E Ola ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi Sovereignty Symposium with Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Jennifer Ruggles, Dr. Keanu Sai and Dr. ʻUmi Perkins
Dr. Keanu Sai spoke in my course Protest under Occupation (PACE 450) in the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.
This post is a guest blog from Kamehameha student Omari Kenyatta, who I think could become a new voice on the music (and perhaps music criticism) scene.
During the 80s, in the time of extravagant musical experimentation swarming the studios of Sunset Boulevard, my father worked as a producer and audio engineer for RCA Records. He worked down the hall from Diane Warren, conjuring a similar arsenal of R&B-infused hip-hop, reggae and pop records.
Today, my dad’s work is far less flashy and sensational, but he insists that his new career is far more fulfilling.
Reducing his full collection of studio furnishings to a single Squier Strat and a copy of Cubase Pro housed on a hard drive proved to be a major challenge during my dad’s move from L.A. to Oʻahu. But as far as I can remember, he always made time to sit himself down and hold a late-night jam session for one.
Naturally, as I grew older, I would learn a few tidbits of general music knowledge in passing if we weren’t talking about it together. He would always tell me that all good music has some soul about it. Being that my dad is predominately African-American and raised in a Black environment, I always assumed it meant that he preferred R&B and soul music because it sounded better. One night, when I was around 12 or 13, he made it clear that he thought of “soul music” as a concept, not a genre. He explained that making music that is original and inspired transcends all genres, and most importantly, all racial identities.
A prominent difference you’ll notice right away between my father and I is that he, unlike me, is not a rock music kind of guy. I found my first personal tastes in the primal shouts and wails of Bad Brains and Black Flag and the punching fuzz guitars of Metallica and Marilyn Manson. Meanwhile, you’ll find my dad deep in the groove of a Parliament record or nodding his head contently to his Bob Marley: Legend cassette. But being that both of us seek and study talent, musicality, and inexplicable soul anywhere it would happen to exist, you’ll also find my dad’s back collection of Green Day CDs, and the giant Maggot Brain poster hanging just above my desk.
Observing this phenomenon in my own home granted me with a unique perspective to offer when older, self-proclaimed music aficionados of yesteryear began to accuse my generation of producing an ever-growing string of cheap music, completely devoid of any thought, talent or soul. Usually these critics stand behind the generalized assumption that “pop is dead”, or, assuming that it still somewhat alive, that “today’s pop music sucks”. For me and my dad, it was simple to point out that if you were to look beyond the surface of pop music that is so obviously written to sell, you’ll find that there are big-time acts out right now who write and play with the same quality and musicianship as those who have come before.
My dad and I first came to this sort of agreement listening to a live recording of the John Mayer Trio in an attempt to stay awake through a bout of heinous H-1 evening traffic. “Gravity” booms through the compact, but surprisingly powerful subwoofer in the cab of our F-150.
Drummer Steve Jordan rocks the song slowly into full swing with a deceptively simple 4/4 backbeat. We both marvel at Jordan’s masterful inclusion of a ghost triplet on the one that seemed to warm up the entire atmosphere of the track. And then, John picks out all of six notes in a subtle blues riff, and the rest of the band fills in the rhythm groove in the back. Each note flows into the next and speaks to an intangible feeling of ecstatic melancholia that is yet to be explored by the song’s lyricism. My dad observes that the entire song is built on small, modest nuances that anyone could play in an hour, but it is the control and phrasing of these nuances that propels the song forward into soulful territory.
Is working against me
He lets individual syllables ring out and register in the mind of the listener, and sets up a powerful extended metaphor, no more than eight words at a time. His guitar chimes in its higher register in the silence between line breaks. Pino Palladino’s bass accentuates the root chord of the progression and brings the chord circle home just in time for a new musing from the narrator of the song.
Absent a chorus, a bridge-of-sorts builds tension in each new verse:
Twice as much
Ain’t twice as good
And can’t sustain
Like one half could
It’s wanting more
Itʻs gonna send me to
Leading up to a point of both maximum and tension and minimal relief during the vibrant, flighty guitar solo.
Then another verse, holding back just a bit.
And then an explosive coda that dimly brightens an otherwise completely blue auditory landscape, with just five simple words:
Home where the light is
Home where the light is
Home where the light is
Home where the light is
Repeating itself, gradually losing intensity, until everything returns to the silence from which it came.
Five minutes, five chords, one simple idea, infinitely open to personal interpretation-otherwise known as a basic formula for a fast-selling pop song. How can a few simple music theory tricks and guitar licks evolve the idea so drastically?
This can be found almost anywhere a listener dare venture, from Young the Giant to Lukas Graham. While guys like these may be far from the levels of success and viral fame enjoyed by mumble rappers and autotuned preteens, any listener with an open ear that can hear these miniscule differences can find something good within their own personal preference, including modern pop music.
Of course, at the end of the day, appreciation for any form of art is entirely personal. What separates good art from bad art is individual at its core. And what do I know? Iʻm just a kid. But if you choose to categorize an entire group, genre, or subdivision based on a few outliers that misrepresent their alignments, one could also choose to generalize a group based on their principles of good art and creativity.
Just like finding a few bad acts can easily result from actively seeking them out, finding these hidden gems can be just as easy.
Omari I.O. Kenyatta is a third-year student at Kamehameha Schools Kapālama High School, living Nānakuli, Hawaiʻi. He is the frontman and founder of alternative music project King Cave, and is currently developing a stage adaptation for Radiohead’s OK COMPUTER.
The presentation below was for Hina Kaʻōpua’s (daughter of Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua) Senior project for Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School. It was done at the Kamehameha Schools’ Māʻili Learning Center.
The poem I reference in the presentation is below:
The Indian Student, or: Force of Nature
by Phillip Freneau
From Susquehanna’s farthest springs
Where savage tribes pursue their game,
(His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
A shepherd of the forest came.
Not long before, a wandering priest
Expressed his wish, with visage sad–
“Ah, why (he cried) in Satan’s waste,
“Ah, why detain so fine a lad?
“In white-man’s land there stands a town
“Where learning may be purchased low–
“Exchange his blanket for a gown,
“And let the lad to college go.’–
From long debate the council rose,
And viewing Shalum’s tricks with joy
To Cambridge Hall, o’er wastes of snows,
They sent the copper-coloured boy.
One generous chief a bow supplied,
This gave a shaft, and that a skin;
The feathers, in vermillion dyed,
Himself did from a turkey win:
Thus dressed so gay, he took his way
O’er barren hills, alone, alone!
His guide a star, he wandered far,
His pillow every night a stone.
At last he came, with foot so lame,
Where learned men talk heathen Greek,
And Hebrew lore is gabbled o’er,
To please the Muses,–twice a week.
Awhile he writ, awhile he read,
Awhile he conned their grammar rules–
(An Indian savage so well bred
Great credit promised to the schools.)
Some thought he would in law excel,
Some said in physic he would shine;
And one that knew him, passing well,
Beheld, in him, a sound Divine.
But those of more discerning eye
Even then could other prospects show,
And saw him lay his Virgil by
To wander with his dearer bow.
The tedious hours of study spent,
The heavy-moulded lecture done,
He to the woods a hunting went,
Through lonely wastes he walked, he run.
No mystic wonders fired his mind;
He sought to gain no learned degree,
But only sense enough to find
The squirrel in the hollow tree.
The shady bank, the purling stream,
The woody wild his heart possessed,
The dewy lawn, his morning dream
In fancy’s gayest colours dressed.
“And why (he cried) did I forsake
“My native wood for gloomy walls;
“The silver stream, the limpid lake
“For musty books and college halls.
“A little could my wants supply–
“Can wealth and honour give me more;
“Or, will the sylvan god deny
“The humble treat he gave before?
“Let seraphs gain the bright abode,
“And heaven’s sublimest mansions see–
“I only bow to Nature’s God–
“The land of shades will do for me.
“These dreadful secrets of the sky
“Alarm my soul with chilling fear–
“Do planets in their orbits fly,
“And is the earth, indeed, a sphere?
“Let planets still their course pursue,
“And comets to the centre run–
“In Him my faithful friend I view,
“The image of my God–the Sun.
“Where Nature’s ancient forests grow,
“And mingled laurel never fades,
“My heart is fixed;–and I must go
“To die among my native shades.’
He spoke, and to the western springs,
(His gown discharged, his money spent,
His blanket tied with yellow strings,)
The shepherd of the forest went.
According to The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, violence has decreased in a big way in urban settings. In 2016, 385 were killed in New York, compared with 2000 in a typical year in the 1970s. Other major cities have followed this trend.
Maya Soetoro-Ng, director of the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at UH Mānoa (my supervisor there and, incidentally, sister of Barack Obama) noted in a presentation to my students that there are currently 37 armed conflicts in the world. This is a 33% decrease from the 55 armed conflicts of just 15-20 years ago. Both then and now, the vast majority of these conflicts are civil wars. According to Francis Fukuyama (of “the end of history” fame), Civil wars occurred roughly every 50 years in England from 1066 until the late 1600s (about 1685).
Since then, inter-state wars raged, especially in the 20th century, but that gave way to more and more peace between states (that is, countries). The decrease of war in general, coupled with the rise (but only relative rise) of civil wars tell us two things: the nation-state as we know it may be in its twilight, and at the same time the world is getting safer and more peaceful.
All of this supports the seemingly outlandish claim of Stephen Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature (and more recently Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress), that violence is declining worldwide. So why does it seem that the opposite is happening? Could it be, as Michael Moore asserts in Bowling for Columbine, that it is simply the fear of violence that’s increasing?
In a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Arthur Brooks argued that the problem in politics today is not opposing views – that in itself is healthy in a democracy – the problem is an epidemic of contempt, which Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as:
: lack of respect or reverence for something acting with contempt for public safety
: the state of being despised
Through their contempt, the two sides are so entrenched now that each has vilified the “Other,” in a way, dehumanizing them.
In the 1990s, I remember having a remarkably cordial conversation with a conservative (not conservative by today’s ludicrous standards perhaps, but no bleeding heart), middle-aged man from upstate New York, and being struck by how, on the topic of outcomes, we were in near total agreement. We all, it seems, want the same ends; dignity, opportunity for ourselves and our children, in short, a decent life. Where we differed was on the means to achieve these ends.
Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion offers a bridge over the impasse, one that many, if not all sides of the debate find intriguing (the “New Atheists” in particular singly seem to despise the argument). Haidt:
goes about demonstrating why [mutual understanding] is such a difficult thing for us to achieve, and what the tools are that could make it possible. It’s a difficult read, not because of the style, but because the content may challenge you to accept that the ‘other side’ isn’t so bad after all, and that perhaps your own moralistic mind could do with a shake up.
—London School of Economics Review of Books (UK). Review by Rebecca Litchfield.
1. That Hawaiʻiʻs sovereignty was lost
Many think that Hawaiʻi lost sovereignty on January 17th 1893. Yet most also seem to know that annexation was five years later in 1898. This shows that what I call “double think” is operating when people think about the overthrow. Hawaiʻi, whether as the Kingdom or as the republic in 1898 was sovereign. If it wasnʻt, there wouldnʻt be any need for a treaty at all. (If a treaty wasnʻt needed, then why did the US try twice to get one?)
2. That the overthrow was inevitable
After the Provisional Government proclaimed themselves, Queen Liliʻuokalani still had control of the Police and the Royal Guard – in other words, all of the armed forces of the Hawaiian islands. So there was really no overthrow, there was a surrender by a head of state who was in full control of the government apparatus of Hawaiʻi, although the US Marines had temporarily occupied Honolulu.
Afterwards, Grover Cleveland negotiated an agreement of restoration with Liliʻuokalani, who, as she notes in her book Hawaiʻi’s Story, still considered her the head of state as late as December, 1893, a full 11 months after the overthrow.
3. That it was “US backed”
It is well-established that President Benjamin Harrison gave a green light for the overthrow, without explicitly saying the words. “If you people act as you have indicated, you will find an exceedingly sympathetic administration here.” There is also an encoded US document that, it is alleged, actually gives a plan for an overthrow, but this needs to be vetted by historians. What we have then, it seems, is a US, not a US-Backed, overthrow.
4. That its legality is debatable
Some people seem to have forgotten about the 1993 apology resolution (Public Law 103-150), which makes the illegality of the overthrow a settled issue. I havenʻt.
A lecture from my course Indigenous Nonviolent Action in the Asia-Pacific.