June 29, 2011
Henry Kapono releases his latest solo project this week. Thank goodness he found his musical destiny deep within the jungles of Vietnam some 40 years ago
Everyone should have that moment in life when background noises fade and the notes of one’s destiny come through loud and clear.
For musician Henry Kapono Kaaihue, that moment came during the height of the Vietnam War, with the sounds of enemy gunfire in the distance and while hanging out near a bunker in the war-torn Southeast Asian country. Kapono was just 20 at the time and coming off his sophomore season as a defensive end with the University of Hawaii, when he found himself “stuck” in far-off Vietnam. It was only supposed to be a six-week tour - a break from the grind of college football. But that all changed after the management team for the group he was touring with, Pakalolo, went up in smoke financially. Stranded in a foreign country, Kapono and his fellow band members had no other choice but to travel “way out in the boonies,” to military encampments known as fire bases, and perform “to make ends meet.”
And that’s where Kapono first stood in the light - first understood his calling.
“I was talking to this guy, a great keyboard player, and telling him what I planned on doing when I got back to Hawaii. I was going to play ball and start to learn everything I could about music - really study it,” Kapono recalls. “And he looked at me and said, ‘Why are you going to do that? You already got what you need musically, and what you got is more than most people will ever have.’”
Kapono didn’t return to the Manoa campus, choosing to leave a promising football career behind and music theory for another day. Instead, he picked up his guitar and started strumming - and singing - like never before.
Four decades later, Kapono remains one of the most revered names and most unique voices in the music industry. The friendship he struck with Cecilio Rodrigues in the early
‘70s led to the formation of one of the greatest music duos anywhere, Cecilio & Kapono, an act that produced a bevy of timeless classics on 12 albums. And Kapono’s solo work has been just as prolific, with 14 albums recorded and released to date.
Musical Notes caught up with Kapono on the eve of his next CD release, Henry, to talk about his latest project and whether it’s possible to retire from something you love.
MN: It’s been five years since you last released a solo project - The Wild Hawaiian. Is it fair to say that you’ve been champing at the bit to release Henry?
Kapono: We’re real happy with the album. The songs are about love, about having fun, about peace. On all my records, I try to put songs that talk about what we can do for each other. Hopefully, people will not only like this album, but love it.
We’re having our CD release concert at Duke’s Beach House on Maui July 1. Then I’ll be performing at the Tropics at Hilton Hawaiian Village July 2, Duke’s Canoe Club in Waikiki July 3 and at Ala Moana Center for the Fourth of July celebration. You can say that it’s going to be a Henry weekend.
MN: You grew up in a musically inclined family. Your father, Kala Kaaihue, taught you the ukulele at a young age, and you even sang in the choir at Kawaiahao Church. But did you really love music from the getgo?
Kapono: No, I was totally into sports. In the beginning, music was just a hobby for me. In fact, I really didn’t even like the tone of my voice. I remember the first time I recorded a song, I listened to it and went, ‘Oh, man!’ But eventually, I got used to it. I think things started to change for me when I began singing other artists’ songs like I wrote them. From that point on, it was more about how I sang the song and not how I sounded.
MN: You’ve been performing for a long time. Do you ever think you could walk away from this life?
Kapono: People ask me that all of the time: When are you going to retire? I’m like, why? I’m having too much fun and I love what I do. Honestly, I’m real comfortable with where I’m at. I know myself better and I’m enjoying life more. I think I’m in the right place.
Model/disk jockey HeavyGrinder drops in from the West Coast this weekend, bringing her blend of electro, house and indie sounds to the hip hop/rave all-nighter Electronic Beach, along Marconi Road in Kahuku. “She has a really big following, mostly in other parts of the world, and she only comes to Hawaii maybe once a year,” says event promoter Rusty Vierra of the exotic beauty who’s taken the dance world by storm. While HeavyGrinder is spinning on the main stage outdoors, local entertainer DJ Audissey will be operating inside a 44-foot dome. The beat starts promptly at 9 p.m. Saturday and continues until 5 a.m. Sunday. Tickets are $30 at the door ... Don’t miss out on the opportunity to catch Jerry Santos, Haunani Apoliona and the rest of Olomana Thursday evening under the stars from the Waikiki Aquarium during the second summer concert series Ke Kani O Ke Kai: The Sound of the Ocean. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the harmonies begin at 7 ... Finally, how do you follow a successful first act? By hoping - better yet, praying - that you don’t walk out on stage, hit a few sour notes and leave the audience scrambling for the doors! That’s kind of how I’m feeling these days as I make my debut as a MidWeek columnist. Honestly, I wasn’t looking for this gig. I mean, who really wants to follow someone like Melissa Moniz, an uber-talented writer who’s not only well-respected but well-liked in the music industry? On top of that, I really wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my days of anonymity, when being a “faceless” journalist was actually preferred. But thanks to the encouraging words of MidWeek publisher Ron Nagasawa and editors Don Chapman, Terri Hefner and Yu Shing Ting, I realized that I had a gift to share with MidWeek readers - and that was my love of writing and music. And in the end, if a man can’t share what he loves with others, what good is he? So here I am, nervous about this assignment but certainly willing to embrace the destiny before me.
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