Like grey, featureless pieces of driftwood found in the wash of the tide, U2’s soaring tribute has undergone a sea-change in Hapa’s hands.
But if Hapa has detracted from the power and might of Bono’s stadium anthem, their version brings other qualities to the song. These -- as I describe them -- will sound like the theatrically emotional tricks of the overly-earnest. There’s the inclusion of the recorded voice of Martin Luther King Jr. himself, giving his “I have been to the mountaintop” speech, which, as the link says, he gave in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis the day before he was assassinated.
And then -- and this is the part that will sound the most ridiculous as I describe it, but never fails to send an electric charge of thrill through me when I hear it -- there is a male voice -- older certainly, but strong -- that begins reciting in slow, cadenced Hawaiian a fragmant of the oral, tribal history of his people.
‘Hapa’ in Hawaiian means ‘half.’ It is often used as an adjective to modify a noun signifying some element of aboriginal cutlure touched by the post contact world. ‘Hapa-Haole’ -- half Hawaiian, half white -- describes the macaronic songs in the island’s catalog of music. “Tiny Bubbles,” properly sung with all the verses, is Hapa-Haole. “Little Grass Shack” on the other hand is pure Haole.
As their website states, Hapa, the band is "an amalgam of influences ranging from ancient Polynesian rhythms and genealogical chants to the strummed ballads of Portuguese fisherman, Spanish cowboys, and the inspired melodies and harmonies of the traditional church choirs of the early missionaries." Barry Flanagan, who left New York in 1980, is the founder. Fellow guitarist Nathan Aweau is from Honolulu. Charles Ka’upa, who provides the chant described above, is from a family that
comes from the island of Moloka‘i with another part of the family well established on the island of Hawai'i as well. He has spent the better part of his life teaching, be it History, Culture, Religion, lecturing not only at Maui Community College, Maui Campus, but on the islands of Lana‘i and Moloka‘i as well. He has also traveled to Washington D.C. to lecture at the National Geographic Headquarters, performing there as well at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian's ground-breaking ceremony.
Much can be written about what it was that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered to America. I am inadequate to this task. Instead, I believe that King’s own words speak for his life the best:
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.
I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.