By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Henry Kapono's new album ends a two-year recording hiatus.

Always Kapono

Henry Kapono
returns to the spotlight
with an album and a thank-you

By Tim Ryan

Henry Kapono's home is as understated as the singer and his music.

The two-story, beige house trimmed in green is bordered by a large, manicured lawn lush from Manoa's frequent rains. Hedges along the perimeter are evenly pruned, the driveway is unspoiled by oil, tire marks or fallen leaves.

"Welcome," Kapono says, opening one of several screen doors along a first-floor lanai. "Please, come in."

The living room is enormous and airy. Furnishings, though sparse, are inviting. A piano is in a corner. Alex, a very furry, orange tabby, runs to greet visitors who call his name.

Kapono's latest compact disc, number 20 and his first in two years, is "Home in the Islands," slated for release in late May or early June. On Saturday, Kapono will put on a free concert at the Waikiki Shell that will take fans on a journey through his career and include some new songs.

"It's a 'thank you' to the people of Hawaii for their support throughout my career," he said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without so many people's help."

Not well known is that the two-decade-old song "Home in the Islands" -- trademark of the Cazimero Brothers -- was written by Kapono. He has never recorded it until now.

"My version is different from what people have heard before," he said. "It's energetic, up tempo. I wanted to make it about me."

In the new album Kapono sings about Hawaii, and "my love for paradise, my love for the aina, the mana, the people, and my quest for everybody to love another," the Punahou and University of Hawaii graduate said.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Henry Kapono at his piano, at home in Manoa.

He admits it isn't easy for Hawaii-based performing artists to gain national recognition without relocating or at least spending a lot of time on the mainland. But leaving the islands would dilute the inspiration he gets from living here.

"My music would change, I would probably change if I moved," Kapono said. "My writing comes from what I see, from what I feel, from what I hear. I prefer to wake up and breathe fresh air . . . that's more valuable than having to compete every day."

But the popularity of Hawaiian music is growing on the mainland, ironically, perhaps sadly, because so many kamaainas are forced to leave, unable to afford living here, Kapono said.

"The mainland doesn't really count Hawaii as anything but a resort. A performer must travel to get respect, to get recognized.

"But there are whole nations of Hawaiians out there now in places like Seattle, Orange County and Las Vegas. And they want to hear Hawaiian music to stay connected."

Kapono says he performs to make people happy, "not to preach an agenda."

"That's my goal. Sometimes my songs may go a little deep. But in most cases i just want to help people enjoy life. People don't want to be preached to, they want to be embraced."

He began writing and recording in 1973 with Cecilio Rodriguez. The two would become one of Hawaii's most popular duos and would release eight albums. Kapono, who went solo in 1981, calls his musical style "Camerinesian," "a universal concept that signifies a place in the heart, a musical form of unification caused by a celestial tribal beat inherent in all cultures."

He writes constantly, not allowing himself to wait for inspiration.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Henry Kapono's new album is titled, "Home in the Islands."

"I used to think that to be creative you needed to be all alone on a beach in perfect conditions, but I don't have time to do that," he said. "Sometimes I'll be driving and I flash on something so I keep repeating it until I get to my guitar where I can test it out."

The song, "Home in the Islands," came to him while touring with Cecilio on the mainland in 1976.

"I was thinking about Hawaii and how much I missed being there. I was reflecting about all the travel that kept me away and what a universal feeling that must be for a lot of people."

When he arrived at his hotel Kapono started writing lyrics right away. When he returned to Hawaii he went to the studio to play the song for the group Island Band, which agreed to record it.

Fans can thank a football knee injury for Kapono turning to professional music.

"I really wanted to be a pro football player. I never imagined I could earn a living playing music."

Staring out the living room window toward Diamond Head, Kapono seems to thinking about "Home in the Islands, Part II."

"Music has taken me halfway around the world. I hope it can take me the rest of the way."

In concert

What: Henry Kapono's "Home in the Islands" concert:
Date: Friday, April 18, 7:30 p.m.
Place: Waikiki Shell
Tickets: Free, at all Shell stations
Call: 593-8333

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