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March 27, 2012 > A celebration of sound

A celebration of sound

By Mauricio Segura

Aloha! That single word conjures up visions of sunsets, surf, palm trees, and the swaying of hula girls to the sounds of one of the instruments synonymous with the Hawaiian Islands - the ukulele.

Originally introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, the Rajao was redeveloped by its new culture into the modern ukulele sometime in the 1880s. This small guitar-like instrument employs four gut or nylon strings, and is crafted in four general sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone, to determine its tonality. As a major fan of its sound, King Kalakaua incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings, leading the way for the instrument to soon become a staple in Hawaiian cultural music.

The hop over the Pacific to the mainland occurred in both directions; first in 1915 where ukulele concerts became a daily attraction at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Thanks to Jonah Kumalae, George E. K. Awai, and his Royal Hawaiian Quartet, the ukulele fad in the U.S. was born in Tin Pan Alley, then Vaudeville, and finally established as an icon of the 1920s - 1970s modern jazz age. The second hop, in 1929, made its way from Hawaii to Japan where it found almost instant international success. So much so, that today, Japan is considered a second home for Hawaiian ukulele musicians.

The influence and appreciation of the ukulele is worldwide, and since 1994, the Bay Area has been home to the annual Ukulele Festival of Northern California. As is appears on their mission statement, the festival exists "to promote and perpetuate the playing of ukulele music through an annual event for all levels of ukulele players, while exposing the youth in hopes that they will carry on the traditions and music."

Founded by the late Hollis Baker and John Ogao, well-known musicians of the San Francisco Bay Area's Hawaiian Community, the 18th Annual Ukulele Festival of Northern California will be held on Sunday, April 1 at the Chabot College Performing Arts Center. The all-day festival will have 20 performances featuring 300 performers for the audience to enjoy. Along with the music, there will be special presentations throughout the day including a prestigious scholarship, while sales and food vendors of all kinds will have booths set up for everyone's tastes. Last but not least, raffle giveaways will allow some festival goers the chance to win trips to Hawaii, or go home with professionally built ukuleles of their own.

So set aside this Sunday to enjoy a day of great music, food, arts and crafts, and overall fun with a Hawaiian essence.

Ukulele Festival of Northern California
Sunday, Apr 1
10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Chabot College Performing Arts Center
25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward

Tickets: $15 at the door (based on availability); ages four and under free (based on availability)

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