Henry Kapono
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Henry Kapono


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"New gig for a Hawaiian rocker: The Grammy Awards"

New gig for a Hawaiian rocker: The Grammy Awards

By Nate Chinen
Published: February 8, 2007

HONOLULU: Henry Kapono spends most Sunday afternoons here, on the beachfront patio of Duke's Waikiki restaurant at the Outrigger Waikiki hotel. His standing engagement has become something of an island institution over the years. It's a bar gig, maybe not what you might expect from a Hawaiian music veteran of Kapono's stature. But he throws himself into it nonetheless, routinely playing for two hours without a break, to stoke the fires of a dancing- and-drinking crowd.

During one recent show a catamaran bobbed in the surf behind Kapono as he segued from "I Can See Clearly Now," the reggae war horse by Johnny Nash, to "Every Day in the Islands," one of his own hybrid Jawaiian (a mixture of Jamaican and Hawaiian) tunes. His four-piece band was crisp. The festive scene was typical, and true to the image Kapono paints in a song called "Duke's on Sunday," which Jimmy Buffett borrowed as a closer for his last album.

But you won't find Kapono at Duke's on Feb. 11, because he'll be in Los Angeles for the 49th Grammy Awards. He is among the nominees for best Hawaiian music album, for "The Wild Hawaiian" (Eclectic), which somehow represents both the most traditional and the most radical work of his career. Whether you regard him as a front-runner or as a long shot depends partly on your definition of Hawaiian music, a controversial issue ever since the category was established a few years ago.

"The Wild Hawaiian" is a Hawaiian rock album. More specifically, it's an album of songs in the Hawaiian language, against a whiplash of percussion and distorted guitars. At times, its sound suggests Jimi Hendrix or Carlos Santana, artists Kapono often covers at his Sunday gig. Lyrically, it reaches further back: in some cases, to venerable Hawaiian chants. Not surprisingly, its release last year caused a bit of a stir.

"The Hawaiians were taken aback when they first heard it," said Alaka'i Paleka, the program director and morning host of KPOA (93.5 FM), a Maui radio station that has three tracks from the album in rotation. "It was rocking some songs that weren't rocked before. The response — it was shock." Using the Hawaiian term for elder, she continued, "Some of the kupunas were not happy with the style."


Audio download: Kapono on "The Wild Hawaiian"
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Over lunch at Duke's with his wife and manager, Lezlee Ka'aihue, and their 6-month-old twins, Kapono, 58, described the album in less controversial terms: as a cultural outreach and the result of personal introspection.

"My mom and dad spoke fluent Hawaiian; they were both pure Hawaiians," he said, recalling his upbringing as Henry Ka'aihue. (Kapono is his middle name.) "But they would never speak it to us.

When they were growing up, they were forbidden to speak the language, and punished for it. So they never taught us the language. That was the case for my generation."

Kapono is a product of the 1960s, though it was in the '70s that his career took flight, when he teamed up with Cecilio Rodríguez, a fellow guitarist and singer. As Cecilio and Kapono, the duo made a string of breezy acoustic pop albums that resonated deeply at home and beyond, though perhaps not as well nationally as Columbia Records would have liked. ("They didn't know what to do with C&K," Kapono said of the label. "We were two brown-skinned guys with long hair singing contemporary music.")

Cecilio and Kapono were Hawaii's answer to Simon and Garfunkel, though it's important to note that they too sang in English. Many of the duo's best-loved songs — originals like "Friends" and "Sailing," as well as covers like "All in Love Is Fair," by Stevie Wonder — qualify as Hawaiian music only on a technicality. But for several generations of listeners, those songs embody the sound of Hawaii, at least in part.

After the breakup of C&K in the early 1980s, Kapono embarked on a successful solo career. About a decade ago he set out to make his first Hawaiian-language album, using traditional instrumentation. "I did a recording," he said, "and when I listened back, it was missing something. It just didn't have that power."

He shelved the idea to focus on other projects, including Kapono's, a restaurant and club that opened in 2001 and closed early last year.

Along the way, he began playing the electric guitar for the first time since high school, and something clicked.

Motivated by the desire to carry Hawaiian culture to a new generation, Kapono conceived of "The Wild Hawaiian." The risk of being misunderstood was clear.

- New York Times & International Tribune Herald

"Kapono's Destiny The Wild Hawaiian"

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Henry Kapono wouldn't allow himself to get nervous.

Backstage at Jack Johnson's Maui edition of the Kokua Festival in April, Kapono readied himself for a first-ever live set with no guaranteed crowd-pleasing Cecilio & Kapono faves, classic rock covers from his Kapono's shows or pre-2006 solo works. What he did have planned was a half-hour of reimaginings of pioneering Hawaiian compositions and original music he had been working passionately on for the past nine years.

The music was from Kapono's then-unreleased first recording in his native language, Hawaiian. It was also music fusing that language not with traditional instruments, but with the rock bravado Kapono grew up loving.

Every song was from Kapono's "The Wild Hawaiian."

"I was just excited," he said. "Excited because I had waited so long to do this and get this music out."

And so out came a powerful, Jimi Hendrix Experience-reminiscent rearrangement of "Na Ali'i," a song made famous by Kui Lee; and an electric ax-propelled take on J. Kalahiki's "He'eia." Kapono's cover of "Hi'ilawe," rendered iconic by Gabby Pahinui, was tucked away for another day. But he did share his self-penned "Hawai'i Aloha (A Mau Loa)" — Red Hot Chili Peppers-reminiscent guitar-and-bass backbone and all — and surf rock instrumental "Taboo" with the Kokua Fest crowd.

No one screamed out for "Friends," "Sailing" or even "Freebird." And folks got up and danced to every song Kapono hoped would move them.

"Even the backstage guys were blown away afterward," said Kapono, smiling. "They didn't know what to say. So they just said, 'Right on.' "


Henry Kapono performs "The Wild Hawaiian" live in its entirety for the first time Saturday at the Hawai'i Theatre.

The disc's beginnings go back to 1997, when Kapono first contemplated recording an entire album in Hawaiian. He entered the studio with a few chanters, recorded four songs and promptly shelved it all.

"It was something I'd done before ... something that a lot of people had done before," recalled Kapono, of the buried tracks. "And my thought was that if I was going to do something Hawaiian, I was going to do something different.

"I wanted to do it out of respect. But if I was going to respect it, then the first thing I was going to have to do is learn something about it."

So he put the project away to do just that.

Though pure Hawaiian, Kapono was not raised speaking the language, nor was he taught it. In fact, while growing up he rarely heard Hawaiian spoken by either of his parents. When he did catch them conversing with friends in Hawaiian, they would always switch quickly to English.

Kapono learned why while researching "The Wild Hawaiian."

"When they were in school (in the 1930s), they were usually punished if they spoke the language in classes or anywhere in public," said Kapono. "Their feeling was if we were to do it we would get punished, too."

That, of course, was not the reality when Kapono and his eight siblings went to school. But it remained ingrained in his parents' minds.

And over the years that followed from high school to C&K's '70s heyday to much of his '80s and '90s solo work, Kapono said he felt no desire to learn much beyond the norm about Hawaiian music or language.

"Sometimes when you're in something so deep, you want to get out and experience something else. And that's how I was," said Kapono. "I was around Hawaiian all the time and never understood it. I wanted to play rock 'n' roll and acoustic contemporary music."

That is, up until considering the project that would become "The Wild Hawaiian."


Kapono launched his self-guided Hawaiian music study by absorbing compositions both new and familiar to him. He then narrowed the list further to songs he knew he could learn and whose Hawaiian words had personal meaning to him.

His aim in rearranging them with a rock influence was less about being revolutionary than properly channeling the immense power he felt in each song's lyrics.

"I wanted the lyrics to say what they were meant to say," said Kapono. "Some of those songs were (originally) sung in a way where they were light and happy, which is cool. But when I read the lyrics, it was really something different. ... I wanted to get to that side of the song."

He also wanted the songs to influence others. In particular, young musicians.

"I wanted them to feel that it's OK to experiment and do things like this ... as long as it's honest," said Kapono.

By 2003, Kapono had a handful of songs he felt comfortable enough about to bring to his band along with his concept for "The Wild Hawaiian."

"I just brought it to rehearsal ... and told them what I was hearing — how I was hearing the drums, the bass," said Kapono.

A quick first-time run-through of "Na Ali'i," in particular, "really rocked," he said. "As soon as that came to life, everything - Honolulu Advertiser

"Henry Kapono Rocks in Hawaiian"

Review by John Berger
If Henry Kapono were known only as half of Cecilio & Kapono, he would still be an important figure in local music. C&K defined a new style of contemporary music here in Hawaii in the early 1970s, and is on a very short list of local artists of any genre to be signed by a national record label after 1955.

"The Wild Hawaiian"
Henry Kapono
(Eclectic ECL 2006)

Henry Kapono will be at Sam's Club stores this weekend:
Sunday: 11 a.m. to noon, 100 Kamehameha Hwy., Pearl City; 1 to 2 p.m., 750 Keeaumoku St., Honolulu

Also, as part of his regular performance schedule at Duke's Waikiki, Kapono will play from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel, 2335 Kalakaua Ave., Suite 116, Honolulu. Call 922-2268.


But Kapono didn't stop with C&K. His first solo hit, "Stand in the Light," anticipated the rise of Jawaiian or "island music" by more than five years. "Dreamer Boy," his 1982 album with comic actor Rap Reiplinger, displayed his imagination as a storyteller and his range as a rocker.

Kapono received two Hoku awards in 1992 for "Broken Promise," a song he'd written in response to long-standing problems within the Hawaiian Homes program, but his self-titled album, "Kapono," in which he explored broader issues of Hawaiian sovereignty, was considered too "political" for play on local radio when it was released in 1993.

With all that history behind him, and much more on his résumé, Kapono takes another equally impressive step forward with this full-length album of rock music sung in Hawaiian.

Kapono establishes the viability of the concept with the first bars of "Na Ali'i" and goes from success to success with the songs that follow. He succeeds in placing familiar lyrics in a new musical context while remaining true to the traditions of Hawaiian percussion and chant.

Kapono approaches "Hi'ilawe" with an imaginative orchestral arrangement that gives it a rock feel but maintains the song's traditional spirit. He closes the album on a particularly powerful note with a treatment of "Ke Aloha O Ka Haku (The Queen's Prayer)" that starts acoustically and builds to a final electric guitar solo that suggests the queen's sorrow.

Two of his three original songs fit in well. "Hawai'i Aloha (A Mau Loa)" expresses his love for the islands. "Na Makua" shares childhood memories of visiting his parents' friends.

"Taboo," an original instrumental, is solid guitar rock, but without lyrics, it doesn't have that connection to the rest of the album.

Kapono completes this landmark album with annotation that shares his feelings about being a native Hawaiian and his reasons for doing this album now. A beautifully illustrated booklet also provides lyrics, translations and historical information for each song.

It seems almost certain that some tradition-bound listeners will find something to criticize about Kapono's approach to "Hi'ilawe," "He'eia" or even maybe "Eho Mai." There were, after all, those who felt that the Brothers Cazimero weren't playing it "right" back in the 1970s, and Richard Kauhi received similar criticism a generation or so earlier.

Hawaiian music has been adopting and adapting new ideas and new instruments for more than 200 years. The process continues with "The Wild Hawaiian."

- Honolulu Star Bulletin

"MAUI BEAT: Henry Kapono unleashes ’The Wild Hawaiian’"

Thursday, July 20, 2006 11:33 AM

By JON WOODHOUSE, Contributing Writer

It’s been a long time coming. Finally Henry Ka’aihue Kapono has released “The Wild Hawaiian,” his first album sung entirely in Hawaiian.

Bearing little resemblance to anything he’s ever recorded before or, for that matter, what anyone in the islands has created before, Kapono has crafted a landmark recording, the most bold, radical and innovative album of his entire career.

At the age of 57, he’s completely shifted musical direction, interpreting a handful of Hawaiian classics as contemporary rock songs, and composing a couple of new rocking, Hawaiian language compositions that pay heartfelt tribute to his culture.

As if channeling the ferocious power of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the scorching guitar of Jimi Hendrix, Kapono opens “The Wild Hawaiian” with a stunning version of Kui Lee’s “Na Ali’i,” rendered as a slamming, hip-hop flavored rocker.

“For many years people have been asking me why I haven’t done a Hawaiian album,” Kapono explains. “Once I got the arrangements for ’Na Ali’i,’ that solidified the direction I was going. ’Na Ali’i’ really rocks; it’s really hard rock. I thought that was a good start, and I wanted to keep that energy and be diversified, to expand the target to not only older folks but younger kids as well.

“Kui Lee does a really happy, free spirited version,” Kapono continues. “The lyrics speak about paying respect to our ancestors, the kings and queens, and they talk about King Kamehameha’s battles. That gave me a different perception of what the song meant and it definitely fit the rock genre.”

Initially he had begun recording some years back employing traditional instrumentation and working with chanters including Charles Ka’upu.

“I tried using the ipu and pahu drum, but I’ve heard it done so many times and I’ve done it already,” he says. “I really wanted to do something different, adding an edge and power to Hawaiian music.

Hawaiian music is so beautiful and flowing and graceful that if I was going to do something different then I needed to go all the way.”

Did he ever feel apprehensive about launching into such radical territory?

“I wasn’t nervous, just thinking a lot about whether this was the right thing to do, the right direction to go,” he suggests. “I basically followed my heart, which is what I do with all my music.”

For more than three decades Kapono has played a major role in the islands. One half of Hawaii’s supergroup C&K, he was one of the first local entertainers to write a song fusing reggae and Hawaiian influences on his debut 1981 solo album, “Stand in the Light,” foreshadowing the influential Jawaiian movement. A few years later he expanded his creative reach with a more global perspective on the landmark recording “Same World.” Surrounded by guest artists like vocalist Michael McDonald, reggae stars Third World and the Tower of Power horns, Kapono artfully blended rock, R&B, jazz and Caribbean influences.

Pursuing an innovative solo path, over the years he’s sung everything from Hawaiian classics to rock ’n’ roll, acted in a major Hollywood movie, produced a TV documentary on sovereignty, and composed many songs that remain island favorites.

“I’m always looking for something new,” he says. “Music is an adventure for me of experimenting and discovering different things.”

Primarily known as an acoustic guitarist, Kapono shows his growth as a gifted electric guitarist on this album, and his playing on the song “He’eia,” a radical revision of an old chant that honors King Kalakaua, is particularly striking.

“I was afraid of it when I first started because the acoustic guitar is so friendly,” he reveals. “The electric guitar can be scary. I always listened to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I picked up stuff and became more confident.”

He credits the recording’s grand, dramatic sound to Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning engineer Dave Russell, and the surprising influence of punk rockers Green Day.

“Green Day’s ’American Idiot’ album came out and I’d never heard a sound like that first note,” Kapono reports. “I wanted a big sound like that and I had it in mind when I went in the studio (in Ulupalakua). We pretty much isolated ourselves from civilization and just focused on what we were doing. It was an amazing experience and we all blew ourselves away.”

During the recording sessions another inspiration came from a poem composed by a Maui girl that Kapono heard while facilitating a workshop at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua’s Celebration of the Arts festival.

“I was hosting a poetry workshop where people would come in and read their poetry,” he explains. “I learned a lot about the pent-up anger that Hawaiians have. This girl of about 12 read a poem that blew me away; it was saying that one day everything would be taken away. It had a big impact on me, and how I was going to pursue this project and the show.

“I want to ma - The Maui News


All of Henry Kapono's discography has been commercially release and is curently available throughout Hawaii and the Pacific. Much of his music is on itunes with more coming.
Henry Kapono Discography:
Stand In The Light
Dreamer Boy (A Children’s Story)
Henry Kapono & Tropical Heat
Piece A Cake
Merry Christmas To You
Song For Someone
Same World
Kapono “Hits”
Spirit Dancer
Home In The Islands
Evolution of Poi
Dukes on Sunday
The Wild Hawaiian

Cecilio & Kapono Discography:
Cecilio & Kapono
Night Music
Life’s Different Now
The First Noel
Live At The Waikiki Shell
Goodtime Together
Journey Through The Years
The Journey Continues
Lifetime Party ~ 30 Years of Friends
Lifetime Party ~ 30 Years of Friends Vol 2
Lifetime Party ~ 30 Years of Friends DVD
Cecilio & Kapono Hawaiian Nights



Henry Kapono Ka’aihue is an award winning and Grammy nominated singer/songwriter. He has taken home numerous Na Hoku Hano Hano Awards (Hawaii’s equivalent of the Grammy’s) including Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year, Single of the Year, and Album of the Year. He is also the author of the award winning children’s book, A Beautiful Hawaiian Day, has appeared in the films Damien and Waterworld and has made many television appearances.

Know as “Kapono”, the Hawaiian word for righteous, Henry was christened “Henry Kapono Hosea Ka’aihue” and is a pure Hawaiian born and raised in Kapahulu, a small town located just outside of Waikiki, Hawaii.

Although Henry has had no formal musical training, he started singing in a children’s church choir at the young age of 5. “I was, and still am a very shy person, but I loved singing especially in a choral situation”, says Henry. “My Dad taught me how to play the ukulele. He would come home from work and sit in his easy chair and play the coolest stuff.” …“I saw a friend of mine play a guitar one day and fell in love with the sound of it. He taught me a few chords and I’ve been hooked ever since. After that I taught myself how to play by listening to records, radio and watching other guitarist play”.

Henry’s athletic abilities earned him a baseball scholarship to the highly regarded Punahou Academy in Honolulu. After high school he earned a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii with dreams of being a professional football player. Although injuries prevented him from fulfilling his dream as a football player, in a profound way it moved him toward his passion for music and allowed him to fully realize his potential as an artist.

Henry’s professional career started as a solo artist in little joints around Waikiki. This led to a short stint playing rock in a local island group called “Pakalolo”. The group played the islands and the Far East where a defunct tour company left them stranded in Viet Nam. Putting their situation and talents to good use, the group performed for the troops at fire bases throughout Vietnam and eventually made their way to Thailand. The 2 years that Henry spent overseas turned out to be a personal and professional odyssey that profoundly affected his music, his appreciation of life and his love of all people.

Returning to Hawaii, Henry’s career kicked off in a big way. Forming a collaboration with Cecilio Rodriguez, from California, the duo, known as “Cecilio and Kapono” became an instant phenomenon that took Hawaii by storm. Blending together their distinctive and individual talents, they gave contemporary and folk rock a new perspective. Within eight months Cecilio & Kapono had a recording contract with Columbia Records, a first for a Hawaii group, crowning them the largest recording artists to come out of Hawaii. “C&K” have recorded 12 albums to date and reunite annually.

Continually evolving, in 1981 Henry pursued a solo career with the extremely successful release of “Kapono - Stand in the Light”. Since then he has created an incredibly broad range of musical expressions through 14 solo albums to date.

Kapono has become a household name throughout Hawaii and the Pacific. His music has taken him all over the world and his fan base is very diverse. His musical journey has been a very bohemic collage of innovation and creativity continually evolving in a way that very few artists are able to sustain. His influences, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Sting and Stevie Wonder, to name a few, are reflected in his musical tapestry that is exclusively Kapono. His music transcends his Hawaiian heritage which he prides so much and embodies the spirit of Aloha that he has for all people.

Henry has the gift that most great artists share: the ability to enable us to gaze upon their painting or ponder their work or listen to their music - and find new meaning and purpose in our own lives. Henry touches the soul with the simple honesty of his lyrics and music, and the gift of an evocative, plaintive balladeer's voice that haunts you long after he leaves the stage.

Creative Achievements:
Acting: Feature Films
Behold Hawaii - an Imax Film

Acting: Television:
Byrds of Paradise
Magnum P.I.
Live with Regis & Kathy Lee
Home and Family Show
Dancing With The Long Bone
The Last paving Stone – A Children’s Play

Video Works:
Home In The Islands - an original screen play
The Kenwood Cup '92
Cecilio & Kapono, "Goodtimes Again"
Song of Life: The Hawaii Nature Conservancy
Cecilio & Kapono, "Unplugged"
Forever Hawaii
Forever Maui
Maui The Magic Isle
Volcanoes of Hawaii
Kapono Home In The Islands

2000: "A Beautiful Hawaiian Day" children's book
Winner of 2001 Ka Palapala Po‘okela Award for Best Book

Na Hoku Hanohano Awards:
(Hawaii’s equivalent to The Grammy Awards)

Group of the Year (2)
Album of the Year (5)