Ukulele Outreach around the World
Since 2014 I have been touring with Keola Beamer teaching ukulele to students and performing concerts in collaboration with artists in countries around the world including Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and India. We started these tours as part of the American Music Abroad program through the US Government. American Music Abroad is a wonderful concert and education series dating all the way back to the 1930s. It was originally called the Jazz Ambassadors tour. It brought artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington around the world to connect with different cultures through music. Stan Getz first collaborated with musicians in Brazil through this program in the 1960s. The program helped develop the Bossa Nova sound after Getz’s work with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, and João Gilberto.
Since then the program has broadened to include music from across the US from Bluegrass to Folk to Zydeco to Hip Hop and much more. We were the first group from Hawaiʻi to be included in the program. It was a wonderful experience sharing aloha spirit and culture in places far from home. Immediately it became clear how the ukulele can bring people together. Over the next few days we worked with students and had the opportunity to perform with them during our concerts.
Ukulele Outreach in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Keola and I decided to broaden the program on our own through Keolaʻs non-profit organization Mohala Hou. We did fundraising concerts and were able to travel to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2016. Through Mohala Hou, Keola and I donated 50 ukuleles to students at a school near the Angkor Wat temples. We spent a week teaching the students and also the teachers at the school and did a performance together.
It was amazing to see young children embrace such a new instrument to their culture. They learned basic chords, strumming, and even melody playing in a very short time and now give regular public concerts. This has brought the community together and inspired many more children to learn the ukulele.
Ukulele Outreach in Sikkim, India
Since the success of our first program in Cambodia we have done more fundraising and were able to travel again recently to Sikkim in Northern India, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. We were there to donate 40 ukuleles and work with children at a wonderful school high in the mountains in the small village of Gangyap in West Sikkim.
Learn much more about the Sikkim Project and the Eklavya school here.
Teaching Ukulele in the foothills of the Himalayas
Like the school we work with in Cambodia, the teachers were very dedicated and have been able to make great progress enriching the lives of their students with very little resources. Sidharth Yonzone runs the Eklavya School we visited and has been a great inspiration to his students in both music and sports. About 6 years ago the students worked together with the small staff at the school and put in two basketball courts on the campus.
Since then, the girls team has gone on to win a national championship. Music students have performed musicals including Fiddler on the Roof and tributes to Elvis and ABBA. The school had a few guitars, a keyboard, and a drum set. Now the students have access to many instruments with the new ukuleles.
When we arrived to start teaching at the school after many hours of driving across the mountains of Sikkim, we were greeted to a wonderful performance by the students including traditional dance and music. I could tell immediately that the students were very excited to learn and had a great background singing. They were a joy to teach. After the first day we were already strumming and singing songs by the Beatles, Journey, Leonard Cohen, and more. The students learned to play and sing Hawaiian songs including Green Rose Hula, Hawaiʻi Aloha, and Ke Ao Nani as well over the next few days.
Performance at Buddha Park
This led to a historic performance at the Buddha Park in Ravangla, South Sikkim. We performed the first concert ever in the large prayer hall there. I started with solo ukulele and guitar then joined Keola and Moanalani Beamer before inviting the students to join us. After performing Hawaiian songs with Hula we ended the set with Country Roads by John Denver. The students really shined with layers of vocal harmonies mixed with their ukulele parts. It was very moving to be a part of the performance with them. They continued with a wonderful tribute to the Beatles and ABBA.
We plan to continue our Ukuleles Around the World program in 2024 with a trip to Bhutan. I continue to stay in touch with the teachers and students we have worked with and am so thrilled to see them making great progress and finding joy playing the ukulele.
Great work Jeff! Applaud your efforts!