Celebrate 50 years of good times with Henry Kapono, who returns to Tom Moffatt Waikīkī Shell Aug. 26 to perform many of his timeless classics.
Vocalist? Check. Guitarist? Check. Songwriter? Check. With all his abilities, it’s clear why the very talented Henry Kapono has accumulated nearly two dozen Nā Hōkū Hanohano Awards throughout his music career.
Most music fans know the accomplished songwriter/entertainer for all the wonderful songs he produced as one-half of the group Cecilio & Kapono. C&K was formed in the early ’70s, and Kapono still fondly points to the moment he realized he and Cecilio Rodriguez would form a great team. As he recalls, a mutual friend thought the two musicians would sound good together, so a meeting was arranged and the young musicians started jamming. Almost immediately, their connection was undeniable.
“We clicked right away — our voices, our harmonies, it was just there,” remembers Kapono. “It was meant to be.”
Still, it took some time for the pair to find their footing in the music industry. While waiting for their big break, the two performed at a venue called Rainbow Villa, but were faced with disappointing turnouts.
“We played there the first three months and it was nobody — nobody came, nobody knew us,” Kapono says.
It wasn’t until C&K opened for Frank Zappa that fans began to notice the duo’s considerable talents.
“That changed our whole career. After that Frank Zappa concert, the (Rainbow Villa) was packed for eight months,” Kapono says. “It was amazing. We were having fun — everybody was having fun.”
While C&K may have had a rough start, the group went from performing for no one at Rainbow Villa to later breaking attendance records at Tom Moffatt Waikīkī Shell — the place where the duo held its first sold-out concert in 1973.
On Aug. 26, Kapono’s career comes full circle as he returns to the Waikīkī venue for his Lifetime Party concert. Naturally, he’s tickled to be back in familiar surroundings, performing before many familiar faces.
“It feels good to come back. We’ve played the Waikīkī Shell many times, but this makes it real special,” he shares. “This has been 50 years of music — of good music, of good times, friends, a lifetime party.”
The concert pays tribute to the songs of C&K and highlights songs from throughout Kapono’s career. Hosted by Billy V, the event brings together some of the islands’ finest musicians: Nā Leo, Mākaha Sons, Kimié Miner, Brother Noland and more.
“My favorite part of being a musician is making people happy,” Kapono adds. “Music really has the power to move people. And I just chose to move people in the right direction — the direction I want to be at.”
When it comes to writing, he still draws inspiration from his surroundings and takes note of what people do and say. When that inspiration hits, he says it’s best to “grab it as fast as you can.”
“I would say 99% of my songs — maybe even 100% of my songs, are all toward positivity,” he explains. “There’s enough people that make negative songs and I choose to keep it positive so that it empowers people to feel good about everything.”
While he’s responsible for a catalog of memorable hits, Kapono points to two songs in particular that are especially meaningful: Sailing and Friends. The former holds a special place in his heart because it was written for his father, while the latter is dedicated to, you guessed it, his many longtime friends.
A third song, Home in the Islands, resonates favorably with him, too.
“It got me to realize how much we have here in Hawai‘i and that this place is where I want to be,” Kapono shares. “There’s a lot of songs — they all mean something to me and take me to a different place that I was at the time when I wrote it.”
This year, the Henry Kapono Foundation is celebrating its fifth anniversary. It was established to uplift the local music industry through programs, grants and educational resources. Because he feels blessed to have grown up surrounded by music and the aloha spirit, Kapono chose to pay it forward by supporting music programs, and providing career guidance and performance opportunities to emerging musicians.
“I’m so proud of the foundation. My Henry Kapono team is doing a great job and I can’t ask for more,” the musician says. “We’re really helping artists to navigate throughout their sound. We’re just trying to do the right thing for the right reasons and getting musicians to understand the music industry, and get them thriving in this business because it’s a great business.”
One such artist is up-and-comer Ryan Perez, whose reggae stylings will be featured at the Lifetime Party concert.
“We’re putting him on the big stage at Waikīkī Shell, giving him an opportunity to show people what kind of musician he is, what kind of person he is,” Kapono says. “I’m thrilled to have him in the show. He’s very talented.”
When considering all that he’s accomplished in the past five decades, Kapono realizes how lucky he’s been.
“I found my path in the music industry and I was fortunate to hook up with Cecilio,” he says. “I think it was something that was meant to be. It just makes me feel great. I have this legacy behind me now that I’ve created.
“The business is tough, but the music is what gets us through,” he adds. “I’m a smarter musician — a smarter human being. I think I’m a better human being from when I first started.”
To those who dream of becoming part of the music industry, Kapono insists that commitment is a must.
“You have to be real passionate if you want to fulfill your dream,” he shares. “Don’t give up because you’re going to run into a lot of hurdles, and you need to either jump over them or go around them — or learn about them and continue your journey. You have to believe in yourself.”
This summer is turning out to be a memorable one for Kapono. Not only is he on tour, but he has received new accolades to add to his list of career achievements.
His alma mater recently bestowed upon him Punahou Alumni Association’s most prestigious honor: The “O” in Life Award. It recognizes an individual who exemplifies the ideals of service to the school and surrounding community.
“I was blown away,” says Kapono. “I’m just so grateful that I’m being recognized for being a part of the community that I’m in, the island I love.”
Earlier this month, Kapono was also recognized by Duke’s Waikīkī, receiving its 2023 Ho‘okahiko Award for his ongoing commitment to perpetuating Hawaiian culture through music as well as his philanthropic support in the community.
Duke’s on Sunday at Outrigger Waikīkī Beach Resort is Hawai‘i’s longest-running live music event at a single location.
“I’ve been with them for 30 years, and I feel honored and humbled to be recognized and be their family member,” Kapono shares. “They’re a great organization. The staff, and everybody, they share the aloha.”
Guests can find Kapono performing there from 4 to 6 p.m. every Sunday.
“Playing at Duke’s was my way of giving back to the community,” Kapono notes. “Giving back to people, giving the music, the love, and bringing them some joy and happiness on a Sunday afternoon.”
Kapono says his time at Duke’s has been extremely rewarding.
“It just makes me feel like I’m doing something good,” he says. “I’m doing something right with the gift that I’ve been given — the gift of music. (There’s) nothing better than that feeling of watching people enjoy the music, enjoy the day.”
Kapono is excited to continue sharing his gift of music and perform songs that greatly impacted his life at the Lifetime Party concert.
“I just want to thank the fans for supporting me all these years,” he says. “I would love to see them at the concert, and just enjoy the lifetime party that we’ve had together, all those good times.”
For ticket information, visit ticketmaster.com. Following the 7 p.m. concert at Waikīkī Shell, Kapono continues his tour on Sept. 9 at Porter Pavilion on Kaua‘i, Sept. 16 at Kahilu Theatre on Hawai‘i island and a benefit concert on Sept. 23 at Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
FRIENDS OF MAUI
In response to the pandemic, the Henry Kapono Foundation extended nearly $200,000 in support to more than 360 musical families in Hawai‘i facing hardship. The foundation’s commitment to the community continues, as a portion of concert ticket sales will go to the Henry Kapono Foundation.
Additionally, the foundation’s We Are Friends Maui initiative will give $500 gift cards to professional entertainers who have been directly impacted by the Maui wildfires.
Visit henrykaponofoundation.org for more information.