this a reunion
Kalapana has been singingBy John Berger
and playing continuously
since the '80s
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Vietnam veteran Malani Bilyeu was playing a solo gig at The Oar House when two men heard him singing, came in see who it was, and stayed for several hours.
"They were actually on their way to talk to D.J. (Pratt), but they heard me singing and they came in. The bartender sent me up a note, 'Cecilio & Kapono's managers are here! Play your best songs.' So I started jamming -- 'Summertime Blues' and acoustic Led Zeppelin -- for like two hours straight, and they stayed, and when I was finished they asked me if I'd like in as one of the singers in a new group they were putting together."
The year was 1973. The new group was Kalapana. Two decades later Kalapana's music is as popular as ever and the band is commemorating its 25th anniversary Sunday at the Waikiki Shell. The celebration continues with concerts on the neighbor islands through the end of November.
Kalapana has survived that quarter-century surprisingly well. The original line-up of Bilyeu, Pratt, Mackey Feary and Kirk Thompson lasted through two of the biggest local albums of the decade -- "Kalapana" and "Kalapana II." Drummer Alvin Fejerang and saxophonist Michael Paulo played as studio sidemen on both albums; they became official members of the group along with Randy Aloya after Feary quit and formed his own group.
Kalapana has existed as a tight-knit quintet -- Bilyeu, Feary, Pratt, Gaylord Holomalia (keyboards) and Kenji Sano (bass) -- since the early '80s.
"To today I have fun with Kalapana. They're some of the best musicians in the state. If anything it's better because I'm more mature, I'm out of the drug scene, I have a family that I live and work for, and if playing music is a 'job' this is a great job!"
"The thing people misunderstand is that our concerts aren't 'reunions.' We had that one big break-up years ago for business reasons, but we've been together now non-stop for 15 years." Bilyeu has enjoyed considerable success has a solo recording artist along the way; "Molokai Sweet Home," from his first solo album, "Islands," is a contemporary local standard. His first Christian album, "Saved," won him a Na Ho-ku Hanohano Award in 1995.
"From the time I got into music I never thought about doing anything else, or what I would do if I stopped," Bilyeu says. He lives on Kauai and enjoys playing hotels as a soloist when he's not touring or recording with Kalapana.
"I have a lot of fun. I play everything from Nat King Cole to Elvis Presley to the Cazimeros. The people don't know me, so if they love the music it tells me something about myself as a performer outside Kalapana," he says.
He tours with Kalapana "about three times a year" in addition to the group's recording projects. Bilyeu is also working with Mau-rice Bega on what he des-cribes as an "almost Crosby Stills & Nash Hawaiian-type group."
Bilyeu looks back at the success of C&K and Kalapana in the '70s and says there seems to be less interest in original local music here these days.
"The whole concept of Kalapana was to expose contemporary Hawaiian music to the mainland. In our starting days, originality was what it was all about. The radio stations were into originals, and that was all we recorded. I think there's still room for that now, but if people only hear remakes getting play, that's all they'll know. Let's bring the originality back. If sovereignty (advocates) want to do something, let's start there!"
Bilyeu notes that Kalapana's music has evolved over the years. That's nothing new -- "Kalapana III" had a distinctly different sound than the first two albums. He and Feary are still the group's primary songwriters but they all take part in the creative process.
"Japan loves us still, and we love playing there. We've been planning to pick up the pace for the group and renew our relationship with the Hawaiian public. I know there were times that we took our music beyond the original concept that was big here, but our last couple of albums have been more like the first ones. Different, but similar in some ways."
They Now?Ex-Kalapana band members have moved on:
Randy Aloya has been working with John Cruz.
Alvin Fejerang lives on the mainland.
Michael Paulo played with Al Jarreau for years. Now heads his own LA-based record label.
Kirk Thompson has his own recording studio in Honolulu.
In concert: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Place: Waikiki Shell
Neighbor island dates: Kona, Nov. 14; Maui, Nov. 21; Kauai, Nov. 22