Song of the Islands: Santa Monica Goes Hawaiian

Henry Kapono

Those who have been lucky enough to visit the Pacific Islands and to even be blessed by the opportunity to live there (as this “Native” New Yorker was for 23 years) continue to frequently feel the lure of the isles. I still regularly dream of Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii and Micronesia and am constantly patting myself on the back for having had the foresight at the tender age of 21 to move to Oceania. One way transplanted indigenous and local people, former tourists and residents have for replenishing their roots and love of those far away islands is by attending Pacific-oriented cultural events when they are available.


The concert by the legendary musicians Keola Beamer and Henry Kapono provided isle “expatriate” Californians longing to return to Polynesia with an opportunity to dust off our Aloha shirts and bask in a cascade of “ono” (delicious) Hawaiian music at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center Eli and Edythe Broad Stage. For a couple of hours we were able to imagine ourselves, as Kapono eloquently expresses it in one of his most famous songs, as being back “Home In the Islands” and experience that ineffable, loving, welcoming “Aloha Spirit” Hawaii is so well known for.


The concert, which took place on the final night of their three week tour, got off to a great, authentic and early “chicken skin” start. “Mele” (traditional chanting) and hula was performed by two female dancers accompanied by a male pounding an “ipo” (gourd) on the steps above the Broad Stage’s lobby. The barefoot performers in long white dresses, feathers and kukui nuts regaled the throng with songs about shells from the island of Niihau (a privately-owned isle near Kauai inhabited mostly by Natives and where Hawaiian is the main language) and more.


This set the stage for the concert per se inside of the 500-plus seat auditorium, which was nearly sold out as Kapono opened the show. Henry looked fit but I was shocked that his trademark wavy hair had been shorn. Holy Delilah there, Samson! The last time I’d seen him was back in the 1990s, when I still lived in Makaha, and my daughter, the Samoan songbird Marina Davis, and her then girl group trio Ma-V-Elle played at Honolulu’s iconic Aloha Tower with Kapono, whose thick hair then was chest-length.


As he began playing onstage at the Broad Henry actually commented on the length of hair, although this of course had no bearing on how well he performed. Despite Kapono’s being, according to press notes, pure Hawaiian, his garb and solo set were more in the pop than the Polynesian mode. Henry had actually attained success in the 1970s as half of Cecilio & Kapono, which infused Hawaiian music with contemporary genres such as rock and soul. (Santa Barbara-born Cecilio David Rodriguez is actually of Mexican ancestry and has served prison time for child molestation.) The duet recorded at least three albums for Columbia Records and Kapono serenaded the Broad audience with some of their hits, such as the mellifluous “Sailin’”, which Henry preceded with some spoken recollections of his father, who had inspired the melodious song.


Kapono also performed some of his solo hits. Accompanying himself on his acoustic guitar Henry played the aforementioned “Home in the Islands”, which he had composed. With its rocking beat “Home” may be his best known, beloved non-Cecilio song and is arguably a pro-Hawaii anthem of sorts that extols the virtues of the Aloha State.


While Kapono sported a more pop persona and sound, Keola Beamer was, relatively speaking, “kanak to da max” with his Hawaiian style garb, banter between tunes, and above all his choice and execution of music, sometimes accompanied with hulas danced by Moanalani. Keola alternately played two different acoustic guitars - but not only strumming them. Rather remarkably, he sometimes used them as percussive instruments, pounding or rather tapping out rhythms. The delighted aud was treated to this virtuoso “guitar-manship” (to coin a term), raptly watching as well as listening to him. This hard working musician be a living master of slack key guitar, but he’s no slacker!


Keola seems to understand the rarefied plane his superb playing traipses upon. With his repartee about small kid days on a ranch at Maui’s Mauna Kea, married life with Moanalani and so on, he seemed to be perpetually amusing himself and quite self-satisfied. As if the audience was just an excuse for his own gratification, giving him an excuse to sing his compositions during the show containing an intermission. He particularly had a good time crooning the lighthearted, randy “Sweet Okole”, about his younger wahine chasing days when Keola was still single (okole is Hawaiian for, uh, derriere).


Like Henry, Keola had long been part of a pair (with long hair). I saw the Beamer Brothers live in a Waikiki club or restaurant circa 1979 with my Mom. So it was natural during their recent tour that these two musical icons who’d emerged out of the 1970s Hawaiian Renaissance (a resurgence of indigenous culture and the fight for Native rights) would jam together on the Broad’s boards. Beamer and Kapono jointly played a lovely rendition of Olomana’s “Ku’u Home O Kahaluu”, a poignant rumination on and reminiscence of Kahaluu (where I once lived at Windward Oahu) about Hawaii’s transitions: “I remember days when we were younger… Change is a strange thing, It cannot be denied, It can help you find yourself, Or make you lose your pride.


If memory serves correctly, these twin titans of Hawaiian music also joined forces to render “Honolulu City Lights”, which is the Beamers’ anthem and biggest hit. Like Henry’s “Home in the Islands” the popular “Lights” also deals with the theme of no matter how far one’s travels may take islanders away, Hawaii always remains their eternal, beloved homeland.


The two also played together during the “hana hou” or encores, and had the audience stand and hold hands for a touching rendition of “Hawaii Aloha.” Thousands of miles away from those specks in the vast Pacific Ocean, Kapono and Beamer beamed their listeners up, like a musical “Star Trek”, bringing them back to the Hawaii they were yearning for.


Wearing my best Hilo Hattie Aloha Shirt and fishhook necklace I attended Henry and Keola’s concert with my longtime Hawaiian friend Matt Locey, an assistant director of TV shows and movies since the Magnum days. In 1989 Matt and I co-founded the South Seas Cinema Society, a fan club dedicated to Pacific Island films. After the songfest we had the opportunity to meet up with Beamer and Kapono who were signing their CDs. Matt had worked on several productions with Henry and they reminisced. Kapono and I discussed my Samoan soprano daughter Marina Davis and he seemed genuinely pleased that she has continued her singing career, recently performing at gigs in Utah and Brisbane’s casino over New Year’s Eve.


A good time was had by all (but I suspect none more than by that mirthful Maui resident Keola) and I enjoyed the blast from the past. As the haunting lyrics of “Ku’u Home O Kahaluu” say: “Last night I dreamt I was returning, And my heart called out to you…” I am looking forward to when my nighttime dreamy excursions are turned into reality, when I ship out aboard the cargo/cruiser Aranui (, for a voyage to the Marquesas, located between Tahiti and Hawaii. During this 40th anniversary commemoration of another singer associated with Polynesia, Jacques Brel (, I’ll physically be back in those islands which I so often mentally inhabit, and which Kapono and Beamer’s songs of the island briefly brought me back to.


Keola Beamer and Henry Kapono took place Feb. 1 at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street Santa Monica, CA 90401. For tickets and info about upcoming programs there: ; (310)434-3200. For info about and CDs by Henry Kapono and Keola Beamer see: and .


The third edition of “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” co-authored by L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Rampell drops in March 2018. (See:





Keola Beamer at the Broad Stage