Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, May 13, 1999

File photo
Malani Bilyeu sings Saturday at Don Ho's.

Soulful soloist

Malani Bilyeu's talents
go beyond Kalapana

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


MALANI Bilyeu is so well-known as the soulful lead vocalist of Kalapana that it may surprise some to learn that he is also an accomplished solo artist. Oahu residents will have a rare opportunity to enjoy his music up close Saturday at Don Ho's Island Grill.

"I'm pretty excited (because) it's been about eight years since I've done a (solo) show in public on Oahu. I want to get back into the local venues again because I feel that I still have a lot to offer," he said in a phone call from his home on Kauai.

Folks on Oahu may not know this, but Bilyeu has been performing solo on Kauai for several years and loves it.

"A soloist can enhance a club with pure music. You're looking at one vocal, one guitar, and it's up to me to pull it off. I was doing that before Kalapana (and) I'm doing three hours a night at the Mariott.

"When I'm playing at the hotels I'll do 'Tiny Bubbles' and stuff like that. If they like it, I'll play it, but I'll take the song and mold it into my own expressive way. I'm not going to turn it into Jawaiian."

Bilyeu's engagement at Don Ho's won't be the first time people have guessed wrong about him and his music. There were those who once said "Molokai Sweet Home" was about his boyhood growing up on Molokai. In reality, Bilyeu was born in Honolulu, raised in Kalihi Valley, and had never been to Molokai when he wrote the song as a tribute to Molokai-born Hawaiian nationalist George Helm.

Bilyeu was a solo singer-guitarist at the Oar House in Hawaii Kai when he was introduced to Mackey Feary, D.J. Pratt and Kirk Thompson in 1973. The four founded Kalapana and became biggest contemporary local group of the '70s.

Twenty-six years later, Bilyeu is still part of Kalapana. He is also involved in the campaign against substance abuse. He speaks of his own youthful problems, how he escaped drugs and his rebirth in Christ. His solo album, "Saved," won a Religious Album of the Year Hoku Award in 1995.

Bilyeu takes his message to Nanakuli High & Intermediate School today as part of a program to promote drug-free living.

"If everybody does something it will be a big help," he says. He credits his own survival to his wife and family, his faith and his decision to avoid the drug scene and drug-dealing "friends," but adds that even with outside support survival isn't easy. Drugs hit at the heart of Kalapana when Feary committed suicide in February after being sent to prison on property damage and drug-related charges.

Bilyeu adds that although he feels strongly about substance abuse, he's coming to Don Ho's to play -- not preach.

"It's going to be a romantic evening. Some of my friends wanted me to go total Kalapana and Malani Bilyeu, and I'll take the crowd through the musical history of Kalapana, but I'll also do songs by people that made my music what it is -- Joni Mitchell, Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan. I do a Don Ho and Beatles thing ("I'll Remember You" and "I Will") and I'll throw that in there, too. It's going to be an intimate evening (so) if you're there for Jawaiian or rap you're not going to get it."

Malani Bilyeu

Bullet In concert: 7:45 and 10 p.m. Saturday.
Bullet Venue: Don Ho's Island Grill, Aloha Tower Marketplace
Bullet Cost: $5 plus dinner (seating from 6 p.m.) or $5 plus two-drink minimum for cocktail show
Bullet Call: 528-0807

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