In the early 1970’s, Henry Kapono played in the popular duo Cecilio & Kapono. At the time, C&K set a precedent for contemporary Hawaiian music. After eight highly successful albums together, Kapono went solo and produced 12 more, eventually increasing his Na Hoku Hanohano award count to nine. But Kapono is not done setting precedents.
His latest album, Wild Hawaiian, released just a couple months ago, has been getting tons of media and public attention for its bold, edgy rock twist—all in Hawaiian language—on traditional Hawaiian songs. We recently talked to Kapono by phone about it.
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: What does it mean to be a “Wild Hawaiian?”
HENRY KAPONO: It’s just about trying to go beyond yourself, not getting stuck in everyday life—to go towards what you believe in. At least for me, it really means to get out of myself and move forward.
So that really could apply to the music on this album, as well, in the sense that it feels more “free,” creatively.
Exactly. “Free” is a good word for it. It frees you up from a lot of things that hold you back. Once you realize it’s all forward motion, it’s the right thing to do and the right place to go.
Your album is being touted as part of the latest wave of new Hawaiian music. How do you define this new sound?
I termed it more alter-native. It’s a cultural thing. It has rock, pop—mostly those elements.
Who were some of your musical influences for this particular album?
Well, obviously Jimi Hendrix. And Sting, Green Day…
Excuse me—did you just say Green Day?
[Laughs] Yeah. I just really liked the sound and the attitude of American Idiot. You know, right from the beginning, it really grabs you. And I didn’t realize it, but it’s a concept album also. So this is what I wanted to sound like, and what I wanted to do.
And yet you fuse those contemporary elements with traditional, like Hawaiian language and stories about Hawaiian chiefs and stuff.
It’s a forward movement—bringing the past back and moving it forward. Because if it gets lost, all we have left is books. For this album, I wanted to get people to dance, and to sing along. But I also wanted to be celebrating a culture. That way we get more people interested. So we’re setting a new groove movement—a groovement.
How did you feel when you first debuted this new sound? Were you worried about your older fans’ reactions?
I was excited. It was received really well. A lot of people didn’t know what to expect, but it was entertaining, fun and positive. Everyone was expecting the standard Henry Kapono but we just tried to move that forward. I don’t always love what I’ve done, and I find that more people out there are looking for something new. Everyone gets put into a box and I’m putting myself into a new box, in order to reach more people. Whereas the music before was about having fun, this goes a little beyond that. There’s an importance to it.
A lot of the songs on this album focus on Hawaiian pride—love for the land, people and culture of Hawai`i—ending with a very poignant rendition of “Ke Aloha O Ka Haku—Queen’s Prayer.” Is this album a reaction to current issues of overdevelopment, and sovereignty?
I really wasn’t thinking about that. The whole album, without even knowing I was doing—these are songs I loved as a kid—I realize is about my life, growing up and who I am, and what I believe in. As for the “Queen’s Prayer,” I think what [Queen Lili`uokalani] was saying—things happened in the past, and we should step away from that and make changes as we move forward. We can put ourselves in a position where we can educate ourselves, do something and make a difference. MTW