The Connection to Our Past

One of the things that makes us uniquely human is that we create musical instruments, like ukulele. We take pieces of nature, cut them up, bend them into shaped boxes, and string them up (originally with cat gut!). Somehow people discovered you could make music this way and that it’s one of the most enjoyable things in life. Ukes have come a long way in the last 100+ years and the evolution never stops. But where did it start?

A week or so ago we interviewed Kilin Reece of KR strings and learned about a book he’s writing on the extensive history of stringed instruments and Hawaii, much of which has been “swept under the rug”. Fascinating stuff! Check that conversation out HERE.

During our conversation with Kilin we hit on the origins of the ukulele. He mentions the ukulele starting here based on the Madeiran and Portuguese machete and braguinha. But Kilin points out how those were also based off instruments before them, and where does it end? I chimed in with Greece before Spain and Egypt and Mesopotamia from thousands of years before. These stone carvings are amazing discoveries. They were definitely rockin’ it well over 3,000 years ago! These are from Egypt and Mesopotamia around 1300-1400 BCE.

King David composed on his generations version of the ukulele. I could google it but I don’t want to pretend to be smarter than I’m already pretending. All I can remember is that he preferred a low G. Nah, but I know David played a stringed instrument and the biggest book of the bible is a songbook, Pslams.

One of the things Kilin touched on a few times that really resonated with me was the idea that instruments connect us with our past. Given how far back it goes it made me wonder if making and playing musical instruments is in our DNA at this stage, an expression of our genetics already, or if it’s just us, our desire for these connections.

If you think about it, there aren’t many recreational activities that connect us with our past. Most of modern living is way different than it’s ever been for human beings throughout time. But playing music, dancing,  worshipping, celebrating or telling stories through song, this is part of being human and it’s older than we can know. Maybe it does help us to reconnect us with our roots, with our nature, with the cosmos?

I’m sure Kilin’s book and exhibit at Bishop will be awesome, if he get’s them done (playful nudge). But I love him for doing this research. Hawaii’s role in developing stringed instruments and influencing popular music is something to be acknowledged and shared as an integral part of the rich heritage that the native Hawaiian people have. But it goes beyond that. These tools have evolved from every part of the world and also spread to every part. We send ukes to the farthest places on Earth every week. And I think of that as an even more palpable connection, a bridge in the human experience that crosses the barriers of language. Those who feel it know it, every race and culture, we share this passion.

From the cognitive benefits of playing and bonds created with others, to the meditational aspects or even cathartic release you can experience, music is a gift and we honor all the known, but also the many more unknown luthiers and musicians that paved the way for us.

Share your thoughts below. Aloha

Comments 2

  1. I have been thinking about this much of my life – are we slaves to the onward motion of time, only moving forever forward? Or are there ways that we can tap into an eternal source of spirit? I think there are ways that music lets us experience this second case. When I am listening to music and it makes a real impact on me, I literally get chills down my spine and feel weak. I refer to it as “seeing God”, which is both flip and inaccurate, but it does give a picture.

    A year back or so, I had an even more powerful experience. I was playing at a uke fest and doing my last number, which I had tacked onto the set at the last minute and played with a friend I had just met. I closed my eyes and focused intensely on the music that was happening. I felt myself in a vast unknowable space, where the musical path simply opened at my feet. It was beyond extraordinary – it was a place where no dimensions existed.

    This is a tunnel to connect us all, across time and space. Music is the key. It’s more than just history.

  2. Great article on the origins of the ukulele. I learned some new information that I didn’t know before. Mahalo!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *