Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Songs from the Tiki Room - The Hawaiian War Chant

The gods have been angered by all this celebratin'!

Since opening in 1963, the Hawaiian War Chant has served as the dramatic climax of the Enchanted Tiki Room show. Tikis start chanting, drums start beating, orchids start howling, and the pace quickens and quickens until thunder sounds to silence the cacophony. With the exception of the title song, the Enchanted Tiki Room utilizes many pieces of music that were at least known, if not popular, when it opened. For example, when it came time to tighten the show for the demands of modern, harried audiences, it was a piece by Romantic classical composer Jacques Offenbach that was excised. Thankfully the Hawaiian War Chant remains!

It is said that the original version of the song was written by Prince Leleiohoku II of Hawaii's royal family. Though he passed away in 1877 at the age of 23 of rheumatic fever, he wrote countless songs based on the folk melodies of the islands. In its original form, Hawaiian War Chant was called Kāua I Ka Huahua'i or We Two in the Spray, and it was not a war chant at all. The original lyrics describe e a clandestine meeting between two lovers...
You and I in the spray
Such joy, the two of us together
Embracing tightly in the coolness
Breathing deep of the palai fern

Oh, such spray
My desire
Don't linger
Lest we be found
I loved you
Your warmth
Calmed passion
Preventing thought

The Cowel Glee Club recorded the original version in 1911 for Columbia Records, but the more renowned version was first played by Big Band leader Johnny Noble in the Thirties. Looking for new numbers for his band's performances in the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach, he reworked Kāua I Ka Huahua'i into the up-tempo Jazz piece we know today.

Tommy Dorsey and his Big Band brought it off the beach and into America's homes through his 1938 recording for Victor Records. His band went on to perform it in the 1942 film Ship Ahoy, and from there is took off into popular culture. While the Disney company and Disney fans today tend to take a more insular view of Disneyland, I don't think it can really be overstated how responsive the first generation of Imagineers were to pop-culture and popular films around them. They were themselves impressionable young men in the Thirties, Forties and early Fifties, and pop-culture beyond Disney's own products provided the common vocabulary with which they connected to the dreams of the American public. The vision of Main Street USA was formed less by Walt's boyhood experiences in Marceline, Missouri, as it was by films like The Gay Nineties (1933 and 1942), Mae West's Belle of the Nineties (1934) and She Done Him Wrong (1933), and Abbott and Costello's The Naughty Nineties (1945). Though named for Mark Twain, it is no accident that this paddlewheel steamship was christened by one of the chief actresses of the 1936 version of Show Boat. The Jungle Cruise is known to have been based loosely on the 1951 film African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and Harper Goff directly lifted his designs for the saloon in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane when creating the Golden Horseshoe. The Enchanted Tiki Room was itself a response to the post-war Tiki fad, and when they went about selecting music for it, they climaxed with an old standard: The Hawaiian War Chant.

The hotter-than-hot version of Hawaiian War Chant performed by the Tommy Dorsey Band for Ship Ahoy.

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