When he died the morning of July 13 at age 53, Charles Ka'upu was well- known for many things - not only throughout Hawaii but from Japan to New York.
A renowned kumu - teacher - in the world of hula, he was a revered, charismatic cultural practitioner who shared the lessons of his culture in showcases like the Old Lahaina Luau and The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua's annual Celebration of the Arts every Easter weekend.
But it was his voice, his power as a chanter, that took him on world tours and to recorded immortality with the group Hapa. The voice was a crystal-clear, high-voltage transmission line straight to the origin of Hawaiian culture. Power and wisdom ran through his words, whether they were in Hawaiian or English. He made people feel, if not understand, what aloha meant.
Charles Ka‘upu was one of the “stars,” along with Alaka‘i Paleka, of the made-on-Maui comedy “Get a Job,” which will be dedicated to him at an Aug. 27 screening in Castle Theater.
AUBREY HORD photo
Ka'upu's will be honored Saturday in a protocol with his family, students and those associated with him, facilitated by renowned Kumu Hula Kaha'i Topolinski at the Old Lahaina Luau on Saturday morning.
Later that afternoon, a celebration of Charles' life through food, music, hula and camaraderie will begin at 5 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, which is gearing up for a crowd of 1,000. (For details, see Dining: Alaloa Lounge)
The Ritz's cultural adviser Clifford Nae'ole, a student of Ka'upu's who is coordinating Saturday's events, says a lasting memory of his teacher came "when he put his massive hands upon the shoulder and head of my youngest son (10-year-old Ke'eaumoku) and whispered into his ear, 'Always remember who you are.' That meant a lot to my son and to me.
"Charles has now opened a new door for his students to enter," Clifford continues. Its lesson: "Kou Manawa . . . Your Turn."
But at the time of his unexpected death, Ka'upu had embarked on another tangent of his multifaceted career as a cast member in the rollicking, entirely made-on-Maui comedy, "Get a Job."
Written and directed by Brian Kohne, the film stars local musical stars Willie K and Eric Gilliom with celebrity Mauians like Willie Nelson and Mick Fleetwood in cameos, and a host of well-known island artists and local performers in its cast and crew.
With much of the action taking place in an employment agency, it features Charles as an unemployed kumu hula, a humorous take on his own persona.
"Get a Job" has won awards at four film festivals across the U.S. Fresh from two screenings in Honolulu's Hawaii Theater last weekend, it will screen in Spain's Mirabella Film Festival in the fall.
Maui audiences will have their final opportunity of the year to see it at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, when it screens in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater in a benefit also featuring live music for "Keep The Hawaiian Islands Beautiful."
At the screening, the film will be formally dedicated, from this point forward, to Charles Ka'upu.
"I feel he will forever be a guiding force in the creation of my motion pictures," said Kohne.
- Rick Chatenever