The ukulele, the small, four-stringed instrument traditionally associated with Hawaii, will be the star of two musical festivals in Honolulu this summer.
The free Ukulele Festival Hawaii will honor the late Grammy-winning singer and songwriter James Ingram and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. Both performers helped promote ukulele music around the world. Shimabukuro, a native of Hawaii, will play at the festival in Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park on July 21.
Ingram, who died on Jan. 29 in Los Angeles, performed at the annual festival six times. With festival founder Roy Sakuma, he composed the celebratory theme song, “Come and Join Us.”
In addition to Shimabukuro, other ukulele artists will perform from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., including musicians from Japan and South Korea as well as Roy Sakuma’s Ukulele Band, which has about 600 members, mostly children.
Free lessons also will be offered throughout the day, and ukulele manufacturers will display their products at the festival.
Info: Ukulele Festival Hawaii
The ukulele also is the theme of this year’s Aloha Festivals, which will be held Aug, 31 to Sept. 28 at various locations in the Honolulu area.
“For us, it’s a little bit of a no brainer,” said Monte McComber, a festivals board member who plays the ukulele. “The instrument itself is synonymous with Hawaii, with Hawaiian music and hula.”
The instrument will be front and center at the festivals’ various events, including the Floral Parade from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 28. The procession takes place along Kalakaua Ave, Waikiki’s main drag, and will feature colorful floats showcasing the ukulele and its music.
The ukulele’s roots are actually in Europe. “We say that it was ‘adopted’ or ‘borrowed’ from Portugal,” McComber said. “It came to Hawaii via the migration of the Portuguese beginning in 1878.”
Portuguese immigrants came to the islands to tend cattle and work in the sugar cane fields, and brought with them the small instrument they called machéte de braga.
The ukulele became popular so quickly that, within a few years of its arrival, it was proclaimed the national instrument of the Kingdom of Hawaii by Queen Liliuokalani.
Info: Aloha Festivals