A Hooley of Ukeists

Ukulele Hooley

I’m having a great time at the Ukulele Hooley this weekend, so I thought I’d look into some ukulele-related words.

There are various possible words for people who play the ukulele:

– Ukulele player
– Uker
– Ukist
– Ukeist
– Ukulist
– Ukulelist
– Ukuleleist
– Ukulelian
– Uke-phreak
– Ukester
– Ukestrator
– Ukeleler

There are also words for things ukulele-related: ucal (based on duke/ducal), or ukel (based on yokel).

Sources: forum.ukuleleunderground.com and MetaFilter

Then there are some words, which I just made up, for what ukulele players do, i.e. play the ukulele: uke, ukelize, ukify. Can you come up with any others?

Me playing one of my songs in the open mic at the 2016 Ukulele Hooley

I sang one my songs, Spollagyn son tey / Chips for tea, in the open mic session last might (see photo above). I usually sing it unaccompanied, and messed it up a bit at the start, but it went okay after that. I was also singing it from memory, which is fine when I’m just singing, but when I’m play the ukulele at the same time, it’s a lot more challenging, and definitely needs more practice.

So what would you call a group of ukulele players?

A strum, a hooley, or something else?

Suggestions welcome.

Other collective words for musician can be found at: https://thesession.org/discussions/27892

If you’re in the Dublin area today, why not come along to a free concert in the People’s Park in Dún Laoghaire this afternoon from 12pm.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This week I am doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye. While all the songs I’m learning are in Gaelic, the class it taught mainly in English, so I don’t get to speak much Gaelic in class. Outside class there are plenty of opportunities to speak Gaelic with college staff and other students, who are doing courses in language, fiddle or step dancing.

This is my fifth visit to the college, and each time my Gaelic gets a bit better. I rarely speak it at home, apart from to myself, but do listen to online Gaelic radio and occasionally read things in Gaelic. I tend to mix Irish and Scottish Gaelic a bit as I know a lot more Irish, and if I don’t know how to say something in Scottish Gaelic I try it in Irish. Sometimes it works.

On the way here and in the college I’ve heard and/or spoken quite a few different languages – plenty of English and Gaelic, and also Spanish, Italian, French, Irish, Welsh, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and German. So this is a good place to practice a variety of languages.


Last night I saw an excellent group called Rag Mama, a duo from England who live in France and play American music, particularly blues and jazz. One of the songs they sang was Cab Calloway’s Minie the Moocher, which includes some scat singing in the chorus.

Wikipedia defines scat singing as “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.” It dates back probably to the early 20th century in the USA. The word scat in this context is probably of imitative origin [source].

In other musical traditions, such as in West Africa and South India, percussive rhythms can be sung and different types of drum beats are associated with particular syllables, but there is little or no improvisation.

Waulking songs (òrain luaidh) in Scottish Gaelic use meaningless syllables or vocables in their choruses, but there seems to be only a relatively small selection to choose from. I’ll be learning some waulking songs next at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, where I’m doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs. Here are some I’ve learned before.

Does anything like scat singing exist in other musical traditions?


Today I came across the wonderful word dardledumdue. It means “daydreamer” in East Anglian dialect (east of England), and its origin is uncertain. Perhaps it’s the type of nonsense words a daydreamer might sing or mumble while daydreaming [source].

It also sounds like the kinds of ‘words’ some Irish singers use when lilting – a way of singing tunes with made-up words.

Here’s an example:

Another example:

Does anything like this exist elsewhere?

Hajej, můj zlatoušku

One of my harps

Dnes jsem se naučil Česká píseň: “Hajej, můj zlatoušku”. To je záznam melodii hrál na harfu:

To je záznam mě zpívat tuto píseň:

Today I started learning the Czech song, “Hajej, můj zlatoušku”, which I think is a lullaby, as the title means something like “Sleep now my little golden one”.

I recorded the tune on the harp, and also recorded myself singing it unaccompanied.

Here’s another recording I made of this song:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/241783557″ params=”color=ff5500&inverse=false&auto_play=false&show_user=true” width=”100%” height=”20″ iframe=”true” /]

This song comes from the book Třetí Výběr Českých a Moravských Písní (The Third Choice of Czech and Moravian Songs) by Helena Hasilová and Jiří Hasil, which a Czech friend gave me a few years ago.

The words are:

Hajej, můj zlatoušku hajej a spi,
zamhouři maličky očičky svý;
hajej, dadej, nynej, malej!
zamhouři maličký očičky svý.

Hajej, můj andílku, hajej a spi,
matička kolíbá děťátko svý;
hajej, dadej, nynej, malej!
matička kolíbá děťátko svý.

Another recording of this song:

Here’s a translation:

Sleep, my little golden one, sleep.
Close your little eyes and sleep.

Sleep, my little angel, sleep.
Mummy is rocking her little child to sleep.

Thanks to Kája Beránková for help with the translation. Díky!

Flan cupboards

A Welsh plygain song I’ve been learning recently with some friends (Carol y Swper) features the word fflangell in the line “Ein Meichiau a’n Meddyg dan fflangell Iddweig”.

We weren’t sure what it meant at first, and guessed that it was some kind of container for a flan or a flan cupboard. A fflan is a flan, and cell means cell or bower, and in compound words can mean a container or building. For example oergell (cold cell) is a fridge, rhewgell (frost/ice cell) is a freezer, and llyfrgell (book cell) is a library.

So we thought the line meant something like “Our arms and doctor under the Jewish flan cupboard.” Hilarity ensued. It actually means “Our Surety and Healer under the Jewish scourge.”

You can hear the whole song at:

We will be singing in a plygain service in Bangor cathedral starting at 7pm on Friday 15th January as Parti Min Menai.

Do you have any examples of mistranslated or misheard song lyrics?

Multilingual musicians

A Sardinian friend of mine, Elena Piras, knows six languages (Sardinian, Italian, English, Scottish Gaelic, French and Spanish) and sings in most of them, plus a few others, including Scots, Bulgarian and Georgian.

Here’s a recording of a performance from earlier this year in which she sings in Sardinian, Scots, English, Scottish Gaelic and Bulgarian.

Elena aims to sing each language in as close to a native accent as possible, and I think she does this very well.

Another multilingual singer is Jean-Marc Leclercq or JoMo, who holds the world record for singing in the most languages in one performance: 22. I heard him doing this at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in May this year. His pronunciation in the languages I know didn’t sound entirely native-like, and it sounded like he had a strong French accent in the other languages.

Do you know other singers who sing in multiple languages?

How well do they pronounce them?

I myself sing in various languages, and try to pronounce as well as I can, but know I could do better.

Here’s a recording of a song I wrote earlier this year in the five languages I know best (English, French, Welsh, Mandarin and Irish):

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/204200300″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”300″ iframe=”true” /]


In the Bangor Community Choir last night we started learning a new song entitled Jenga by Juliet Russell. We were told that the song uses made-up words that don’t mean anything in particular, and it has no connection to the game of Jenga.

One of my friends thought the word jenga might mean something like ‘to build’ in Swahili, so I thought I’d investigate.

Jenga does indeed mean to construct or build in Swahili [source], and the as the inventor of the game, Leslie Scott, grew up in East Africa speaking English and Swahili, it is likely that the name of the game comes from that Swahili word.

Related words include:

– jengo = building
– mjenzi = builder
– ujenzi = architecture; construction, installation

Source: Online Swahili – English Dictionary

The Importance of Patterns

Patterns - a piece of abstract art created by Simon Ager illustrate this blog post

Last week I went to a concert that featuring a jazz pianist and an artist. While the pianist played, the artist painted on her iPad, which was connected to a projector and projected on a big screen. The artist created pictures based on the music, and I think the pianist also created some tunes based on the art. It was all very abstract, especially the art. During the concert I was looking for patterns, shapes or anything in the art that looked like something familiar. I didn’t find much, but enjoyed the experience anyway.

Afterwards I got thinking about patterns and familiarity and came to the conclusion that we tend to feel most comfortable with the familiar – familiar people, things, places, sounds, etc – i.e our comfort zone. When we encounter the unfamiliar we try to find anything in it we can make sense of. We look for patterns, and anything else we can recognise. If we cannot find such things we may decide that the unfamiliar is not for us.

Abstract art and some forms of music, for example, are sometimes said to be “challenging”, and I think this is because there is little in them that is familiar, and this is why it takes longer to appreciate them – we need longer to find any patterns they may contain and for them to become familiar.

When we first encounter a foreign language everything is unfamiliar, and this can put a lot of people off. However a language that has a lot in common with your mother tongue can be easier to learn than one that has little or nothing in common with it as you will find more that is already familiar, and probably feel more comfortable with it.

To become familiar with the patterns, sounds, words and structures of a foreign language we need to get a lot of exposure to it – i.e. listen, read, and watch films and TV programmes. Doing these things alone is not enough to learn a language – you need to speak it and maybe write it as well – but they will make it more familiar to you.

The more you learn of a language, the more patterns you will spot within it, and the easier it will be to spot those patterns. The patterns might be how words are put together to form sentences, how grammatical changes are applied to words, how words can mean different things in different contexts, how speakers interact with one another, what topics are appropriate to different situations, and so on.

So you may need to get outside your comfort zone at first, but over time your comfort zone will expand to include the new language.

Hooley fuddle

Ukulele Hooley logo

This weekend I am in Dún Laoghaire for the Ukulele Hooley, Ireland’s international ukulele festival. On the way here yesterday I met some ukulele players from Yorkshire and we had a bit of a jam on the boat, and another one last night with other people who are here for the Hooley.

While talking with the Yorkshire lot, the word fuddle came up, and I thought it was a made-up word, but apparently it is a genuine Yorkshire word for a meal at which each person contributes food – also known as a potluck dinner, spread, Jacob’s join, Jacob’s supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, dish party, bring and share, dutch, pitch-in, bring-a-plate, or dish-to-pass [source].

A hooley [ˈhuːli] is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “A wild or noisy party.” (informal, chiefly Irish). It is also a strong wind or gale, as in “it’s blowing a hooley” [source] and it’s origin is unknown.

Here’s a video from the Hooley featuring the Mersey Belles and others, with me in the background