RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Henry Kapono says he fell in love with "The Wild Hawaiian" and is gratified that the album has been accepted by audiences.
Kapono rediscovers his culture
A local legend takes a risky leap from mainstream rewards
Henry Kapono's parents grew up at a time when children were punished for speaking Hawaiian at school, even on the playground, and so he was raised speaking English only. That's reason enough, he says, to make his latest album, "The Wild Hawaiian," an important step in reconnecting with his heritage.
"The Wild Hawaiian Groove-ment Tour"
» Place: Hawaii Theatre.
» Time: 8 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $30.
» Call: 528-0506 or online at www.hawaiitheatre.com.
» Neighbor islands: Kapono plays the Grand Hyatt Kauai July 14, Hilton Waikoloa July 15, and Maui Arts & Cultural Center July 22
Most of the songs are standards, and although he plays them as powerful mainstream rock, he sings in Hawaiian and remains true to traditional percussion and chant.
"I fell in love with the album once it all came together," Kapono said. "(Even) if nobody liked it, I would have loved it, and that was real important to me. ... I wish my mom and dad would have been able to hear me do this -- but in a more spiritual way, they are a big part of it."
The best thing about the project is that it has been accepted, he said. "I put myself out there, and people are actually enjoying it, and it seems like people are understanding it. It's exciting."
Understanding the album isn't that difficult. Kapono includes Hawaiian lyrics, English translations and a considerable amount of background information in a beautifully illustrated booklet.
The big question is why one of the most consistently successful local artists would risk such a break with everything that's worked for him in the past. Kapono could do quite well doing nothing but perform with Cecilio Rodriguez as Cecilio & Kapono, and he has succeeded with a string of solo hits, from "Stand in the Light" to "Broken Promise" and beyond. More than one artist, certainly, has bombed when experimenting outside his established hit formula. Why take the risk of playing Hawaiian standards such as "Na Ali'i" and "Hi'ilawe" as mainstream rock?
It isn't something he rushed into.
"The main thing for me was to pay respect to the culture. It wasn't meant to rebel or anything. It was just meant to do it right, and in the process I've learned more about the Hawaiian culture, I've learned more about the language, and I learned what a beautiful race this Hawaiian race and culture is. ... It made me have a bigger sense for who I am as a Hawaiian person," he said.
His interpretations were meant to communicate the cultural message to more people in a different way.
"We recorded it about a year ago and have really been sitting on it, waiting for time to focus on it. ... One thing after another prevented it from coming out earlier, and I think that's just part of the process."
Kapono hopes the CD will prompt people to rediscover the culture.
"I think that's real important for us and the generations after us, that we have to start taking them forward and letting them build this great race that we have in a better way -- out of (the) love and out of (the) aloha that we've always been known for.
"That's a real important message for me, to get that point across."