It wasn’t too long ago when the ukulele was only a Hawaiian relic. However, recently the ukulele has experienced a surge of popularity. In the past few years alone, Kala ukulele sales have risen 70 percent. Riding on it’s coat tails to stardom, the banjo and the mandolin have also started to make a comeback in the music industry.
This newfound social movement which craves for odd and and forgotten instruments has hit Vanguard.
“I think on the Vanguard campus, the ukulele is growing,” said freshman Josh Rance and ukulele beginner, who picked up the instrument last semester. “I thought it was a fun and convenient instrument.”
Rance is not the only one who is attracted to the “uke” for it’s multiplicity of benefits. Several students are beginning to, or have already begun to pick up the ukulele for it’s accessibility, simplicity and unique sound.
The ukulele used to be considered more of a toy than an instrument. The only time the ukulele was listened to was in traditional hawaiian music, accompanied by an ancient chant and a pahu drum. Ukuleles were seldom featured in mainstream music. When they where, those recordings never hit it big.
So why has the ukulele experienced such a comeback?
Perhaps, people have began to appreciate the ukulele as a worthy instrument; one worthy of rocking along side an electric guitar. This transformation cannot be mentioned without giving credit to a handful of artists who’s hit music brought the dead koa wood instrument back to life, including Jason Mraz, Train, Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter. In a typical concert, Frankenreiter shreds any instrument from an ukulele to an electric guitar.
The true pioneer of the ukulele breaking into the modern mainstream music industry is Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole.
His personalized cross-over of the two classics “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” released on his album Facing the Future in 1993 struck the hearts of people around the globe. Since it’s original release, the song has been featured in several movies, TV shows and commercials including 50 First Dates, ER, Scrubs, and Glee. The song peaked popular interest towards the ukulele and left the world wanting more.
As a result, ukuleles have successfully bridged the gap from hawaiian folk music to pop.
Ukuleles are not the only instrument undergoing this surge, other unique instruments have started to make their way to the stage of mainstream stardom.
Groups such as Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers are spearheading this movement with music that reaches beyond the folk music lovers. Their intricate, but thunderous banjo rifts and heart-breaking mandolin solos have received wide spread approval. Last Sunday, Mumford and Sons took the gold at the Grammy’s with their new album “Babel” as the album of the year.
Their monumental success is an enormous win for the mandolin and banjo. For the first time since the 1960‘s, the banjo is back in the popular crowd.
Prior to it’s claim to fame through Mumford and Sons, the banjo was disregarded as an instrument of the past. People could not begin to talk about banjos without images of hillbillies and farm animals filling their heads.
With bands continuing to expand their instrumental sound, the popularity of eccentric instruments is likely to continue. We should be seeing more of the ukulele, banjo, mandolin and other like instruments. The ukulele’s comeback to stardom is here to stay.