Opinion Columns & Blogs

South Sound ukulele group growing its membership

This is an update to a column I wrote last February on the Olympia Ukulele Players Association, also known as OLUPA. The acronym has a Hawaiian word meaning of "rhythmic refreshment."

Group leader Kim Allen has informed me that their membership has increased as much as two-fold — a dramatic increase of local ukulele enthusiasts and people from other locations in the Puget Sound area.

Since my last column, these musical enthusiasts have gotten together started as a small gathering, all with a definite commonality for their love of the ukulele. A number of enthusiasts live here in the Olympia area, but others travel from various locales including Tacoma and Seattle. Olympia has become a focal point — a central location for this group of ukulele enthusiasts who come from all walks of life.

Though the ukulele is thought of as a traditional Hawaiian instrument, it was the Portuguese who brought their small guitar-like instrument to Hawaii in the 19th century. This was originally named the “braguinha” and was introduced to the islands in 1879 when the Portuguese began to settle.

When the Hawaiians saw the Portuguese virtuosos playing this new instrument, the rapid finger playing resembled a jumping flea. “Uku” means flea and “lele” means jumping in the Hawaiian language, hence the “Ukulele” was the name given to the instrument.

The Hawaiians were further fascinated by how a small instrument could make such a delightful sound. They embraced the instrument and adopted it to their traditional music.

This adaptable instrument has maintained its popularity over the years because of its compact size and versatility. The largest of the three common sizes (soprano, concert and tenor) is only 27 inches long, weighs only 2.5 pounds, and easily fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane cabin.

OLUPA members have been meeting — often at South Puget Sound Community College — to play music and to discuss the cultural and administrative aspects of the organization as warranted.

Well-known ukulele artists such as Herb Ohta Jr., Keoki Kahumoku, Patrick Landeza, Roddy Lopez Kaaiohelo, Alika Naka’oka, and the Monday Ukulele Ohana will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E. in Olympia. Ukulele artists have visited the Olympia area and the Puget Sound region to provide workshops, public performances and other musical treats so others can learn to play the ukulele and enjoy its music.

OLUPA artists continue to dedicate themselves to the classical and cultural foundations but also to enjoy and recognize the need to integrate and play a full spectrum of music from jazz to pop and other musical rhythms.

I encourage others to join the Olympia Ukulele Players Association because the members support local businesses. The group fosters the love of music in people who come to enjoy playing the ukulele with others and presenting the music to the public. They bring much happiness to others, and the music brings peace to the soul.

OLUPA has a great website. Go to: www.oluevents.com.

The website has more information about workshops and other performances scheduled next week.

People with questions or those seeking additional information can contact OLUPA group leader Kim Allen via e-mail at olupa@comcast.net.

Bob Nakamura, president of the Olympia Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, is a retired U.S. non-commissioned officer. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, he can be reached at sgtmilehibob@yahoo.com.