Ukuleles. More and more, it seems like they’re here to stay. By “here,” I mean the United States, Canada, Japan, and everywhere else outside of Hawaii where the little instrument has lodged itself deep within its host body, impossible to safely extract.
It wouldn’t be an intellectual leap to chalk that tenacity up to the instrument’s association with fellowship and bonhomie, something for which people of European descent always seem to be thirsting. And those basking in the warm glow of life’s sunset seem particularly susceptible to its promise of shared experience.
“Here” is also the tranquil lakeside town of Ajijic, where the appearance four years ago of a ukulele club on its cultural landscape is as natural and inevitable as finding morels mushrooms in the damp, valdivian forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Club Ukulele de Laguna started in 2013 as a casual meeting of friends on the porch of one of the club’s founders, Sheila Ruof, who I found sitting on a bench strumming her ukulele by the town’s idyllic, sun-soaked malecon one Saturday afternoon. She was taking a break from tirelessly coordinating her club’s annual blowout, the Ajijic Ukulele Retreat, which reels in ukulele teachers from Taiwan to Portland for a three-day flurry of masterclasses in right and lefthand techniques, lessons in music theory and rhythm, ear-training, and many other musical disciplines neophytes may find useful before accompanying their own, a friend’s, or a whole group’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “God Save the Queen.”
A compact woman draped in a loose turquoise shall, Ruof has the mien of a hip, laid-back mother superior. Insisting firmly the article not be about her, the Pennsylvania native and former “suit,” as she put it, was nevertheless a generous fount of information detailing the club’s origins and current activities.