FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE
TRANSCRIPTION BY TOMOTAKA MATSUI & MARIO TAKADA
TEXT BY GREG OLWELL
Without a doubt, “Hula Girl” is one of the most lasting songs from the wave of Hawaiian obsession that first swept the mainland a century ago.
Though nearly everyone calls the song “Hula Girl,” Alfred R. “Sonny” Cunha originally composed the song in 1909 as “Honolulu Hula Girl,” before he later changed the title to “Hapa Haole Hula Girl.” Through composing many popular songs, including “Hula Blues,” Cunha was the chief popularizer of hapa-haole music, a type of song that mixed English and Hawaiian lyrics. (The phrase literally means “half white.”) For decades, it was almost a requirement for the top performers of Hawaiian music to record a version of “Hula Girl,” and thankfully, we have delightfully fun versions of the song from such stars as Kalama’s Quartet, Alfred Apaka, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, and Sol Hoopii (who provided much of the inspiration for our arrangements).
This pair of arrangements—one solo and the other duo—was created by two modern ukulele masters, Tomotaka Matsui (above right) and Mario Takada, and offers something for every level of player. Matsui and Takada are members of Japan’s outstanding quartet the Sweet Hollywaiians, a group that is among today’s top performers of vintage-style Hawaiian music.
The solo version incorporates the melody line and chord changes in the kind of style popular with jazz guitarists and ukulele innovator Lyle Ritz. It’s followed by a two-part duet that includes separate accompaniment and lead parts. To record these arrangements, Takada tracked his master-grade koa Mya-Moe Soprano Pineapple Classic with a Shure Beta 57A microphone into Pro Tools.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE SOLO ARRANGEMENT
The solo version incorporates a few different feels as the song cycles through verses and choruses. “Play like Helen Louise and Frank Ferera in the verse and chorus,” says Takada when reached through email, “and play like Sol Hoopii in the hot chorus.” Indeed, the verse, vamp, and chorus all have a straight-eighth-note feel, which is typical of the early Hawaiian recordings of Ferera and Louise. The correct feel might seem a little stiff and metronomic to modern ears, so focus on a precise groove and clear notes.
Readers of tab and notation should pay attention to the bold numbers in the tablature. These are the melody notes and should be plucked just a little louder than the rest of the chord for emphasis. For the hot chorus at bar 41, loosen things up by swinging those eighth notes—remember, play them not equally, but long-short, at a ratio of about 2:1. If there’s any advice for the rhythm, it’s don’t overthink this one by focusing on precisely counting. Instead, try to imagine your fingers lightly dancing on the fingerboard and you’ll nail it.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE UKULELE 1 SCORE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE UKULELE 2 SCORE
Whether you play the duo version with a friend or record both parts at your own home studio, Takada suggests playing both parts with a swing-eighth-note feel. Try copping the energetic and endlessly inventive vibe of the Sol Hoopii Novelty Quartet, which recorded a rollicking hot jazz version of this song in 1934.
The rhythm part is based on a relatively simple strum pattern that may be easy to play, but difficult to capture the correct feel. Before you pick up your uke and try playing through the arrangement for Ukulele 2, count the following rhythm out loud until it feels easy-breezy, “One, two-and-three, four-and.” A few key moments in the rhythm part help to highlight the power of good rhythm ukulele playing. Keep an eye and ear on the chordal movement in bars 8 and 12, for example, and the one- or two-beat rests before each new section begins. This momentary break not only gives the groove a moment to breathe, it highlights the power of good rhythm-playing.
The melodic part in the Ukulele 1 score makes great use of the close intervals of re-entrant tuning, resulting in elegant and economical picking-hand parts. For the descending melody part in the hot chorus (bars 41–42 and 49–50), think “greasy and behind-the-beat” for a looser, swinging groove and add some slides if you really want to give it a slinky, hot-jazz feel.