BASED in the beautiful coastal town of Byron Bay in southeastern Australia, Bobby Alu is as friendly and laidback as his tropical-flavoured music.
His Samoan mother taught him to play the ukulele early on and he then dedicated himself to mastering traditional Samoan log drums, which led to an opportunity to perform with Xavier Rudd for five years.
I caught up with Bobby shortly before he set off on an international tour and we chatted about ukes, the challenges of the modern music business and trying to find your flow in every day.
Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark
THIS sweet romantic comedy
sees funnyman Adam Sandler playing Henry Roth, a Lothario Hawaiian vet who only
dates tourists because he doesn’t want to get tied down.
Everything changes for
Henry when he spots a beautiful blonde local named Lucy (Barrymore) at a cafe.
The pair flirt and enjoy breakfast together, but when he goes back the next
morning, she doesn’t remember him at all. It turns out Lucy was
in a terrible car accident and lost her short-term memory. Her brain resets
while she sleeps and her dad (Clark) and brother (Astin) go to extraordinary
lengths to ensure she believes every day is the day of the crash.
Henry has the opposite problem. Try as he might, he can’t forget Lucy and sets out to make her fall in love with him every 24 hours. In one scene, he plays her a cute song called Forgetful Lucy on the beach. Oddly, while Sandler’s pictured holding a baritone on the movie poster, he actually strums what looks like a six-string tenor in the film. There are plenty of tutorials online if you’d like to give the song a go.
The jokes don’t always hit the mark, but 50 First Dates has plenty of laughs and while the premise might be slightly far-fetched, the solid central performances elevate it. Sandler and Barrymore have amazing chemistry.
This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store
No ukulele hall of fame is complete without the inimitable Roy Smeck, a.k.a. The Wizard Of The Strings.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania,
USA, on February 6, 1900, Smeck’s musical talent was obvious early on and it
was fostered when he started working at a music shop in Binghamton, New York.
Part of his job was demonstrating a wide range of stringed instruments,
“At the store, I
practiced eight to 10 hours a day until I had a nervous breakdown,” reveals Smeck
in Vincent Cortese’s 2004 biography Roy
Smeck: The Wizard Of The Strings In His Life And Times. “My father went to
the basement and chopped up my instruments with an axe.”
Inspired by vaudeville
star Johnny Marvin to improve his uke skills, Roy invented a mind-boggling
array of strums and was playing professionally by the early 1920s.
Smeck’s big break came
when Harry Warner of Warner Bros. offered him $350 to appear in a seven-minute movie
to showcase a new sound-on-disc system called Vitaphone. The film, entitled His Pastimes, premiered on August 6,
1926 in New York City and Roy became a celebrity literally overnight.
As a vaudeville
headliner, Smeck earned a whopping $550 per week and made more money on the
side through endorsements, the most lucrative of which was with the Harmony Company
of Chicago. In 1926, Harmony introduced the Roy Smeck Vita-Uke, an unusual instrument
with sound holes in the shape of seals that proved extremely popular with the ukulele-obsessed
Despite his inability
to read music, Smeck’s name soon appeared on a number of instructional books in
various languages and, in January 1929, he presented 15-minute uke lessons on
New York radio.
Smeck performed for US
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 and England’s King George VI in 1937,
as well as for American troops during World War II and the Korean War.
However, with the advent
of television, the entertainment industry had changed entirely by the
“When I returned home [from Korea], many theatres had closed and vaudeville had virtually disappeared,” Smeck recalls in Cortese’s book. “With vaudeville gone, I wondered what I was going to do. So I spent four, five, even six hours a day teaching myself to read music. Then I started instructing students.”
Smeck taught ukulele, as well as banjo, guitar, steel guitar and mandolin until shortly before his death on April 4, 1994. The Wizard Of The Strings may be gone, but his frenetic, energetic, innovative music lives on to inspire ukulele players for generations to come.
This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store
Welcome to Episode 5 of Ukulele Stories! This time, my guest is fantastic US singer-songwriter Danielle Ate the Sandwich. A YouTube uke pioneer with a great sense of humour and a catalogue of skilfully crafted tunes, she has some excellent tips for aspiring musicians. I hope you enjoy our chat…
The strumming technique I’m most often asked about is the triplet. I use it a lot in my own playing and it’s always well received. While it looks – and sounds – rather fancy, the mechanics are actually quite simple.
As I tell my
students, I can only explain the way I do it. Other players and teachers may
have different ideas, which is fine – there’s usually more than one way to
achieve the desired result.
triplet is composed of three parts. It begins with a down stroke with the nail
of the forefinger. Next, the pad (or fleshy part) of the thumb follows – also a
down stroke. Finally, the nail of the thumb comes up. So, at its heart, it’s
D-D-U. But there’s more to it than that. How you go about the movements
is crucial to getting the sound you’re after.
Let’s break it down
even further. On the first down stroke, make sure you’re striking all four
strings. Now, where is your thumb? If it’s hovering over the fretboard or,
worse, below it, you’re going to have to move your entire hand back up for the
second (thumb) down stroke. This will interrupt the flow of the strum and it
just won’t feel right. So, how do you fix it? Simple. Just keep your thumb up
and out of the way during the first down stroke. Maintain approximately a
7-10cm (3-4 inch) gap between your thumb and forefinger. Once your forefinger
has completed the first stroke, your thumb should be ready to start the second.
all-important up stroke. Many people advocate coming up with the forefinger,
but I like to use the thumb. Reason being that the thumb is in the ideal
position at the completion of the second down stoke to shoot back up the
strings. This increases the speed and fluidity of the technique as a whole. If
you go fast enough, the triplet becomes the ‘roll stroke’ with no beginning or
end – a continuous motion that can add flavour to any chord progression.
So there you have it, the triplet. No trouble at all!
This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka
WITH the mighty uke on
the rise once again, it’s not surprising to see it popping up on the silver
screen more frequently. However, it is somewhat surprising – and refreshing – to
see the instrument featured in a gritty drama.
A love story with a difference, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a very good film. In fact, it’s basically two films in one. It opens in the present, where doting dad Dean (Gosling) is a part-time house painter and his wife Cindy (Williams) is an overworked resident at the local hospital. Their marriage is obviously strained, but Dean can’t seem to understand why. Rewind six years and we get to see the young couple falling madly in love, where it’s all hope, passion and, of course, ukulele serenades.
As the movie switches
between the time periods, more about Dean and Cindy’s intense relationship is
slowly revealed, and it becomes obvious that a physical and emotional boilover
is on the cards.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work, both deliver powerful performances, but don’t expect a typical Hollywood ending. We should have known things were going to go downhill when Dean started singing and strumming the old Mills Brothers hit You Always Hurt The One You Love.
This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in theStore
Since she began performing with a uke in 2000, Rose has been a fixture on the Australian ukulele scene and has been instrumental – pun very much intended – in popularising the instrument Down Under. In 2004, she organised a concert called Ukulele Land on Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, which turned out to be quite a pivotal event.
English ukulele-banjo enthusiast Richard Maingôt tells KAMUKE the story behind his beautiful, custom-made Abbott Super De Luxe.
Photos: Alastair Murray
TIME seems to have slipped by almost unobtrusively since my introduction to the ukulele some 65 years ago, when I heard George Formby on a Saturday night entertainment program on the radio.
I was captivated, and motivated the next
day to respond to an advertisement in the Daily
Express by a firm called W. Davis offering a “genuine ukulele-banjo” for
the sum of 18 shillings and sixpence, payable at three shillings and sixpence a
month. By no stretch of imagination could this instrument be called a “genuine
ukulele-banjo”. It was very basic, but to me it represented the real thing.
My uke-banjo collection progressed over the
years in direct proportion to my income; a Melody and whole stable of Dallas
instruments. Most of my ukuleles were obtained from a little shop in Croydon,
Surrey, where I lived. The owner of this musical emporium was a small, red-nosed
alcoholic who always welcomed me because my purchases enabled him to shut up
shop and retire to the sanctuary of the pub next door.
In the early 1960s, my wife and I moved to a village just south of Manchester and it was there that I was introduced to Harold Fallows. Harold was an interesting man, who, through his work in the theatre, had got to know George Formby very well. Through Harold, I became a member of The George Formby Society. Some of the virtuosos I met there were nothing less than brilliant. Ray Bernard was such a player. He had a wonderful personality and was one of the most generous and helpful men I ever met. From Ray, I learnt to do the Formby ‘split stroke’ and some of his other excellent techniques.
It was in Burslem, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, that I met Jack Abbott Jr and established a friendship with him which lasted until his death. In the mid-1970s, I commissioned Jack to make me the best ukulele-banjo he had ever made. This, I believe, he did.
While he’s not an international star, Charles Altmann is an integral part of the ukulele scene in Sydney, Australia. At the age of 91, he’s still extremely active and an inspiration to many. And he has a fascinating story to tell!