Despite the heat, ukulele enthusiasts strum on

The sixth-annual Czech Ukulele Festival took place this past weekend at Únětice Brewery, bringing musicians and amateurs from across the world to the outskirts of Prague. I dropped in for the second day of the festivities and spoke to some of the performers.

Ukulele, photo: Milan Kopecký / Czech RadioUkulele, photo: Milan Kopecký / Czech Radio Blistering summer temperatures couldn’t keep the ukulele enthusiasts away, nor could it quell the sunny, strummy atmosphere. Hundreds of visitors paraded through Kutná Hora on Friday and then settled into the festival headquarters in Únětice over the weekend, including high-profile acts from around the world, as well as plenty of local talent.

23-year-old Elis Mraz opened her set with “Shubidu,” the title track off her debut album. The young Czech talent was one of a long list of female performers who received the spotlight at this year’s festival, which organizers dubbed its “ladies’ edition.” Mraz shared the stage with German quartet Elke and the Cool Girls, Malaysian soloist Zee Avi, and from France, Les Poupées Gonflées.

Lindsey Stainthorpe, who performs under the stage name Pearl as one half of the Mersey Belles, tells me she was thrilled by the duo’s performance and by the warm atmosphere of the festival, despite the oppressive heat.

“It says a lot about Prague. A lot about the people as well. I really, really enjoyed the people. I think the people are lovely in Prague, actually. I think they’re very friendly and I think this is what this festival is all about. It’s very upbeat, very happy, everyone’s really enthusiastic and wants to learn and ask you a lot of questions. It's really nice.”

Stainthorpe has plenty of basis for comparison. Ukulele festivals like this one take place all over the world, and according to musician Jody Kamisato, interest in the instrument is only growing. Kamisato traveled 37 hours from Hawaii to perform on closing night, and that’s just the start of his itinerary.

“We just got back from New Zealand. I’m headed to South Korea next week, and then Japan, and then Australia. You know ukulele is becoming worldwide. And there’s no better time to play ukulele than now. People love it.

It’s really the instrument of aloha. It brings people together, it’s unity, it’s good medicine, it’s good for the soul. It’s the universal language of mankind. It’s a fun instrument.”

At the close of the day, this reporter felt a bit drained by the sun, but not so the other festivalgoers. They kept on strumming on the municipal bus ride all the way back to Prague.