The complex life of a seemingly simple little instrument.

Culture / In this extensively researched work, authors Jim Tranquada and the late John King pay hommage to this seemingly simple little instrument. The ʻukulele, for many of us, is synonymous with memories of backyard parties, pau hana kanikapilas, and times spent learning songs from Tutu. Today, one can easily search online to find hundreds of videos, from all over the world showing an array of the ʻukuele’s complexities in musical expression. Equally complex, as this book demonstrates, is the long history of an instrument that functioned “simultaneously on a number of different levels–musical, cultural, economic, and even political.” If you are interested in knowing what a song called “The Good Ship Lollipop,” Lewis Carroll, the Overthrow and Annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, the technological advancements in plastics, and a tiny island off the coast of Morroco have to do with the ʻukulele, then consider this work a serious examination of that complexity. Using a variety of sources that include newspapers, city directories, oral histories, court and immigration records, to name a few, The ʻUkulele: A History allows us to see how the instrument changed, and how we were changed by it, over spaces and times. “It is a story played out on an international stage, one that begins on the island of Madeira, a small dot off the coast of Morocco, travels halfway around the world to Hawaiʻi, then recrosses the Pacific once more to the United States and Canada to the east, Australia, Java, and Japan to the west, and ultimately to Europe. We think it is a story worth telling.”

The ‘Ukulele: A History,

Jim Tranquada and John King

UH Press, 2012

Paperback, 282 pages, $20.99