By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Henry Kapono, one of Hawaii’s most beloved and popular musicians, will play a free holiday show Monday at 6 p.m. at the Hawaii County Building at the corner of Aupuni and Pauahi streets in Hilo.
The program is part of the county’s second annual holiday open house called “The Magic of the Season.” Hilo singer-actress Yisa Var will open at 5 p.m.
Kapono, a multiple Hoku-award winner, said he hasn’t played a public show in Hilo in “at least eight or 10 years.” This performance will be solo, unplugged — just the singer and his guitar.
“We have a lot of fun together,” he told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday. “I’ll do a mix of everything, some oldies and some newies as well as Christmas songs, and just have fun. I love Hilo; I love these islands and the people and I love to play music and it all goes hand in hand. We like to go up to Volcano and spend some time up there. That’s a good reason to go to Hilo and play some music and take a few days off and go to Kona and Waikoloa.”
Kapono now plays monthly engagements on the Big Island at Don’s Mai Tai Bar in the Royal Kona Resort every third Thursday from 5-7 p.m. and at the Lava Lava Beach Club in the Waikoloa resort area every third Friday of the month from 7-9 p.m. Those gigs will happen next week, as well.
“I just started that last month and it’s going really well,” he said.
“Henry,” his most recent CD of new originals, was released last year, and his “Home in the Islands” 15th anniversary edition was released earlier this year. He said there are no recording projects currently in the works.
“I’ve been writing. I’m planning on doing another Christmas album. I haven’t done one for almost 20 years, because I really didn’t have to,” he said. “My Christmas album’s been selling well every Christmas, and it’s a hard one to top. But I’ve got some new stuff that I feel pretty good about.”
Kapono was half of the iconic island duo Cecilio & Kapono, one of Hawaii’s most popular music acts, due to their three releases on Columbia Records in the 1970s: “Cecilio & Kapono”; “Elua”; and “Nightmusic.” C&K have done numerous reunion tours and continued to draw crowds, but that all changed when Kapono’s erstwhile musical partner, Cecilio Rodriguez, was sentenced to a year in jail in Los Angeles in January after pleading no contest to sexually molesting two sisters, then minors but now adults, between 1996 and 1999. Rodriguez was released from custody in August, but Kapono said it’s doubtful the duo — whose musical chemistry was magical — will ever reunite.
“After something like that, I don’t think it will happen,” Kapono said. “That kind of situation doesn’t allow people to just let it go. It’s really sad that happened and it hurt a lot of people. You just gotta move on. There is life after death.”
Kapono, the father of two adult daughters and 6-year-old twins, son Kapono and daughter Cassandra Ka‘aihue, said when he’s not playing music, he enjoys spending time with his family.
“Any time I get to spend with them I enjoy, because I can. I’ve been able to book things around their schedules,” he said.
Even the music is a family affair for Kapono and wife, Lezlee.
“She’s my manager, she’s a mom, and she’s my wife, and she does a great job of handling all those things,” he said. “I’m enjoying playing all over the place — here, there and everywhere, off island as well. I’m still doing what I love to do and it’s all good.”
Kapono didn’t originally aspire to a career in music. As Henry Ka‘aihue — Kapono is his middle name — he was a baseball and football standout at Punahou School and a defensive tackle for the University of Hawaii who dreamed of playing in the NFL. His athletic career, however, was curtailed by injuries. He ended up playing music in Asia, including two years in Vietnam entertaining the troops, with a band called Pakalolo.
“My football career ended but my music career grew,” he said. “That’s where I really started to work on my craft, because all I had was my music. I had my guitar and a few of my friends in the band, and I think that was all meant to be.
“If I had continued to play football, I don’t know where I would be. I would probably be in pain right now. We’re finding out nowadays what’s happening to football players. So I think I’m really fortunate that my path was to play music.”
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