THE FAMILY TREE
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
For Kapono Beamer and his son Kamana, making music strengthens their ties to family. "It's really alive, and it's a spiritual connection that goes back to the family, through our blood, through our music, through our veins," says Beamer.
Another Beamer son rises
Although their styles are distinctly different, Kapono Beamer and his son Kamana both describe the experience of making music as a deep and direct spiritual connection with their ancestors.
"We can talk about great-grandma Helen Desha Beamer; we can talk about my grandfather Pono Beamer; we can talk about my mother, Kamana (and) myself; but there is a spiritual side that permeates this, and it's a very personal thing. It's almost like a communication with our kupuna who are gone now," Beamer says as he and Kamana consider their role in perpetuating the musical traditions of their family.
"It's really alive, and it's a spiritual connection that goes back to the family, through our blood, through our music, through our veins, but it's something that lives today and it's a very powerful thing. It's touched me in very deep personal ways and affected my songwriting, and I know Kamana has had similar experiences. I think it helps to guide us in what we do."
The experience is so deep, Kamana says, that sometimes he's not sure he can claim credit for what he's written. "It just hits me, I get a feeling inside of me and I know I should pick up my instrument. It's like I'm channeling something. Definitely, I'm a part of it, but it (also) seems like being a channel for it."
For Kapono, in his 50s, music has been his choice of profession for as long as he can remember. Kamana, 29, released his first album this year after graduating from college -- certainly to the surprise of many of the teachers he encountered before he left public school and enrolled at Kamehameha.
"I used to be a real rebellious kid," Kamana says. But he adds that his grandmother Nona Beamer told him Kapono had been the same way and that she herself as a child was "a stubborn cuss."
Kapono "always knew that Kamana was a really bright kid ... but if (a subject) didn't interest him, it really didn't interest him and he wasn't going to do any homework on it or read any books on it or write any papers on it."
The switch to the Kamehameha Schools got Kamana interested in higher education. He is now fluent in Hawaiian and is spending time at the State Archives working on his Ph.D. dissertation in geography.
"It's exciting to see him pursue this research," Kapono says. "I don't have to tell him to go to work or do his homework -- he's on it!"
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Both Kamana Beamer and his father, Kapono, were influenced strongly by their grandmothers when it came to making music.
Kapono is proud of his son Kamana, who follows but also leads
Like father, like son," Kapono Beamer chuckles as a Star-Bulletin photographer directs him and his son Kamana through a photo shoot.
The similarities the two share go well beyond their DNA. Both have made significant contributions to the evolution of Hawaiian music, both admit to being a bit stubborn as kids and both credit their grandmothers with being major influences in their development as musicians and modern men of Hawaii.
For Kapono it was Louise Leiomalama Walker Beamer -- "Dambi" to her grandchildren -- who encouraged his interest in music and to learn Hawaiian at a time when it was illegal to teach the language in public schools. For Kamana it was Kapono's mother, Winona Kapualiohia Desha Beamer, who encouraged him to be "interested in knowledge and the truth ... and be the best that I can."
Kapono recalls an awareness at an early age that there were special responsibilities that came with being a Beamer.
"I've tried to analyze that throughout the years, and I don't know if it just came from myself or from my mother's expectations. For her it was a very serious thing, researching these Hawaiian legends, the old Hawaiian style of chanting and dancing -- but there was an expectation that the Beamer (name) was something unique and special," Kapono says.
It pushed him to be the best at whatever he was doing.
"I always felt that I would be a musician from ever since I can remember -- playing ukulele when I was 4 years old," he says. He played for his grandmother's hula recitals, at the early Merrie Monarch Festivals in Hilo, "so beyond just playing for family parties, there was this entertainment, public side of it which we were exposed to. I just never considered doing anything else."
COURTESY THE BEAMER FAMILY
The elders of the Beamer clan, from left: Pono and Louise, Kapono's grandparents; his mother, Nona; and his uncle C. Keola pose with brothers Keola and Kapono.
His training included performing in Waikiki hotels as a member of the Kamehameha Schools Hawaiian Ensemble -- a group of students his mother put together as a teacher there.
"I thought it was kind of pain to have to go perform with my mother when I was in high school, but now as I look back on it, it was a tremendous experience performing in front of people and have them watch you for 45 minutes. It was a valuable learning experience -- and fun."
It was different for Kamana. He never felt that he was expected to perform professionally.
"I was singing 'Pupuhinuhinu' from a young age, and my grandmother was dragging me along to some of her lectures on hula, but Dad was always warning me that (entertainment) was a hard life, and encouraging me to keep other options open."
As a result, Kamana had earned a degree in philosophy and Hawaiian studies, and was working on his doctorate in geography, by the time he made his formal debut as a recording artist this year.
"I'm not sure where my music goes commercially, but I think it was a success just to bring something new and that I have something to contribute to this lineage that is accepted by my family."
Kapono says that acceptance, too, is a family tradition.
"My mother and my grandparents never tried to push us in any one direction. ... Whatever we wanted to do creatively was encouraged and rewarded."
The result in his case was a series of innovative albums by Keola & Kapono Beamer in the 1970s and early '80s, and continuing success for brothers Keola and Kapono as solo artists. Kapono's solo credits include five Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning albums as a recording artist and a sixth as co-engineer. He received the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts' Ki Ho'alu Award in 2006.
COURTESY THE BEAMER FAMILY
A tiny Kamana Beamer enjoys playing bubbles with Dad.
Kamana's debut, recorded as a member of the group Kamau, is the most polished and impressive example of a genre dubbed "maoli music," a musical amalgam of acoustic jazz, rock and Hawaiian that often has a distinct political edge. He describes his interest in Hawaiian history -- expressed in songs such as "Hawaiian Kingdom" and "Auwe" -- as growing out of the times his grandmother encouraged him to ask questions, look up words he didn't know and seek "the truth."
"It was somewhere in that process that I realized that a lot of what I had been taught (about Hawaiian history) had been watered down and maybe to a certain extent misguided," Kamana says.
Kamana's Ph.D. dissertation will document the mind-set of the alii of the late 19th century regarding land use and mapping initiatives, continuing into the years when the Republic of Hawaii passed laws detrimental to native Hawaiians.
"I'm not the only one to say that (the Republic) was a military state, but the more that I uncover, (the more) it's apparent that there's this period of our history that has been glossed over and misrepresented, and I'm glad to be a part of this generation that's sorting through it and uncovering it. Let's be honest about our history and what happened, and not gloss over it."
Not everyone can spend the time on such in-depth research, he adds. "But as a person involved in them, as a human being seeking truth, and as a writer and as a musician, I feel privileged to explain those issues and reflect on them in different ways."
Kapono describes his son's research on how land passed out of Hawaiian control as "really exciting," and says that after years of being "sort of apolitical," he's been inspired to include some oblique political messages in his 2005 album, "Slack Key Dreams of the Ponomoe."
On the other hand, Kapono recalls stirring things up a bit in the '70s when he and Keola recorded the song "Sweet Okole." The song became a local hit but struck some Hawaiian speakers as being in bad taste (many island residents use the word as a synonym for "buttocks," but the word actually refers specifically to the anal area).
"My grandmother called my mother and asked, 'Do the boys have to sing about that?' My mom said we were young and expressing our creativity," Kapono says with a chuckle.
"Keola and I were doing it in the spirit of fun. We weren't trying to be provocative. In fact we wrote that song after drinking a couple of six-packs of beer one Sunday afternoon just fooling around. ... (Our manager) Kimo McVay said, 'You've got to record this! It's a hit single if I've ever heard one!'"
That was several years before Kamana was born. Now Kamana is one of the people Kapono turns to when he needs information about the Hawaiian language. "Any questions I had, I could always ask my mother to translate for me. Now I can ask my son. I'm very proud of him."