Jan. 11, 2023

Calgary community support turns UCalgary music student into ukulele rock star

Mustafa Kamaliddin is first in North America to play ukulele at master’s recital
Mustafa Kamaliddin
Mustafa Kamaliddin is the first student in North America to perform the ukulele for a master’s recital. Courtesy Mustafa Kamaliddin

UCalgary is known as the place to start something, and that’s just what Mustafa Kamaliddin, a Master of Music in Performance student did, using social media to turn his ukulele recital into a concert sensation.

Held at UCalgary’s Rozsa Centre on Nov. 18, 2022, Kamaliddin offered the first master’s recital at any North American institution played on the ukulele.

“We aren’t aware of any institutions that teach the ukulele in North America, so I was making history with my recital,” says Kamaliddin. “I used Reddit to invite the Calgary community, and over 300 people showed up. The feedback I received was that people were amazed at what they heard — they didn’t know that the ukulele could sound like that. I was blown away by the support.”

Kamaliddin’s recital made such big waves in Calgary that it was picked up by CBC's Calgary Eyeopener.

It all started with the classical guitar

Originally a classical guitar artist, Kamaliddin was set to finish his Master of Music when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a School of Creative and Performing Arts student, Kamaliddin was required to prepare two full concerts to fulfill his master's requirements.

“Preparing for concerts is so demanding on the performer,” explains Kamaliddin. “When the pandemic hit and my final concerts were cancelled, I decided to quit my master's and take some time off to collect myself.”

It was during this time that Kamaliddin was introduced to the ukulele.

“My friend uploaded a Chilean national tune played on the ukulele, and I fell in love with it,” says Kamaliddin. “It inspired me to create a simple lullaby arrangement for my son, and then this sparked another and then another.

"This chain of events led me to experiment with Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven while my car was getting its oil changed one day. After hearing me play, the mechanic asked if he could listen to the full arrangement on YouTube or Spotify, and that's when I knew I had to upload and share my work with the world.”

Kamaliddin started uploading videos of himself playing the ukulele online and was astounded by the outpouring of support and interest. It led him to launch his own business, the MK Fingerstyle Academy, which aims to empower students of all levels to achieve their musical goals and gain independence by creating accessible, structured and proper educational material.

Kamaliddin wanted to focus his energy on his business and perfecting the ukulele, so he decided to talk to his UCalgary instrument instructor, Dr. Ralph Maier, PhD, about quitting his master's.

“When I went to tell Dr. Maier that I was quitting my master's, we discussed how the 16th-century Renaissance guitar is strung and tuned the same as the ukulele. He encouraged me to stick with my program, learn the Renaissance guitar and play that at my recital.

"In addition, I asked him if I could do what I’m doing for my business — which is taking the classic guitar technique and using it on the ukulele — and use it for my master’s performance as well. He said yes. My master’s supervisor, Dr. Rod Squance, DMA, was also supportive. Two years and 250 arrangements later, I’m now a full-time ukulele player.”

Breaking ukulele stereotypes

One of the reasons Kamaliddin’s decision to switch from the classical guitar to the ukulele was so significant is the instrument’s perception.  

“The classic guitar has an institution behind it, so giving this up in place of what we consider an immature toy instrument was unthinkable,” says Kamaliddin. “The goal of my master’s recital was to pose the question of whether the ukulele can compete with traditional instruments. Can the ukulele play the kind of repertoire you see from Bach or Beethoven?”

The answer to this question is a resounding yes, and Kamaliddin proved this at his first of two master’s recitals on Nov. 18, 2022.

Making the inaccessible accessible

A defining feature of Kamaliddin and MK Fingerstyle Academy unique is the focus on the fingerstyle technique where he teaches his students to play entire standalone arrangements — melody, chords and baseline — at the same time. In fact, he’s one of the only ukulele artists to use this technique.

“The fingerstyle technique is rare, so that’s one of the things that MK Fingerstyle Academy focuses on,” says Kamaliddin. “The Royal Music Conservatory doesn’t offer anything for the ukulele, so my company mirrors their programs, but for the ukulele and this technique specifically. I offer courses from 0 to Grade 5.”

In addition, Kamaliddin shares his passion for Renaissance music with his students.  

“Renaissance music is gorgeous and imagination-led,” says Kamaliddin. “It’s rarely heard music, and when I listen to it, I’m instantly going through a historical journey.

“However, there’s a gap with this music because it’s not accessible in standard notation. There are over 1,000 pieces of Renaissance music that people can’t access because they can’t read them. One of my skill sets is reading this music and transmuting it into standard notation so everyone can enjoy it.”

To date, Kamaliddin has approximately 600 students worldwide.

“My goal is to offer music lessons that are financially accessible to everyone, combined with attainable goals. I want people to see that anyone has the chance to pick up the ukulele and play it. My ultimate goals are exclusivity and accessibility,” says Kamaliddin. “Anyone can do this if they set aside 30 minutes a day to practise.”

Looking ahead

For anyone who wants to catch Kamaliddin’s second master’s recital, it will be held on May 16, 2023 at 8:15 p.m. at UCalgary’s Rozsa Centre. The event is free and open to students and the Calgary community.

Interested in getting in touch with Kamaliddin and starting your own ukulele journey? Email him at Mustafa@mkfingerstyleacademy.com.

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.