly combination of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.”

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