Cecilio Rodriguez, left, and Henry Kapono will perform together again today and Saturday at Kapono's.

C & K back
together again

29 years' of good times
continue with 2 shows

By John Berger

It all began with an invitation from Diego Garcia, an isolated island that's an American military base in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Would Cecilio & Kapono be interested in playing a Fourth of July concert for the military personnel stationed there?

"The timing was good ... and the purpose was good," Henry Kapono said last week over lunch at his namesake club at Aloha Tower Marketplace. He and Cecilio Rodriguez got such a good vibe from the show, and at a followup fund-raiser concert for typhoon-ravaged Guam, that they decided to do two more this weekend -- at Kapono's, of course.

"It's fun for us to get together and make the music, seeing everybody out there ... still wanting the magic of C&K," Rodriguez said.

Kapono said he and Cee are planning to do "definitely at least an hour-and-a-half to two hours" at each show. (Ike Pono, Reign and Juke Joint also will perform tonight; Inoa'ole, Guy Cruz and Reign will share the stage tomorrow.)

Cecilio Rodriguez and Henry Kapono at the Waikiki Shell.

It's hard to believe, for those who knew the duo since day one, that it's been 29 years since Rodriguez and Kapono were introduced to each other by mutual friends who thought they might sound good together.

Within a year, Cecilio & Kapono had been signed to a three-album deal by Columbia Records, one of the few local acts in any genre of music to be signed out of Hawaii by a major label in the 1970s. Many of the songs on their three Columbia albums, such as "About You," "Friends," "Highway In The Sun," "Lifetime Party," "Someday" and "Sunshine Love," have become local standards. Almost all of their repertoire consisted of originals written by either Cee or Henry, and most of them got plenty of air play on progressive local radio stations back in the day, like KKUA and Stereo Wave 93.1 KQMQ.

Hoku Award-winners as both a duo and as individuals, Rodriguez and Kapono are concerned that local radio stations haven't seemed very open to original songs and new ideas in recent years. Where is the local radio station in 2002 that would take a chance on an unknown duo playing original songs?

"In the last five, six, 10 years ... (radio stations) have done all the reggae and the cover tunes, whereas when Cee and I were starting off, there were a lot of very memorable songs and artists as well. A lot of people were into writing their own stuff. I think now it's starting to turn around and come back to that again."

Kapono was in fact one of the first local musicians to write a song that utilized reggae rhythms. "Stand in the Light" became his first solo hit back in 1981. It was one of several early reggae-influenced songs (others were "Coconut Girl" and "Sweet Lady Of Waiahole") that incorporated Jamaican rhythms without becoming copycat imitations. These three songs have become local classics.

"There was a lot of originality happening then," Kapono said. "Kalapana, Country Comfort, Olomana -- they were all coming out with their own style and it was a pretty neat period of time for music. That stuff has lasted til now."

"When we write songs, we're not making an attempt to cop a style," Rodriguez said. "When we write a song, it sort of tells us what style it's going to be by virtue of the words (and) the melody. When I wrote 'Banana Road' ... I had no idea it was going to be a reggae tune, it just turned out that way. It was not meant to sound like a Jamaican song but a C&K song."

Rodriguez adds that he's not hearing much originality in local "island music" these days.

"That sense of originality is not the way that it used to be when Henry and I were making music back then. The pride of writing, the originality of content -- both lyrically and melodically -- is almost nonexistent (but) there are some groups out there right now that are good, that do stand out against the rest of the stuff that's out there."

Rodriguez says that rather than chase a sound and copy someone else's success, the secret to writing memorable songs is creating your own sound.

"We've always felt that we have to do our thing. When we recorded, we knew that the primary thing was our vocals; everything around it was for support of that. No matter what we surrounded ourselves with (in the studio), we could always sing that song -- just the two of us, with two guitars."

Something else that's changed as well, Cee and Henry both agree, is that nowadays a young group can often find a local record producer willing to record them before they've learned how to entertain a crowd, let alone more than a 20-minute set. In contrast, Cee and Henry came up at a time when you "paid your dues" and learned your craft before you stepped into a recording studio. In fact, they were veteran entertainers whose natural talent had been honed by years of club work by the time they met -- Rodriguez had already been playing professionally for 15 years and Kapono did a lengthy tour of American bases in Southeast Asia (with some gigs within artillery range of Communist forces) and a solo gig in Waikiki.

Kapono says the experience of traveling and playing clubs was crucial to his development as both a performer and a songwriter.

"I learned a lot when I traveled to the Far East because I had a lot of time to kill over there. When I came back home, I felt so much freedom. After everything I saw in that war zone, I was spiritually happy to be home. That helped me with my music to write songs about being happy and having a good time. Cee and I, when we met, we were both doing the same thing and thinking the same way."

And now, 29 years later, Cecilio & Kapono are getting together again to play their music, sharing the spirit of what has been remembered as a high-water mark in local music history.

Cecilio & Kapono

With Ike Pono, Reign and Juke Joint tonight; and Inoa'ole, Guy Cruz and Reign tomorrow

Where: Kapono's at Aloha Tower Marketplace
When: 6 p.m. today and tomorrow
Tickets: $15 pre-sale available at Kapono's only (no phone orders); $20
at the door on a space-available basis, 21 and over
Call: 536-2161

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