LIHUE — Singer-songwriter Makana wasn’t planning on recording “Mourning Armageddon” in decommissioned Russian bunker 703.
He didn’t have a note written down when he ventured deep under Moscow, in the now-deserted nuclear bomb shelter, formerly a repository for the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s archives and disguised as a chocolate factory during the Cold War.
But, when he got down there, he was overwhelmed with sobering thoughts of nuclear war and the threat that hit so close to his Hawaii home on Jan. 13, 2018 — so overwhelmed that all he could do was make music.
“That song came to me on the spot,” said Makana, born Matthew Swalinkavich. “Every once in a while that happens, but most of the time when I create a song on the spot, it’s a comedy song.”
Makana was in Russia on a personal fact-finding mission. He wanted to understand the Russian people and culture on his own terms without using the lens provided by American media and politics.
To that end, he partnered with friends Bruce Allyn and Cynthia Lazaroff, who, after also experiencing the “gut-punch” of the Hawaii missile scare, as Makana puts it, founded NuclearWakeUpCall.Earth to awaken people to today’s nuclear danger.
As Russia, together with the United States, possesses more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, Makana said he saw the opportunity to learn about the two nations’ long and complicated relationship and see the country for himself.
The friends put together a music tour through Moscow and St. Petersburg and scheduled community outreach events.
“We’d been there for a couple weeks and some Russian friends told us they’d declassified the bunker and it was opened up to the public,” Makana said. “It was relevant to the work that we’ve been doing so we went.”
They weren’t planning on making a song. They weren’t planning on making a music video. But, the moment was captured on film with a hand-held camera and microphone. In one take, Makana created the haunting ballad, “Mourning Armageddon,” both a song of mourning and a call to action.
“It was surreal. It’s a double entendre, because it’s a song of mourning, but that morning, it could have been Armageddon,” Makana said.
On Jan. 13, 2018, Makana was at his home on Oahu when he received the alert that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. More than a million people statewide sought shelter and, for 38 minutes, nobody knew whether nuclear war was at the door.
A cancel of the alert was sent out after those 38 minutes, and an investigation was ongoing for months after, but during those few minutes most in Hawaii reacted as if a missile really was on the way.
“I didn’t know if it was true when I got the alert, but I knew it was pointless to seek cover,” Makana said. “I started getting phone calls from loved ones and really it was a profound experience of expressing the love we had for each other. It was surrender.”
“Mourning Armageddon” is a testament to those feelings, but also a reminder that humanity doesn’t need to embark on the road to nuclear war.
“We’ve been sleepwalking toward this point,” Makana said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
Watch the music video for “Mourning Armageddon” at https://vimeo.com/310276887.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.