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More than 800 ukulele enthusiasts gathered outside a Cairns pub on Saturday July 2 in an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of people playing the instrument en masse.
The current record holder of “largest ukulele ensemble” is the London Festival which assembled 851 keen participants in 2009.
Hundreds of people congregated at the Cairns Courthouse Hotel to experience ukulele euphoria, armed with their instruments and the C Major and F Major chords required to play the upbeat calypso tune Iko Iko. Their goal was 1,000 players, but they were just 40 ukes shy of victory. It was the festival’s second attempt on the record in as many years: on the previous occasion there were enough bodies but not enough instruments to go round.
Mike Jackson spearheaded the Lanikai Ukulele Day this year after having played in the throng gathered for the 2010 event. He is astounded by the Saturday’s turnout. “The players seemed to come from everywhere — I counted participants from 18 countries and all Australian states and territories. Their ages ranged from 5 to 83, and their skills ranged from the first-timer to the virtuoso.”
Jackson has seen something of a uke revival in recent years: “The readily available, playable instruments, helped along by some very high-profile players, have once again made it cool to take a uke to a party, so suddenly homemade music is once again all the rage.”
Cairns Ukulele Festival founder Gaby Thomasz describes the instrument as an “equaliser. It's non-competitive, easy to learn, accessible, inexpensive, and it connects people. It is the only harmonic instrument that you can learn play five songs on within a matter of minutes.”
Jackson notes the value of such an equalising influence in community and social settings – “it’s rare to see a ukulele player without a smile on their face.”
There were smiles all round at the end of Ukulele Day, despite falling short of the record-breaking number. “People were so excited to be part of this record attempt, that the actual goal became secondary to the experience of playing ukulele together with so many people,” said Thomasz.
“In fact, not breaking the record means we will have to do it all again. We are already looking forward to next year!”