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Ukulele heaven: Honolulu festivals to honor islands’ most popular instrument

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The Roy Sakuma Ukulele Band, which has hundreds of members, many of them children, will perform at the Ukulele Festival Hawaii.
(Ukulele Festival Hawaii)

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.”

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Master ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro will be honored at Ukulele Festival Hawaii in July.
(Jake Shimabukuro)
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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.

(If you’re going, park for free at Kapiolani Community College, 4303 Diamond Head Road, and take the free shuttle to the park.)

Info: Ukulele Festival Hawaii

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43rd Annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii, July 21, 2013, 10am-4pm at Kapiolani Park.
Ukulele makers sell their wares each year at Ukulele Festival Hawaii in Honolulu.
(Tina Mueller / 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.

46th Annual Ukulele Festival Hawaii 2016.Photo Courtesy Ukulele Festival Hawaii
Ukulele artists from Japan, Korea, and the U.S. will perform during the 2019 Ukulele Festival Hawaii.
(TIna Mahina / Ukulele Festival Hawaii)

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.

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Info: Aloha Festivals

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