producer

GREAT PERFORMANCES
Driving Miss Daisy


 

Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play comes to television, with performances
by Angela Lansbury as a well-to-do Jewish matron and James Earl Jones as her
African American chauffeur. The twosome’s unlikely friendship evolves during
the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights era.

 

LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert

 

The New York Philharmonic’s acclaimed production of Stephen Sondheim’s iconic musical thriller tells the story of the barber who, with his romantically inclined landlady, Mrs. Lovett the pie maker, seeks vengeance on what he considers a merciless world. The remarkable cast features bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the title role and Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett.

 

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET
The Merry Widow

 

Broadway director and choreographer Susan Stroman makes her Met debut with a lavish new staging of Franz Lehár’s effervescent operetta. Soprano Renée Fleming adds a new character to her Met repertory as Hanna, the widowed millionairess. Sir Andrew Davis conducts a stellar cast that includes baritone Nathan Gunn as Danilo; tenor Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon; and baritone Sir Thomas Allen as Baron Zeta. Broadway star Kelli O’Hara makes her Met debut as Zeta’s wife, Valencienne. The operetta is performed in English. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato hosts.

 

Hitmakers

 

Get an up-close look at the music industry’s resilience in the digital age, from the perspective of groundbreaking artists, music label mavericks and game-changing managers. These crucial players have shaped the music business over the past 100 years, changing pop culture in the process. Today’s artists challenge the paradigm further, taking control of their careers and sometimes shucking the system altogether to record and release music on their own. Record labels large and small also have found they must innovate to thrive. The special features interviews and performances from artists such as Melissa Etheridge, The Roots’ Questlove, Sharon Jones, DJ/producer Steve Aoki and many more.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Robert Cazimero

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 29, 2008

 

Award-Winning Singer, Songwriter and Kumu Hula

 

Robert Cazimero, award-winning singer, songwriter and kumu hula, joins Leslie Wilcox for a good-fun, talk story session in which the two share laughter, tears and touching stories of living and loving – including stories about The Brothers Cazimero (Robert and his brother Roland) who’ve led a resurgence of Hawaiian music, language, dance and culture since the 1970s.

 

In part two of a two-part, good-fun, talk story session. Robert shares stories about his hula halau, the all-male Halau Na Kamalei.

 

Robert Cazimero Audio

 

Robert Cazimero Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and mahalo for joining me for another conversation on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Robert Cazimero is familiar to us in Hawaii as half of the Brothers Cazimero, the award-winning and highly successful musical duo. He’s well-known. But how well do you know him? When he speaks publicly, it’s almost always about an upcoming May Day concert, new recording, new DVD, a planned performance. Or he’s having a fundraiser for his all- male hula halau, Na Kamalei. Coming up next – we ask Robert to talk about the person, not public events. Part One of a delightful, two-part conversation with Robert Cazimero.

 

The Brothers Cazimero, Robert and Roland, were leaders in the 1970s resurgence of Hawaiian music and culture. More than 30 years later, they continue to record and they perform locally, on the Mainland, abroad. Robert is also kumu hula of the all-male Halau Na Kamalei.

 

I know you as a singer, a performer and a kumu hula; but where did all this start?

 

Well, I don’t know how far back you want to go, but I’ll start with being born.

 

Okay.

 

Now, our parents, Roland and my parents were music people; they were entertainers. So we fell into that immediately because we were surrounded by it.

 

Did they perform in Waikiki?

 

Actually, not so much in Waikiki, although they did do that. Mostly for the military clubs and for private parties. And they played standards; the old mainland standards. So we learned to play that kind of music as well as Hawaiian music.

 

Whats an example of a mainland standard?

 

Well you know like, Our Love Is Here To Stay, for example, and Please Release Me, and stuff like that. So we do that, besides Kane‘ohe and Royal Hawaiian Hotel. And so it started there. And we thought everybody else did the same thing in all the houses that surrounded us there in Kalihi, until you know, we found out different. And then we went to high school, and we got more involved with that. In high school I met my kumu hula, Maiki Aiu Lake. And as she left the class that she had come to speak with, which was the class we were in, she told me; she says, You know, someday you’re gonna want to teach hula, and you know, You’ll want to take hula, she said; and I’m going to be that teacher. And I was like –

 

Did she know anything about you?

 

Well, I had just played the piano for her to sing the song that she had come to talk about. And so she – but no, she just told me that. And at the time, it didn’t really register, the depth of what she had said. So I said, Okay; and then went to lunch. You know, sort of like today, actually.

 

[chuckle]

 

And then years later, I found myself at her door, of her school. So I went to the university, I took voice lessons when I was there. I would fight with my teacher every day. His name was Jerry Gordon, a really nice guy. I kept saying to him, There are a lot of people who sing your style, but not enough people who sing my style. So I’ll do what you want in class, and then I won’t do what you want –

 

Whats your style?

 

I think it’s more – at the time, I thought it was more laid back, island, floaty. You know, and what he wanted was something that was a bit more pronounced, more exact, full of history of a far-away land. I mean, Italy; when you’re from Kalihi, you don’t think so much about Italy. You know, so …

 

So it wasn’t just how you sang, but what he wanted you to sing about.

 

Yes. What he wanted me to sing about, and how it was presented. You know, because when I sang Hawaiian music, it was much more laid back and I would not say apologetic. But I mean, it was a step back. When I was taking voice lessons from him, it was definitely, you were out there. You know. So I was there with him for a few years, and then I left school because well, our careers started to take off with the Sunday Manoa, first, and then –

 

Well, now, what happened to the 60s and rock and roll? Were you part of that?

 

Of course. Yeah; yeah. Loved the rock and roll years. Yeah; I was definitely there. We thought that The Platters were cool. And Roland was a real big fan of Jimmy Hendrix; real big. And we got all into that. You know, I didn’t – we didn’t get so much into the drugs of it, as much as we did the music.

 

Mhm.

 

We really liked the music. And the fact that, you know, we’re the original Flower People, so we were like out there.

 

[chuckle] People talk freely about how you were instrumental in that Hawaiian renaissance; the music and language, and everything that came with it.

 

M-hm. You know, people do speak freely about the fact that we were there at the start of the renaissance, and leading the way. We had no idea. We had no idea we were leading the way for anybody, or to anything. We were just there, having a good time. We were just so happy to have people standing in line out there at Chuck’s Cellar in Waikiki, not to come for steaks, but to listen to us play music. You know, so we really had no time to think about this whole idea of the renaissance, until maybe like two or three years after we had already been in it, and someone brought it up and said, What was it like? And we were like, Oh well. You know, it was very interesting, and it was fun, and –

 

Well, when you would go out for gigs, did you and Roland think about, you know, your marketing plan, and who your audience was and how to tailor your music? Anything like that?

 

No. We were just as wild on stage as we were, you know, at home. We were doing what we were doing. Roland and I used to go to work in caftans and get on stage and change, and then on the breaks, we’d wear these caftans, walking around the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know.

 

They’d never seen anything like that before.

 

Well, no. I would wake up in the morning, and cut my bedspread, and throw it on, and go to school at the university. ‘Cause it was the ‘60s, and you were supposed to wear your bedspread to school, or something like that. So yeah. It was never really planned out or strategically, or any kind of game plan, or –

 

But it was just who you were. You were doing what you were.

 

Yeah. And we were still kinda deciding what we were, and what we were doing. You know. And lots of experimentation in so many different facets. Lots of experimentation. So –

 

Did you do all kinds of music, or did you do just Hawaiian?

 

Well, at the time, with the Sunday Manoa, we kinda like felt like we should stay in this niche of Hawaiian music, you know. But the influences of like big things that were happening on the mainland became a part of what was entwined with the Hawaiian music. Yeah. So …

 

So Chuck’s Cellar was your Sunday Manoa time.

 

Was – yeah – was the very beginning, when we became known. Yeah. And I was 19 years old at the time.

 

Did you get all big-headed?

 

No, because we were change – you know, if you thought – there we go again. Just to make sure you knew you weren’t that important, we would change in the parking lot. There was no dressing room, you know, and you still got $15 for the whole gig. You know, so yeah. There was no way you could get big head. As the career got to be better and better, some people would say, You know, you folks are getting to be so Waikiki, so mainland. You know, you’re forgetting where you’re coming from. Well, let me just say, there is no way you can ever, ever forget that you’re from Kalihi, I don’t care what you try to do in your life, you know. And after a while, it gets to the point where it’s a time that is so beautiful, and so worth being a part of, that you never, ever want to forget. You know, I’m proud that I’m a Kalihi guy.

 

What part of Kalihi were you raised in?

 

We would say Waena. So it’d be like Kam IV Road, where you know, we were there before they built that monstrosity, the Kuhio Park Terrace. So in the old days, from the roof of our house, or the back porch actually, you could see the fireworks at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. You can’t anymore.

 

Wow; amazing.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

And you always lived in the same place as you were growing up?

 

M-hm. And I finally moved out, gee many, many years later. ‘Cause our mom had Alzheimer’s for something like 15 years. And I had come home one day, and she had washed all my silk clothes in Clorox. And I knew that it was time to go.

 

Mm.

 

So I left, and I never looked back. [chuckle] Roland still has the house.

 

Both of the Brothers Cazimero, Robert and Roland, are masters of their craft and consummate performers. But you’d never mistake one for the other. Different lifestyles, different approaches; but as artists and businessmen, the same respect for each other.

 

I really learned how to talk, to be comfortable in front of a crowd through Loyal Garner – watching her perform. Really too, the Society of Seven, as far as flow is concerned, in a show. And our friend Gramps, who was very influential, and my kumu, Maiki; watching them. Of course, now, there are the other influences, like Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Kenny Rankin, who I would listen to for hours. I’d play his records, and I would listen to his style, and try to mimic it. And if he was gonna hold it for these many measures, I was gonna hold it for that many measures, and one more. You know.

 

And you always thought you would go into music professionally?

 

No; because getting back to this brother and sister thing. The brother above me, Rodney, was the one who we considered the voice in the family. So it was very difficult, after he went into the service, for me to start singing, and then to have to sing in front of him. So that was something we all had to learn about; how to handle things like that.

 

Because …

 

Just the whole respect thing; that he was the older one. And still is. And I still think that of all of us, he has the most beautiful voice.

 

And how much does he sing now?

 

Well, he’s working on a new CD, my brother Rodney is. So I’m very excited for it.

 

Well, Roland seems like chaos.

 

[chuckle] He’s uh –

 

He’s out there.

 

That’s a good way of putting it. You know, he’s really reeled himself in, within the last maybe ten years. But you’re right; he was out there to the max, and over the top, being Roland Cazimero. I mean, he was wild and wooly and the women were everywhere and the liquor and the drugs and the food; and that’s making me sound like I was a prude.

 

[chuckle] And he would probably be late, and you would be on time? Is that how it worked?

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, big fights about that; I tell you. And it was really some difficult times there. But he – yeah; he had a tendency to come to work when he was ready to come to work. Yeah.

 

How about musically; I sense there wasn’t –

 

Incredible.

 

There was not any kind of schism about that?

 

You know, the thing about Roland was that he would come with stuff, because of his life, where it was. It would be so far off of what I thought was Hawaiian but I liked it. You know. And so he would do stuff, and I was like, Okay, let’s put that in and tape. Mind you, another thing about that too is, we had been with the Sunday Manoa, and Peter Moon was the leader at the time. And Peter and Roland got along really well. Because as much as I was grounded in the Hawaiian thing, those two boys were out in the world, and they liked other music and would bring it to the table. After we left Peter, then I had to listen a little bit more to Roland, because he would be the orchestra. I was just gonna be the voice; he was gonna be the orchestra. And it worked out quite nicely, actually.

 

Sure has; and still going strong.

 

Still going strong. And you know what? I can say now that it’s much more fun than it’s ever been. I’ve learned to relax a lot ‘cause you know, I was the one on pins and needles, thinking that I had to like choke his neck to shut up so that I could do a show. And now it’s just to the point where like it really – it sounds like such a cliché, but it’s all really good when it’s me and Roland. ‘Cause we’re just having a really good time, and it’s terrific.

 

Lets talk about Roland and you for a while.

 

Okay.

 

I mean, you’ve had this long career with him.

 

Yes; very long. It’s a marriage, you know.

 

Long, and spectacular. And he’s your brother. I mean, did you folks grow up fighting with each other? Like –

 

All the time.

 

 

Like most siblings do?

 

Yeah; yeah. We fought all the time. But we got to a point – and I think – you know, we really started playing music professionally with our parents in the – well, I started in the latter part of the 60s, or middle 60s. Roland was already playing when he was eight years old. So when we went on our own, and by the time we got to like 1973 or 74, we had pretty much made up our minds that as much as this was show business, we were gonna concentrate more on the business part of it, than the show. I mean, the show would come along, so we knew that pretty much no matter what happened – believe me, dear, a lot has happened that we would stick it out. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t had full-out fights on stage, at the Waikiki Shell on May Day. I mean, not throwing blows, ‘cause people could see that; but I mean throwing words back and forth, and yeah. So it’s been a challenge, but it’s been great all the way.

 

Well, you two seem like such different personalities. I’m actually surprised that you are such an enduring and endearing duo.

 

I think because we embrace two different worlds that we bring everybody in from those different worlds and meld them into the Brothers Cazimero.

 

Well, how do the dynamics of the two of you work?

 

Well, okay; here it goes. We come from a family of twelve kids; eight boys and four girls. And it was understood thing as we were growing up that if our parents were there, the oldest child always was the one who we would listen to. I’m older than Roland by just one year. So …

 

Were you the oldest? No, right?

 

No, no, no; I’m number ten of the twelve, so there are nine above me. And so I would just tell them and they’d have to listen.

 

But you could only boss two other kids.

 

Yeah. Because if I said something, and my older brother or older sister said something over me I would say nothing after that –

 

But you could boss Roland.

 

I could boss Roland, and I could boss my sister, ‘cause she’s the twin to Roland. So although, I wouldn’t call it – Roland would call it bossing. [chuckle] But I wouldn’t.

 

Youre there in your nice aloha shirt and long pants, and he’s in green tights and a sweatshirt sometimes, crossing his legs on the stage.

 

Yes; yes.

 

Its just – it’s so funny, and so beautiful.

 

He does wear some of those clothes. And I have to take credit for some of it, ‘cause I did buy him a few of those things to get him into it at first. And as I grew out of them he just more and more into them. And it causes a lot of trouble for me in other places, I’ll tell you.

 

But he knows who he is, and you know who he is, and you understand each other.

 

Yeah. So there’s no problem there. You know. And we’ll make fun of it, too. He’ll make fun of it; and it’s fine. I like him so much more now, and that’s why we get along so much better.

 

One year difference.

 

Yes; only one year. But I always felt like I was tons years different than he was. Difference, as far as age.

 

Did you always feel like you had to keep the duo together, because he was not disciplined?

 

You know, I don’t know that I felt that way, ‘cause I knew – we had already decided on the business part, so I knew that late or not or whatever indecision, we were still going to be together. But it didn’t mean it didn’t give me heartburn or heartbreak or whatever. Because I was on pins and needles.

 

How much does he surprise you on stage with his comments?

 

Oh, I never really know what my brother’s gonna say; I never do. And sometimes I will say something that will trigger, and I know that it’s triggering something in my mind, and I think to myself, You stupid, stupid –

 

Dont make eye contact, right?

 

Yeah.

 

Dont laugh.

 

I shouldn’t have said that; and sure enough, he picks it up, and he goes, and I tell you, I can’t say anything, because the people are laughing so much, and it’s really so good, and I’m so pissed off.

 

[chuckle]

 

But it’s so funny.

 

It works.

 

Yeah. One time, we were on stage at the Shell; it was Roland, myself, and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. I was between the two of them. And they started on this thing together, and I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. All I know is that the audience was dying outside, and I just said one thing, Leslie; I said just one thing, and I don’t remember what it was. Well I was smashed down like a bug, and I was like, Okay, I’m so staying out of this one.

 

[chuckle]

 

Because Roland and Israel together they were amazing. They had a lot of fun, and a lot of history. So –

 

And that’s part of the fun of entertaining; the interactions, and you feed off each other, right?

 

Yeah.

 

And you become better than –

 

Especially when they’re –

 

– the sum of the parts.

 

– really good, talented people. You know. When you don’t have to say anything or explain anything. So it’s like you and I talking right now. You know, I’ll just say, Okay, you take it, and then you say, You take it, then we’ll both talk together, or finish each other’s sentences. Happens all the time. That’s why I said Roland and I have a relationship that is like, you know, we’ve been married longer than our parents were I think. You know how in Hawaii we tend to call people “Uncle” or “Auntie” as a sign of respect? Here’s a tip, Don’t do that to Robert. You’re about to find out why. And Robert also explains the feeling he’s had for some time, the one that drives him to sing every song like it’s the last time.

 

You know, in terms of experience and achievement, although I don’t know about in terms of age, you’re a kupuna. Are you treated as such?

 

Um some people try.

 

But you don’t let them? [chuckle]

 

No; I don’t.

 

What do you –

 

Another thing I –

 

– tell them? [chuckle]

 

I just – actually, you know what? I I’m very lucky that way. No one sees me as really being a kupuna. But –

 

 

And thats a good thing for you.

 

And that’s a –

 

Thats a –

 

– really good thing.

 

You know, that is a mark of respect, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. I just I do have a rule, though, and it’s, Don’t call me Uncle. Which is my email address, don’t call me uncle.

 

[chuckle]

 

Unless we’re actually related; and if we are related, you gotta mention some names in the family line that I have to recognize. Otherwise, just call me Robert. You know. And I’ve gone through the gamut of people calling me Bobby from when I was a kid; Bobby and Bob, and god, I hate that.

 

Neva Rego calls you Roberto.

 

Oh, well; yeah.

 

You dont correct her. The voice coach you go to.

 

Oh, no; she can call me Roberto for the rest of my life. That’s fine. But the Bobby one makes me a little queasy. But then you know which part of my life they’re from. You know. And –

 

Do you tell people, Call me Robert? I mean, just –

 

Yes; I do.

 

– straight out?

 

Yeah. Hi, Uncle. No; just call me Robert. And you know, you know for Hawaiians, that’s a hard thing, because part of the respect is that you call each other Uncle and Auntie. But I just tell them, like, Don’t –

 

Thats because –

 

Don’t put any kind –

 

– you don’t see yourself as Uncle?

 

It’s because, you know, when you’re in the entertainment business, there is no such thing as age. Once you get out of high school, we’re all the same age. That’s what I say. So, don’t call me Uncle. And don’t call me Auntie, either.

 

[chuckle] Whats your middle name?

 

My middle name is Uluwehionapuaikawekiuokalani.

 

Which means?

 

Which means the verdant – the abundance of flowers at the summit of the sky. And my mother was pregnant, and she didn’t know she was, and my aunt, my Auntie Mary Sing who lives in Kalaupapa – that’s a whole ‘nother story – she called my mom and said, You know you’re gonna, you’re pregnant. And my mother said, No, I’m not. And she said, You’re pregnant; and my mother said, No, I’m not. And she said, Just listen to me; you’re pregnant, here’s the name of the child. So she gave my mother my name.

 

And shes calling from the Hansen’s Disease settlement at Kalaupapa.

 

Yes; she is. So my mother said, Okay. But because of the flowers in the name, o napua, she thought that I was gonna be a girl. Well, anyway; so but I got the name, anyway. And so yeah; sure enough, she was pregnant. She didn’t know it, but she found out from my aunt. And I’ve had that name ever since.

 

Do you think you live up to the name?

 

Oh, I hope so; I hope so. Because the funny thing is, as I graduated kids from my school to their own schools, they’ve taken parts of the name.

 

Oh.

 

And they have it in their school. My niece is my namesake, and she has the same name. And then one of my dancers asked if he could name his son after me. And I said, Yeah; except take out the o napua, take the flowers part out. So this boy, Uluwehiikawekiokalani, is one of the newest members in halau now. He’s dancing in the school. That’s the kinda stuff just blows my mind. I’m just so glad I’m seeing it all happen. You know. It’s really cool.

 

Sometimes you look back at your life, and you go, Wow, if only this hadn’t happened, where would I be.

 

Yes.

 

Was there any one of those moments for you?

 

Yeah. Would have been my seventh grade; if I didn’t go to Kamehameha, that would have been very different. I think that – because if not, I would have gone to Farrington. And for all I know, I could have ended up being a drag queen.

 

Mm.

 

Just scary, you know. For me. Another thing is that you know, I constantly worry about my voice, and in December I have a tendency to catch colds, in December. So I try and be really careful about that. And one year, it got really bad, and I lost my voice. And we were doing three concerts with the Honolulu Symphony. And I did a concert every night, without a voice. I talked my way through the whole thing. And thank God that the people were receptive. Because it was one of the best concerts, ever. So, and then I have to tell you about one other time. Roland and I were performing at the Holiday Inn in San Francisco, near the business district. And we were doing the show; it was Christmastime, and the whole electricity, within like about eight, ten blocks, went out. And the management said, You know, we need to cancel the show. And the people said, No, don’t cancel the show. So they brought out this flashlight, a real big one, like this. And they stood at the back of the room, and they put the flashlight on, and we played the show. And we did like –what would you call that? Like well, unplugged concert. It was one of the most beautiful shows in my life; it was just great. So you know, glad we did something that at first we weren’t gonna do.

 

What do you see as the future of your singing career?

 

You know, it’s kind of difficult for me to think of a future, as far as I’m concerned. Because I just made – well, I’m telling everybody I’m 62, but I’m not. It’s just that they say to me, Wow, you look really good for 62.

 

[chuckle]

 

So that by the time I get there they can say, Well. But I don’t see me being here that long, on this Earth, for this life. So what I really want to project is the fact that we just keep playing and doing the best in what we do. And if we can produce an album or a CD every year until the time of my demise, then I’ll be totally happy.

 

Okay; now, youve just shaken me up. You see yourself as having an untimely or early death?

 

Well, I thought – from when I was a kid, I always thought that I’d be dead by 21. I think it’s in a past life thing of mine. And the other thing was that if I stayed away from home longer than two months, that I would never return home. So that’s why my trips have always been short, and coming back in time. And then the longest one was maybe a little over two months, when Roland and I went with Maiki to Europe. But I always felt that after 21, all these years are real gifts for me. You know.

 

Do you think you, you live more fully every day, because have this –

 

Absolutely.

 

– thought that you might not have a lot of time?

 

Absolutely. You know, when Roland and I were – I don’t know that I’ve ever said this on, you know, for television or anything. But when Roland and I were playing with Peter Moon – this was before 1975; we were working at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and we would get bomb threats in the room. And we would just be playing, and all of a sudden, all the lights would come on. And they would – we’d have to have everybody taken out, and we’d go out, and the cops would come in, or the bomb squad or whatever they were, and they would check the whole room, and then they would say, Okay, it’s okay. Now, this would happen sometimes three times a week. So but I’ll tell you; if you were in the audience after that bomb scare had been nilled, you found yourself at one of the most amazing, amazing shows. Because we sang like it was the last time. So ever since then, I try – I do that now. That whenever I do sing or perform, I do it like it’s my last time. Just in case; just in case.

 

Wow.

 

You know, I really enjoy getting to know people on this program – especially people I did already know, like Robert. He’s got much more to share, including what it takes to get into his respected Halau Na Kamalei, why he expelled his much-loved brother Roland from the halau, and his favorite music lyrics. Please join me and Robert Cazimero for Part Two of a two-part LSS next week on PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

I gotta ask you one more thing.

 

Okay.

 

The local thing with the [clucks tongue].

 

Yeah.

 

Can you tell me about that?

 

[chuckle] We were at the Ala Moana Hotel; in those days, we were upstairs at the Summit, which is now called Aaron’s, I think. And I was singing a song, and there was a man in the audience who was looking at me weird, and then he would say he was just looking at me, and so I said I said, What? He says, You’re singing the wrong words. And I was like, Okay. Then he said, If you want, I’ll teach it to you here by the elevator. So we just sat there, and he taught me the words. The next time I sing it, I’m downstairs at the – we called it the Cave at the time.

 

Mm.

 

The Kama‘aina Room. And there was a woman in the audience, but this time she added that. She’s going, like [clucks tongue]. And I was pissed off. So I said, What? And was like, You’re singing the wrong words. I said, No, I’m not. I learned this from a guy who lives in Keaukaha. And she said, My mother wrote the song.

 

So I sat with her, and I learned it.

 

Again. [chuckle]

 

Again.

 

Robert Cazimero: Part 2

 

Aloha no. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mahalo for joining me for another LS S – another island program produced and broadcast by locally-owned, non-profit PBS Hawaii. When singer Robert Cazimero stopped by to talk with me, one on one, he wasn’t alone. He mentioned that his ancestors, all those who went before, were right behind him. And part of the reason he is driven to meet high standards is the heavy obligation he feels to make them proud. Coming up next – Part Two of a two-part conversation with musical artist Robert Cazimero.

 

Robert Cazimero is more than a successful singer and recording artist. He’s also a most-respected kumu hula – teacher of Hawaiian dance. His all-male hula school is called Halau Na Kamalei. The halau is the subject of a documentary being shown on PBS channels nationwide that explores expectations and stereotypes, following the halau as it prepares for competition. Produced and directed by Lisette Marie Flanary, N           : M     H   shows us Robert Cazimero’s exacting and sometimes harsh teaching style and it reflects his deep devotion to his kumu, the late Maiki Aiu Lake.

 

I had a hard time with that, ‘cause they wanted me to tell stories about my kumu. And you know, outside of the family, we don’t tell stories, because it’s just so personal. You know. I didn’t want to tell stories. And then I said to Lisette, If this will help to show my respect for my teacher, then I’ll do it. Not realizing that it was really gonna show a lot more, and that it was okay. And that what I found out about my students is that they love me like how I love my teacher. [Whispers] Sorry.

 

How easy was it for you to control people’s lives? I mean, you know, kumu hula – That’s a really – – by definition is a –

 

– good question.

 

– control freak, right?

 

Yeah.

 

You know, it

 

Yeah.

 

Im not saying it very graciously, but –

 

No, no, no; it’s true, though. Yeah. And you have – there is such a power in being a kumu hula, you know, that is willingly given to you when the students come in. Because it’s what I did with mine. You know. If she told me to jump off a building, I would have asked, Which one, and how much higher do you want me to go? ‘Cause you just love them, you know. But I didn’t really know how to become a kumu. It’s like being a parent. You really don’t know how to be a mother or father until you have kids, and they teach you how to be that way. It was the same thing with being a teacher. When I started, my kids were like 15, 16 years old, and I was like 23, 24. And the only way I knew how to do it was to scare the well, to scare the –

 

And you used those –

 

– out of them.

 

– words too, right?

 

Yeah.

 

You would swear?

 

Yeah.

 

Youd call them names?

 

Yeah; I did. And they would say to me, You know, I don’t even let my parents talk to me this way. I was like, I’m not your parent; I’m your kumu. So you just better get over it, or there’s the door. And luckily, they stayed. Or luckily, they didn’t beat me up. And by definition, you have to keep order and discipline.

 

How did you decide how hard core you were gonna be as a disciplinarian, as somebody who punishes, or has control over –

 

I just played by –

 

– second chances, third chances?

 

Yeah. I played that by ear. I set really – you know, some really heavy duty rules on them. And if they broke it, then you know, there was no second chance.

 

Whats an example of a heavy duty rule?

 

Well, you know, I did not like drugs. I was never a drug person. I, well, sans liquor. Sometimes.

 

Mm.

 

But yeah. So it’s like, you know, if I knew that you were coming to a performance, and if you were stoned then you’re out, from the performance and the halau, too. You had to be a certain look, you know. No one could – I still say it, although I’m much more lenient now. No student could dance if they were bigger than me. And back then I was almost 300 pounds when I first started. You know. So they all had to make sure that I the clothes, they looked good. Otherwise – ‘cause you know, people don’t really want to see guys dance in clothes; you gotta wear those malo things, and the lawalawas. And I never could wear

them, because well, ‘cause you know. But they had to. You know, ‘cause it was the look, and I wanted to make sure that people knew who we were.

 

Well, at that time, you had the only male halau.

 

Yeah.

 

Is it still the only male halau?

 

You know, I think it is. Because most people have both women and men dancing for them. But it was really Maiki’s dream that I teach only men. And I’ll tell you; like I said, I would have done anything she asked. So I had no problem saying, Okay; I’ll do it. The thing that you need to know about, if you’re gonna – Leslie, you’re ever gonna teach men? You want to –

 

Yes.

 

– be a kumu hula. You’ll be not making any money. And –

 

As opposed to teaching women; you would make money?

 

Women, you can make money. People buy houses by teaching women. Teaching men, you will not make money.

 

Because?

 

They’re not gonna pay you to teach them how to dance hula. They’re – and there go – it goes back my kumu again, who said, If a man dances for you, then it is a privilege that you should have them. So I you know, when I was in halau, I was constantly on scholarship. And so that’s the way I’ve run my halau ever since; that it’s all scholarship.

 

You teach for free?

 

Yeah; yeah. And then when we need money, then we have a fundraiser. Or, if it needs supplementation, I have my career. And I swear, my kumu knew that too. ‘Cause I’m like her. She needs six of these things done, her daughter says, You can’t have the money; she’ll grab her money and do it herself. And I do the same thing. You know, it’s like, Well, no one tells me no when it comes to the halau. But if I want something, and they’re like, You know, we don’t have that much money we’re getting it. Yeah; we’re gonna just do it.

 

As successful as the halau has been, I’ve heard you say in the past that it’s not easy to get men to dance.

 

Yes; yeah. It gets harder and harder as the years go along. Although, a new revelation has come along for us; and that is that now, the sons of my students are dancing for me. And you know, I’ve graduated students as teachers. Four of them are teaching, even as we speak.

 

And thats a legacy.

 

That –

 

Mhm.

 

– really is. But as far as, for me, a real legacy and a continuation, so that I can actually see it myself; having the kids of my dancers with me. It makes me want to live longer. It really does. And it makes me want to be a better teacher, too.

 

How does someone get into your halau? Can any guy get into your halau?

 

Well, no. [chuckle] No, you can’t. You have to be invited.

 

And all of your dancers are part-Hawaiian?

 

No.

 

They’re not?

 

No. No; and I don’t think that’s really important, either. And that comes from my kumu. You know. Because it’s more about the heart, I think, and the fact that once you become a member of my halau, then you are Hawaiian to me, because now you’re not just a member of the halau, but a member of the family.

 

Family; mm.

 

Yeah. And so all my family, all my brothers and sisters, and my nieces and nephews; they all know these guys. And they all know my family. So several years ago, we had a, a family reunion in Kohala, and they said, You know, we’re all going. And I was like, No, you’re not. They was like, Oh, yeah; we are. ‘Cause sister Jean and sister Gerry told us, and cousin Momi, that we’re family. So they all came. We all went to Kohala together and –

 

Whats more important; heart or dancing ability?

 

Oh, right now, today, at this very moment with you and me; heart.

 

But tomorrow, dancing ability?

 

Tomorrow, if we have a show to do and it’s time to get on the stage; dancing ability. But for right now, heart. But it doesn’t mean I’ll get rid of you. You know. Where before, I would get rid of people much faster. Today, I’m much more lenient.

 

Among your students in your halau, you’ve admitted your brother.

 

Yes. Roland came to halau for a while; I think it was a little over a year. And I kicked him out of halau because he was given an assignment and he didn’t finish it.

 

What was the assignment?

 

He had to learn two chants. And we laugh about it today, because had he learned, especially one of them, we’d be – we do it all the time in our lives, you know; all the time now. But I give my brother a lot of credit. You know, we’re born as brothers in this lifetime, and then he goes and puts himself, again, in my life by being a student. That’s a difficult thing to do.

 

Well, you could give him a second chance.

 

Well, the second chance is that he’s no longer a student, but he is a kokua. So my brother is there all the time. And I think in being the kokua now, it’s better than being a student. ‘Cause you still get the lessons, but you don’t get too much of the same pressure that happened. And what’s happened is, I’ve learned from that lesson too, and because of him, I’ve learned to be able to give chances to others. Where before, I would have [SNAPS FINGERS] got rid of ‘em, like how I did him. You know.

 

And

 

And the other thing is, you can’t talk back to me.

 

[chuckle]

 

You can’t talk back to me.

 

He would have to stop talking back to you.

 

You can’t talk back – no. And Roland would like – you know, you can’t talk to me. Not in front of my students; you can’t talk back to me. That’s just the way it is.

 

But he can as a kokua?

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

So he worked it out.

 

Yeah; he did. And I’m really glad he’s the kokua. And yeah. I love him; he’s a good guy. I’ve never said that before on camera, either. That took a bit.

 

[chuckle] Hes gonna want copies.

 

I think so too. He’ll be sending out to the family.

 

In birth order, Robert and Roland are number 10 and number 11 in a family of 12 children from Kalihi. The two men are family for life and highly successful musical partners for more than 30 years now. Appreciating family and health became more important than ever to Robert in 1990. That’s when he found out he has diabetes.

 

You were 300 pounds at one point?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was a long time ago, but still, it was a part of my life. I look at those pictures, and I go, Who is this monstrous person?

 

Had you always been heavy as a kid?

 

Yeah; yeah, I always was. And then in 1990, my doctor said to me; he says, You know, you gotta watch out, ‘cause you’re a diabetic now. And I was like, Oh; okay. So he said, You have to really think about this, and you know, you have to cut down, and you have to do this, and you have to exercise, and stuff. And I was like, Oh, jeez; what a bummer. And I started walking in 1990, and it’s been my companion for that long now, and it’s kept me down so that I’m now – I fluctuate between 197 to 204 pounds. And it helps with everything; you know, the heart, the blood, the breathing; stuff like that.

 

Thats right; breathing. I mean, you have to have good breath control, or you’ll lose your occupation.

 

And that’s why, you know, I never liked cigarettes. My father was real adamant about us smoking. You know. So I never liked that, ‘cause I thought, Okay; I’m gonna tell you another story.

 

Shoot.

 

When Peter, Roland and I were recording our second album called Guava Jam, no; sorry, Guava Jam was first, Crack Seed was second. I had just finished singing a song called The Queen’s Jubilee, from a family songbook of the Iaukea’s. And I was sitting in the studio, and Peter and Roland and the engineer were in that small room that they are over there, and Peter said, Okay, we’re gonna play this back to you. I was like, All right. So there were two big speakers here, and they started playing the song, and I’m singing along with it. Well, there was a mirror on the floor on the side over here, and I just happened to glance over it. And I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I thought, I found it very difficult to believe that the person I was looking at in the mirror was the owner of this voice that was coming through. Because I didn’t feel that person matched the beauty of the voice.

 

Mm.

 

And that, for me, was – what’s that word; epiphany.

 

Mhm.

 

It was an epiphany for me, and I kind of realized that this voice was something special; and that’s when I decided that I’d better take care of it. So all these years, you know, losing the weight and keeping it down and exercising and watching what you eat …

 

And continuing to take voice lessons.

 

And continuing to take voice lessons with my dear kumu leo, Neva Rego, who I love to pieces. Both Roland and I went to Neva at a time where our voices were beginning to fade a bit. We weren’t aware of it. Well, maybe we were, and that’s why we went. But she added so much to what we needed to remember and do. And still does, you know. I don’t go as often as I used to, but she has spies. And they’ll come, and they’ll see us, and they’ll call her. And then she’ll call me and she’ll go, Roberto …

 

[chuckle]

 

Can you come see Auntie Neva?

 

And its all about getting the best of your voice at any time in your life.

 

Yeah, and to keep it going. You know. My doctor, Kalani Brady, who is also a student of Neva’s – you know, we’re all kinda like intertwined. So there’s Neva and me, and there’s Kalani, and there’s Roland, and all of us, and stuff like this, and they always say to me, you know, This is something special; you have to take care of it; we’re gonna help you the best we can. So it’s an obligation too, you know.

 

You mentioned the beauty of your voice, which is so true. How do you look at that? Do you see that as a gift you take care of, or do you think uh, of something you created, or …

 

No; I think it was a gift. I really do. And I find that as I get older now, and as much as I love to sing, I think singing makes me beautiful. I also think that it’s one of the most honest and scariest things that I do in my life. Because when I’m on stage, or I’m at home, or at a cousin’s party, and if I’m singing, it is the most honest I could possibly be. I am as wide open as a book; and you can read all the chapters, ‘cause nothing [chuckle] nothing’s been blocked, or censored. It’s just honestly, blatantly there.

 

Well, funny you should say that. Because I was reviewing what’s been written about you over the years, but, you know, I didn’t really see a lot about who you are. Just what you do. Is that because you keep it close?

 

Yeah. You know, it’s not that I do that conscientiously; it’s just, I’ve always felt when we were talking to anybody, being interviewed, you know, that has a game plan. We’re talking about the CD, we’re talking about this May Day concert, we’re talking about entering Merrie Monarch and why we’re doing it. And so I did that. You know. Someday, someone will. And maybe it’ll happen; I’m not real sure.

 

I mean, well, you could do it now.

 

Okay; go.

 

[chuckle] I would just like to know what drives you, what moves you, what …

 

I think, first of all, my family. And my kupuna, the ancestors, and the fact that I feel that the – my heaviest obligation is to make them proud. To not make them embarrassed. Because – and I’ve said this before, and I love this image. That even as I’m here speaking to you, there are thousands of people behind me right now. Some I know, and some I don’t.

 

From generations back? From generations before, from countries that I don’t even know about; they’re just here. And you don’t want them rolling your eyes.

 

Yeah.

 

Their eyes. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; uh-huh. Or this thing; [clucks tongue]. You know how local people do that [clucks tongue] thing. And that would just kill me. But they’re all here, and I feel an obligation towards them, and you, and our people and this land. And then I think if I’m gonna do that, then I have to have an obligation to my health. Even as last night, I’m at a restaurant eating stuff that maybe I shouldn’t have, you know. I didn’t have the dessert, but okay, I had the pasta. And then when it comes to the hula, I have an obligation to my teacher and to my students. And I just want to be good for them. I want to really be good for them. And if it means that my personal life – my personal life does not suffer from anything; it suffers from me, if I want it to suffer. Okay. But my personal is really the family. And it’s a real broad use of the word family, because it encompasses the ones that I’m related to by blood, and those that I’m related to by heart. And it just keeps getting bigger. Sometimes I feel like I have no control over this; and at the same time, maybe I’m not supposed to. So I live my life now in a – I love to say this; a perpetual state of gratitude. I wake up every morning, and I just say thank you to everybody, and everything. You know, we’re from Kohala, on the Big Island.

 

North Kohala?

 

North Kohala. My mom is from Hawi, and my dad’s from Niulii. And my mother used to say, When you go to Hawaii Island, she says, you must say hello to everyone – the people, the rocks, the ocean, the trees; because they’re related to all of us. You know. It’s how I feel with uh, with everybody that we meet now, you know. That there is a purpose, and nothing is by accident; that I’m there to learn the lessons that are happening. And that I’m really, really grateful.

 

Its been such a long haul for Hawaiians, who still populate our prisons and are represented on the poverty lists and many haven’t had access to Hawaiian homelands. I mean, how do you see the Hawaiian condition today?

 

Oh, I think it’s appalling. At the same time, though, I’m one of the lucky ones, you know, who Hawaiians will look at me and say well, sometimes they’ll say, you know, You sold out.   I don’t – I’m not so sure how I did that; I was just working. But the other they say is, you know, I want to be like you. And I’m thinking, Oh, I don’t know whether you want to do that eit You know. But if I can help in any way I can and I think of Don Ho. ‘Cause he said to me one night when we were at you know, he used to go to McCully Chop Suey all the time.

 

M-hm; at 3:00 a.m. [chuckle]

 

Yeah, yeah; there you are. Okay; order all that food.

 

Yeah.

 

And Don said to me; he says, You know, when people ask for money, I give them money, our people. He said, Are you gonna do the same thing? I said, I don’t know that I can give them money, but I’m gonna give them what I can. You know. And if it’s the voice, or if it’s just being there then I’ll do it.

 

Do you what you can with what you have.

 

Yeah. Yeah. God, I can’t believe I said some of that stuff.

 

I forgot Don Ho used to go to McCully Chop Suey in the middle of the night. No, but it’s true; you’ve got to decide you know, how far you’re willing to go, and how much you’re willing to give.

 

 

Yeah. And you cannot just talk it; if you said something already, you know, people remember. They can go back now – especially with the internet; they can go back and see what I said 20 years ago. [chuckle]

 

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. He was trying to get you to do the same thing he was doing.

 

Yeah. Yeah. And you know, Don was one of our greatest supporters.

 

Wow. He didnt feel a competitive deal?

 

No. He just liked what we did. And his mother liked us. So you know, it’s a Hawaiian thing. You know.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

You’re a local girl; you understand that.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know, I used to always say I don’t know that I would go to war for the United States of America. I don’t know that I would kill someone for the United States of America. But if they’re threatening Hawaii I would stand out front. And years ago, we had this – there was a kue. there was a march of all Hawaiians. It started at the Aloha Tower, and it came up to the Palace. Several – Ala, myself. Mapuana, maybe Vicky; we were there at the front, and our job – Manu. We were to chant all these people as we came in, continuously; it was to be hours and hours of our chanting these people in. And just before they were gonna open the gate, someone had told us that there might be something happening. That would include, you know, guns and stuff like this. And Roland had told Ala; If anything happens, you grab my brother, and you folks go in here. And you can talk the talk but if you can’t walk the walk, then what’s the purpose of it? I said, You know, if anything is gonna happen, then it’s meant to happen, and I’m putting it out there right now. So if anything happens, I ain’t going; I’m staying right here. I think it’s how you – when you believe in something, whether it’s our world, or peace or just another person, we have to do what is best for ourselves, and hope that it’s best for everyone too.

 

You know, you mentioned that lyrics really speak to you in song. What are the most beautiful lyrics that you sing, and in what language are they?

 

Well, there’s – if I had to pick an English song it would be two. One would be David Gates from Bread – he wrote a song called If. And my favorite line in that song is, And when my life and when my love for life is running dry, you come and pour yourself on me. When I sing that line, it’s like, to me, the heavens open up, and I am just drenched with all this love from the people who know me. The other one is from Carousel, I think. If I loved you, da-da longing to tell you, but afraid and shy I let my golden chances pass me by. And I’ve let many a golden chance pass me by. But there’s no regret. You can’t have regrets; I refuse to have regrets.

 

What about in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian, too many; too many. You know, for me, the most simplest things have the deepest meanings. So oh, gee; god, what’s the – there are so many. I can’t even think of – okay, there’s a song what was written by Lei Collins, and it’s called – they call it Kealoha. And it goes, [sings]. In the third verse, it says [sings]. That I become very relaxed and I am comfortable when the scent of my lover is present. I love that line. Because no one knows that scent, except you, you know. And whether they’re there with you or not, physically, that scent that you remember can put them right in front of you. And I think that’s powerful; that’s – you know. And then another one is from Pua Ahihi, written by Kawena, and it says [sings] No, no, no, no. There’s this one verse, and it talks about there’s a flower, okay, so it’s you know Lanihuli? Lanihuli is that mountain there at the Pali; when you’re standing at the Pali lookout, it’s the one on the left hand side. And what it says is that you’re – this person that you love is like a lehua flower up there, but it is pretty much unreachable. And the reason that person is unreachable is because you put that person there. That that’s how much your love is extended to the fact that you would take this person that you love, and put them so high out of reach that it’s worth the love. That’s what it means to me.

 

Beautiful lyrics, lovely sentiments. Speaking of sentiments, I’d like to thank our viewers who’ve sent kind thoughts and encouraging words as PBS Hawaii works to deliver quality, local programming that inspires, informs and entertains. Mahalo to you and to Robert Cazimero for sharing your time and joining me for this L S S . I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

You know, we’ve lost some just treasures of Hawaiian music, and just recently too.

 

Yeah.

 

And of course, you know that you’ve earned a place in that vaulted place; I mean, you’re already there, where you’re a treasure. Do you ever think about how people will receive news sometime long from now, I hope, when you pass away? I think that’s why I work so hard when we do an album to make sure that it’s the best that it can be. Because really, it’s that music that’s immortal. It’s not this; it’s that music. So I try hard, and I wonder how they’ll receive it. You know, I wonder.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jon de Mello

 

Original air date: Tues., Feb. 5, 2008

 

Mountain Apple’s Creative Force

 

Jon de Mello is the creative mastermind behind the phenomenally successful Mountain Apple Company. Jon’s many talents and non-stop creative energy seem perfectly suited to the high-powered world of entertainment.

 

Jon de Mello Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

No, you’re not at a Consolidated Theater! Aloha I’m Leslie Wilcox. Welcome to Long Story Short. We’ve all seen that dramatic trailer at the movies. But what you may not know is that the music was written, produced and performed by none other than our guest, Jon de Mello. He’s the creative mastermind behind the phenomenally successful Mountain Apple Company. Jon’s non-stop creative energy seems perfectly suited to the high-powered world of entertainment. But as you’ll see, he’s multi-faceted; and that always makes for an interesting conversation. Mahalo for joining us on Long Story Short.

 

So I can’t help but notice; you have a still camera that you’re wearing. Is this fashion, or is this …

 

This is the real thing. I go along and I just continually take pictures everywhere. I take 100 pictures, 150 pictures a day.

 

Of what; anything?

 

Anything; anything that catches my eye. It can be people, it can be water, ocean, things like that.

 

Do you save the pictures?

 

Yes; yes. I think at last count I had 47,000 of ‘em. You know.

 

Do you use them for any reason?

 

Yeah; sometimes backgrounds. Like the tree is like close-ups of textures of woods and stuff like that. And in Photoshop you just throw those in the backgrounds and use those as anything. It’s amazing. I love it. It’s fun.

 

You know, when you were growing up, your dad was well known as this music producer, you know, that nobody could ever get better than. But here you are. You know, I guess so often you don’t think the son will follow the father in business, and often, the son is overshadowed by the father. But here you are, and your dad and you still work with your dad, but your business has taken you so far and wide.

 

It’s amazing, and I’ve been lucky to work with almost everybody in the islands. I’m fifth generation from the islands, and growing up, my first ten years was in Waikiki when it was a beach town. And we were on Lewers Street on that yellow building, on the top floor.

 

Is it still there?

 

No; they just tore it down for the whole new promenade they have down there. But we lived next door to James Michener. And he was writing the book Hawaii. And I remember we were right next door to him. I remember him waking me up in the middle of the night, because it was ching-ching-ching-ching-ching, crank, ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching, crank. You know. And he was writing the book, and my father was orchestrating Hawaiian music. And this is ’56, ’57—all the way from about ’55 up, you know. And it was a beautiful time in Waikiki with Stewart’s Pharmacy right there on the edge of Lewers.

 

I remember Stewart’s Pharmacy.

 

And we were on the eighth floor of this building—it was only eight floors—on the corner. And we were looking towards Diamond Head, and nothing blocked Diamond Head; it was complete Diamond Head. And I remember in 1955, when the International Marketplace opened, they had these bell horns in the big banyan tree in the front. And on the 30-minute mark, they would go chiming; and then on the hour, they would play Aloha ‘Oe, and then they’d give how many chimes it was for the hour and such. And all the way across Waikiki, you could hear that. It was just amazing. And it had a different aroma; it had just a different feel. It was a beach town; it was a very safe beach town at that point, you know.

 

Your parents didn’t care where you were during the day, that you’d be okay, you’d be with your uncles at the beach.

 

My mother would go to Everybody’s Supermarket, where everybody shopped, and she’d take me down to Stewart’s Pharmacy where they had this little Japanese lady weaving leis. And she’d sit against the building and then she’d open her muumuu and put the plumeria right in her muumuu and she’d lei. And so my mother would leave me with her, you know, and we’d make leis together until my mother got back from the marketplace. It was amazing. It was a great time.

 

Did you get into the surf scene very much?

 

Very much; yeah. I loved to surf when I was a kid. I probably gave it up when I was um, just coming out of high school, ‘cause of things were getting—speeding up a bit in college and things like that. But yeah; I was a surfer boy, and I learned to—Splash taught me how to steer canoes and stuff, and all sorts of things.

 

And you went to Kailua as well; you lived in Kailua later, and then came back to the east side?

 

Actually, yes. We lived in Waikiki, and then we moved to Kailua. And then we moved back to the east side for my high school years, which was Kalani High School. And I was in a rock and roll band, and all of my fellow players were Punahou students. And so we were playing all the dances, the cantinas, and all that kinda stuff, and the parties every weekend. With all—Henry Kapono was lead guitar player, and all the rest of the people I know. In fact, we just had our reunion, and that was that was quite a mind remembering task.

 

What was the name of your band?

 

New Generation. It was with Henry and Leonard Sakai and Mel Mossman, who was one of the famous Mossmans, and Sterling was his uncle. And Chucky Souza and Henry. Yeah.

 

Were you a good student?

 

Yes. M-m. And no.

 

You didn’t color in the lines, did you?

 

I didn’t color in the lines. I went out of the lines. I was probably stubborn and wanted to do my own thing, versus my father, okay. ‘Cause when I went away to college, I went to the Bay Area; I moved away here—from Hawaii for the first time basically, and lived in Oakland and Berkeley. And I went to a very fine school called California College of Arts and Crafts, third in the nation as a private school; terrific. I never missed a class; it was so much fun. I just loved it. So I got my pedigree there. But three miles down the road was UC Berkeley. So I basically went to two colleges at once. It was kind of a juggling act every now and then, but music was UC Berkeley. And so—because this was right in the middle of the 60s, and all the hot groups, all the old- time—you know, Janis Joplin, The Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, all those people; we would see them every weekend in San Francisco. And they would come to UC Berkeley and give us lectures and talks and concerts. They would come to our school,

in to the art school and give us lectures and talk and concerts, and things like that.

 

Cause you grew up in a recording studio; your dad was always bringing you in, right?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So you were familiar with music and on a technical level too.

 

Oh, yes; yeah. I followed my dad around all—everywhere, you know, and such. And saw some great, great things happen; you know, some terrific things happen.

 

So did the light go off when you were in the Berkeley music scene?

 

Yeah. It was always there. You know, I kind of approached school and had this interesting new road that was developed called multimedia. But in those days, multimedia was a carousel slide projector with a wire remote. Okay? They made a lot of noise ‘cause it was trying to fan the heater down the light down. Okay, you know; that. An overhead projector; we all kinda used those in school still. You can put a book on there and project it on a wall, okay. And if you’re really high tech, you had a cassette player and/or an 8-track, and really high tech, you had 16mm camera or an 8mm camera. None of those could be synchronized; none of those could be used together. So I was looking into the future saying, Someday technology is gonna connect all these so we can thread it and make things. So multimedia was what I was after. That’s why I went to the two schools at once, the UC Berkeley for music, and California College of Arts and Crafts, and got my degree as a painter, as an oil painter. So that was my main thrust there. Got back, and slowly, but surely things started to change and now we’ve got the internet with flash technology and all those enormous multimedia stuff. You know, it’s beautiful.

 

What were you doing when you came back, and before everything seemed to connect?

 

When I came back, I too was lost in what do I do, you know, in the art world and the music world, okay. I was following my dad around. At that time we were, he was producing and I was assisting in Keola Beamer’s first album, his first solo album, and he was—he’s magnificent as a slack key player and as a classical player too, and such. So I was following him around, and—my father, and keeping the music together, and then using his office facilities a bit, just to kinda keep things in line, and such like that. And suddenly, a business hui—they were one generation above me, took me under their wing. And it was a banker, he owns a bank; there was an attorney; and there was a judge involved; and there was an entrepreneur that’s now in government. And we were building condominiums in Salt Lake, and I was sort of the little gremlin that was following them around, but I could take pictures of models, I could make models of buildings for them and such like that. And if I look at it carefully and squint, I kinda look at those—it was about five years, four and a half years I was with these men. I kinda look at that as my formal education, because I had all the arts and crafts and music, and all these bits and pieces, and I didn’t know how to glue it together. And these people were a generation above me, taught me how to connect it to real life and to apply it.

 

Your own personal focus group and mentors.

 

Absolutely.

 

A real melding of business and creativity.

 

Correct; correct.

 

The influence of his mentors and certainly his father has shaped the way Jon de Mello thinks about music business. But who could have imagined how far Jon would take the business. The Mountain Apple Company has changed the way we think about Hawaiian music and has taken it to an international stage. We’ll find out how all that happened, as our conversation continues.

 

I hear your studio is just amazing. You have every top of the line, state of the art thing that one can think of in your studio.

 

Oh, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s—

 

You want more stuff, of course.

 

 

No; I hate stuff. You have to hook it up. You have to maintain it.

 

And replace it.

 

And replace it. Because the day you buy it, it’s obsolete, okay. The one interesting thing, though, in fifteen years, as a record company. I have not owned a tape recorder in fifteen years. It’s all been recorded on hard drive, and with computers. I have a library, however, that is big as this room with antique tapes in it, that I have a gentlemen in Santa Monica that is a refurbisher of tape. And he brings them back into pristine quality, and then he burns them off into the digital world. And we’re going through all my father’s stuff. The whole library is being transferred slowly, but surely, you know.

 

When did the Mountain Apple Company come together?

 

I incorporated the Mountain Apple Company in 1977.

 

Why did you call it Mountain Apple?

 

I lived on Tantalus, and I was sitting—I had one of the first Apple II computers that I wish I had it now, it’s probably worth more than the building, you know. And I was sitting there, and it was absolute quiet, pristine, no sound night. And I was sitting there doing just some word processing, just doing some lists on what’s going on. I had a tin roof, and in the back of my house—and it was beveled. In the back of my house, I had a mountain apple tree. And I was actually typing in, I gotta find a name for the company. I gotta do a few things. And I all of a sudden hear a thump and a whomp-poom-poom-poom-poom-poom-poom and it fell right in front of me. And I knew it was the Mountain Apple Company, and I wrote down Mountain Apple Company. And that was the name of the company.

 

And it’s with you to this day. Now—

 

It’s with us to this day.

 

–your first clients where who?

 

Booga Booga, Brothers Cazimero, and Rap spun out of that, Richard Natto and Andy Bumatai, and the Beamers, and all sorts of things.

 

So you were a young guy bringing in other young guys.

 

Yeah. Yeah. And it was thrilling. And the talent; the talent was just, you know, sparkling. And radio was different, and we did a CD. And we did a record. And we still call them albums. . When we did an album, we used to be able to walk into a radio station and and walk right into the studio, and they’d just say, Come on in, come on in. You know, and we’d talk about it for 30 minutes, da-da-da-da-da-da. And now we can’t get our stuff on radio at all. You know.

 

Play lists and

 

Play lists.

 

–pre-recorded DJs.

 

That’s it; it’s all that. We could hardly, you know, do that. But in the old days, we could just walk right in, and they’d love to sit there and talk with us, and play some cuts, and everything like that. I have Rap Reiplinger’s first break of Poi Dog on Ron Jacob’s show at KKUA. It was funny; it was great.

 

Different times. You know, now we have digital and I’m wondering how—I know you love gadgets, and you’re really tuned into technology. And you’ve gotta be on the forefront of what’s happening in the digital world. People downloading music, and not buying it.

 

Yeah; yeah. It’s a very interesting thing. Napster was the first to start it all. And I remember television stations calling me and saying, Can we get a sound bite on what you think of Napster? And first couple of sound bites were, R-r-r-r-ow, you know. And then after a while, I started thinking about it. And one guy came in from one station and started the cameras rolling. And he says, What do you think of Napster? And I said, It’s the biggest and most powerful advertising campaign I’ve ever been in in my life. You know. And he went, Explain yourself. I said, People on the other side of the world are hearing my albums. Okay. Now, I’m not real comfortable with someone’s hand in their pocket, on my wallet, and peeling little things—little green things off of there one at a time. But it was an enormous advertising campaign. And to this day, I think the popularity of Hawaiian music and local music, and ethnic music from around the world, not just Hawaiian music, is really stimulated by the internet.

 

What do you think’s next in this digital world?

 

Well, I don’t think—most people think that CD’s going away; I don’t think so. I believe that in a few years, it’s gonna change configurations, but you won’t know the difference. You and I won’t know the difference; it’ll be a DVD instead of a CD. Only because a DVD can handle so much more storage and the resolution of music can be much higher. Now, even though we can only hear certain highs and certain lows, I think that you can feel things, even if it’s sampled in an area where birds can hear it and dogs can choke to it. We hear it; we hear it with our bodies, we can feel it somehow. So I think the resolution of music will, meaning the quality of music, will get enhanced. And it’ll be a fairly seamless transfer.

 

Im just listening to you talk about music and recalling that I believe I read that the first ancestor of your family in this country came with an understanding of the forerunner of the ukulele. The Portuguese did bring it to the islands.

 

Yes.

 

And so you had music in your background back then.

 

Yeah; my great-grandfather was an ukulele player from Kealakekua. We’re from the Big Island. And I just saw a picture of my great-grandmother for the first time about a year ago. And I found her address; she took care of Kamehameha’s children and— Kamehameha V’s children—and the address was Ke‘eaumoku. And it was numbered, and thanks to Google, which I can’t live without.

 

Don’t tell me it’s a hostess bar.

 

No. The house is still there. And I have the picture of her standing in front of it, and the house is still there. It’s a plantation house, two stories, with the green belly band around it. You know. And it was like time warp. You know, I never knew what this lady looked like. You know.

 

What an amazing transition. What a huge transition in music.

 

Whew; wow.

 

And what’s next? I mean, the pace of change is so fast.

 

Yes; yes. The pace of change is so fast. And you say, what’s next in music? I don’t know. I read an article—I love science; I read Scientific America a little bit. And there’s a guy now that has figured out in Germany how to get the molecules of air to vibrate. And so he’s in essence saying, I have figured out how to get music to happen without speakers.

 

Amazing. You know, Billboard Magazine has called Mountain Apple Company the strongest independent record company in America. So you’re the strongest. How do you do it? What do you do for your clients?

 

We ship to 27 different countries. And actually, they said we were the strongest in the world.

 

In the world.

 

Not just America. We ship to 27 different countries and we’re very aggressive. And we chart in every major city in America, we chart. Sometimes it’s only three or four units a week, but sometimes it—and then sometimes we find these little spikes that happen all of a sudden for some—no reason. It’s quite amazing. And in Google there’s a thing called Google Alert. If you go into the regular window and you type in Google Alert you’ll get another window up. And you can say, search for this string—a string is a sentence—or search for this name, and you put it in quotes, and then you give them your own email. And every time that name shows up in an article, you get an email. And obviously, I’ve done Israel, Brothers Cazimero, Beamers. I do everybody we have, okay. And you do all sorts of spellings like Israel, and in quotes, I-Z, Kamakawiwo‘ole, or you don’t put Israel because then you get all the things about the country alone.

 

Mhm.

 

You know. So I get all these little blurbs from these people around the world that are just amazing. Probably get 40 to 50 a day, you know.

 

The music business is about more than business. What about relationships; how do you take care of those?

 

Relationships and music is very important. And they’re all my children. Okay; no matter what happens, they’re all my children.

 

No matter how old they are?

 

No matter how old they are, and no how much they hate me. They’re all my children. But they love me too in the end, okay.

 

And relationships are great, like Israel. You know, to be in the studio right next to him. And I do that a lot with people; I sit in the studio with the musician, to give them more of a homey, straightforward attitude. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the best in Hawaii. Kamokila Campbell was my godmother. And in the 50s, we were going out to Ewa all the time, and there was a piano out there. My father would be writing legends with her, and we’d be sitting around, and she’d be telling us stories after dinner, after supper and such. Just amazing stuff. So I’m so lucky to be able to have all these different kinds of relationships, you know. And I take great pride in representing our cultural movement and music and dance around the world.

 

Relationships mean so much to Jon de Mello and the Mountain Apple Company. That’s certainly a big part of their success. But there is one relationship that is closest to Jon’s heart. As our conversation continues, Jon talks about his profound relationship with an amazing singer, the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole.

 

What’s your history with Israel? How did it start and how did it go?

 

How did it go; how did it start. He called me; it was in 1993, he called me from the hospital and said, I want to break up with the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. And I said, What drugs are you on; are you crazy; are you out of your mind? This is a staple; you don’t do that. You can’t break for this, and stuff. He says, Will you come see me? And I’d known Israel all my life, and he knew me too. And I said, Sure, I come. I went up there. And he had all the right answers. I want to make some of my own decisions, and I need you to help me guide me through this whole puka. You know. You know, I need you. You know, and stuff like that. And in an hour and a half, I said, Okay, let’s start, let’s go; let’s go get ‘em, let’s do it. It’s risky, but let’s try it anyway. And we jumped in. We were in a studio within three weeks later and making Facing Future. I had a funny way of recording Israel. I would be in the room; I would be sitting about three feet in front of him, facing him. And the first couple of times, it intimidated him a little bit, but he would always sing with his eyes closed anyway. And then at the end of the song, he’d crack one eye and kinda look at me, like, Okay? You know. Okay, boss? You know.

 

Why were you right in front of him like that?

 

I wanted to feel his energy; I wanted him to stay energized and focused. And I could help him out with chording or structures or we could just talk instead of me on a squawk box in this control room going, Okay, what’s next, you know, Israel? What do you want to do? I was just there, and it was more of a conversation. And I think after the first couple of sessions, then he got to feel like, Oh, this is just my living room, this is fine, and here he is, I’m talking to him, and what else. You know, ‘cause it was wide open. And a lot of times after the session was over, we would record just conversation, and then he’d pick up his book and say, Okay, tomorrow, why don’t we try this one? And Mona Lisa was one of this, okay. And he says, Try this. And he’d sing it; Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, da-da-da-da. And he’d done verse and one chorus, and he’d say, You think so? What you think? I said, Yeah, let’s do it tomorrow. Okay, got sick, never came into the studio the next day. Okay. Never recorded it fully, okay; but had it on digital DAT, the rehearsal part, which was his vocal and his thing, and managed to cut it up and make a piece out of it after the whole thing was over with, you know.

 

So he probably has uh, a huge further career in what you’ve already recorded?

 

He has—I have four or five songs that have never been heard before that he’s done.

 

He was into trying new things.

 

Oh.

 

Do you know where he’d want to go? Do you think you know him well enough to know that?

 

He loved all kinds of music. He loved everything from rhythm and blues to rap, to classical, to everything. He listened to classical music; he just never was around it, you know. And he loved everything; hip-hop, bop, you know, all kinds of things. That’s why he was picking—his repertoire in his book is so wide, you know, so diversified.

 

Grammy Awards are coming up again, and we have a Hawaiian music category. Never had any Hawaiian language in this Hawaiian music category.

 

Oops.

 

What do you think’s gonna happen this time around?

 

Another oops. Raiatea is in there with a vocal album, and she’s got a very good chance; she’s got a very, very strong chance. But you know, slack key guitar is very well understood. So it’s easy to figure out, okay. When they come across a long Hawaiian name and oh, my god, and a language—ooh, I don’t know if this is any good. You know. You’re supposed to be in the—to vote in the Grammys, you’re supposed to be qualified in the areas that you vote in. But unfortunately, you know, there’s a little bit of slush there, okay. I don’t know. It’s gonna be, I think, another upset this year, unfortunately. Or fortunately. I don’t know.

 

To spend any time at all with Jon de Mello, is to spend time in the creative zone. I think that’s part of why so many artists like Bruddah Iz, the Cazimero Brothers and scores of others have trusted him with their music and their careers. Jon de Mello has a proven record as a businessman, but in his heart he’ll always be an artist. Mahalo for joining us on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox with your public television station, PBS Hawaii. A hui hou kakou!

 

At this point in time, we are so proud of what has happened to the language. When the Queen left us in 1917, she died thinking that it’s over, it’s gone; my whole culture is behind me, and it’s stopped. If she was sitting in front of us right now, she’d be grinning from ear to ear because it’s revived; the language is living and all over the planet Earth, the language is living. Okay. The Hawaiian language is living.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Peter Rockford Espiritu

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 22, 2008

 

Tau Dance Theatre Founder

 

What does it mean to be an artist? For Peter Rockford Espiritu, it’s a lifelong journey of creative expression through dance. Peter is founder, choreographer and artistic director of Tau Dance Theater, a dance company that combines ballet, modern dance, hula and Pacific Island traditions into something completely original.

 

Peter Rockford Espiritu Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You ready?

 

Yes.

 

Okay. Let me just ask you; um, off the top, I noticed you’re wearing a hala lei of a color I’ve never seen before.

 

It’s uh, um, it’s an orange-red, but it’s more red, and it’s very rare to see that color these days. I think it was more common before. And uh, I’m partial to hala. A lot of people that know me know that I—I’m—I love hala. Um, the—the—the … what it represents, about beginning and endings. And uh, for me, a lot of my life is about beginning and ending. So I thought hala might be appropriate, and the color is certainly is beautiful and very Hawaiian.

 

Beginning and endings; you mean your productions?

 

My productions. Um, I feel like uh, a lot of times we start from uh, just a little seed that’s planted, and it grows into this big tree, an—and it is unveiled to the public. But eventually, it has to—I have to let it go and—and move on to the next thing. And uh, and so that—that semblance of—of—the Hawaiians say hulihia, where things turn over or um—that is uh, I think uh, kind of uh, hala represents that—that uh, what we—we do in the—in the business world of—of the arts.

 

You’re known for mixing and compiling uh, genres of music, and—and dance. Um … let me—let me just say that again.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Uh, you’re known for combining and mixing genres of dance. But I think I’ve heard you say that you’re a traditionalist; how does that fit in?

 

Well, you know, I—I think to uh, respectfully—and I—and I’m all about that, respect—it uh, to do this, you have to be really heavily grounded down here. And uh, I—I take a lot of um … I do a lot to make sure that my—my con—my connection to the base is strong. And so in those ways, I still uh, study the art and the—the form, and the life of hula, and I feel that I dedicate myself to that. I still take uh … dance classes, I still go to uh, ballet classes, and I—and I keep myself regimented in those forms, because uh, I have to express myself in a different way. I have to be able to have um, tools at my disposal. If I don’t understand the base and where the base is, then I can’t abstract and—and uh, take it to another place. And uh, that’s where I love, uh, my love of—of the artform is, even if I’m creating a new artform.

 

Do you take flack from traditionalists who don’t want you to take their form anywhere?

 

Um, actually, a lot of—if I do, it’s probably someone who doesn’t know me or the um, the … the process, and the—the respect that give that process. Um, a lot of times, my answer to them is, It’s your job to keep the traditions alive, and keep that … base solid. It’s my job to identify for today and possibly tomorrow. And so um, I—I—I will always um, stand behind my work and always try to uh, explain where I’m going with something, and why I’m going there. And uh, if they can show me that I’m causing trouble in—in the wrong sense, I will stop what I’m doing.

 

You collaborated with a traditionalist Hawaiian kanakaole hula family on what a sense—what in a sense was a modern hula.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

Well, uh, I—I uh, sought them out. I wanted to do something that honored the new island—well, it’s gonna be a new island maybe in twenty, fifty thousand years. Um, which they named Loihi. Um, I wanted to honor that island, and I identified with that island because it is a new … entity.

 

Beginning. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; it is. It’s, once again, hala.

 

M-hm.

 

There’s gonna be a beginning and eventually, it’s gonna break through the water, and it’s gonna be part of the Hawaiian chain. What does that mean to us as m—now? Well, it should mean something to us. And I—I felt that there should be something that would honor that island, and I thought … what better people to go towards and ask to help me um, honor this island than to the—the traditionalists of hula, uh, the kanakaole. And uh, they thought about it; they thought about it for two years before they took that step. And uh, I’m grateful f—to them. They felt it was their kuleana because of their connection to Pele, and the lava flows, and that is what is causing this island to come. So now there are chants and um, that will honor that island. Why not honor—that island comes if we as uh, human beings survive ourselves. I hope that those—those dances and chants will survive um, that island to honor it when it does become an—a truly—truly an island.

 

By that time, today’s modern chants will be ancient chants.

 

It’ll be kahiko.

 

[chuckle]

 

And there we go again, full circle.

 

How did you translate Loihi in dance?

 

You know, uh, we actually … uh, uh, we’re always talking about—I always talk about identity, because that’s what I struggle with. And um … uh, Auntie Pua and—and Nalani, what they did was identify—they actually enti—ended up calling the island uh, Kamaehu, the reddish child. And they—we called the project—it went from being O Loihi to Hanau Kamoku, meaning an island is born. So what we had to do was start to write new chants and identify what h—that island and what it meant to us inside as Hawaiians. And then uh, translate that to movement. And uh, as they started developing their side, I had to identify what we were doing, what—you know. ‘Cause the hula is very restrictive. And uh, they have to adhere to those restrictions. Me as—as a modernist, I don’t necessarily have to; I can wear lights on our heads and move around, and—and we could be the sludge and the—and—and the—the—you know, the coral polyps. We can do those things, we can stand on top of each other and move. So it actually helped to tell a story in a broader—uh, wider sense of the word. And uh, that was my—that was my goal, to help tell that story.

 

You say you struggle with identity as an issue in general.

 

M-hm.

 

I’m just trying to imagine you as a kid from Aiea—

 

[chuckle]

 

–who wanted to grow up and be a ballet dancer.

 

M-hm. Um, yeah; I struggled—it’s funny, because I always walk that really fine line. I was a uh, three-year letterman for Aiea High School for the um, soccer program there, uh, for the varsity team. I was team captain when I was a senior, but I always also a band geek. You know, I was in the marching band. Um, I studied hula, I was part of the drama department, and—and I was kind of … just in everything, but everything artistic. And uh, as I got older, wanting to do ballet, a local young … kinda punky kid, local, from Aiea, wanting to go to New York and dance, I had to struggle with what that meant to—to me. I was fine with it, but what did that mean to my family? You know, they certainly didn’t want me to go off and go move to New York and do ballet. You know, that was the furthest thing. My father is a—is a uh, you know, he’s a welder, you know, by trade. And he’s a local, you know, young, great man from Maui. Certainly, ballet was not in his, you know, vision for me.

 

He didn’t want to tell his friends at the—

 

[chuckle]

 

–construction yard; Eh, my kid’s gonna be a—

 

Right.

 

–ballerina.

 

Or, he’s gonna be in Nutcracker; go check him out.

 

Yeah.

 

You know? But uh, actually now, he proudly says that, you know, My son is a ballet dancer, and he—he—he’s in—a director and artist. You know, he—he’s an artist and he—he’s a dancer. And he’s proud of me.

 

Well, at that time, who were your influences? Who did you look to in art to emulate and learn from?

 

Um, Martha Graham; um, in ballet, Baryshnikov certainly was—you know, started to uh, ho—hold the torch for uh, male dancers. Um, I—uh, you know, I looked to—because I uh, love different forms, from uh, you know, uh, uh, a Gregorian chant, the beauty of that, to the—the other side of it, which would be uh, a basic ha—beautiful Hawaiian oli, you know, the—my—I—I struggled with identity because what does that mean? I want to be a ballet dancer, but I still love my hula. You know, so I had to find—I had to go off and look for who I was and why I was. What was my—what was my function here, and how can I help Hawaii survive as a culture and as a people?

 

So you did go to New York, and you did become a ballet dancer.

 

[chuckle] I did; I was crazy, and—and—enough to—and energetic enough to uh, move to New York and—and start to follow that dream. And uh, I—I—put—got a scholarship at the School of American Ballet, which is a feeder school of the New York City Ballet that was founded by uh, George Balanchine. And uh, I pursued that dream.

 

Until?

 

Until I found out that—well, I … eventually realized I wasn’t going to be the—the prince. I wasn’t gonna play the lead role. There was a chance, a big, big chance that I might, but uh, the furthest—the—the highest I felt that I could go, given my stature and all of that, uh, would be—

 

Stature and all of that; please explain.

 

Okay. I have to—I—I—I—I really think that in the ballet world, at that time—and you’re talking early to mid-80s. I was brown, I was short, and I wasn’t bl—blond-haired and blue-eyed. I wasn’t gonna be the prince. And I ha—I had to—once again, I had to struggle with the whole thing of, this was my dream. I went to New York to become the—the—attain the highest position I could in ballet. It wasn’t gonna happen.

 

It’s like the equivalent of be—you would always be a character actor, rather than the star of a movie.

 

Exactly. And some of those character actors make more money eventually as a star, but you’re—I wanted to be the star. And uh, when I finally be—um, came to the realization that that was not gonna happen, I had to make some hard decisions and say, Well, Plan B, Plan C; what do you want to do? And uh, my whole thing was … uh, move back home. When I left, I knew I was gonna start my own company. And what that company was gonna be, I wasn’t sure. But that started the whole journey towards Tau Dance Theater, which is where I ended up trying to identify myself as an artist, as a choreographer, and as a dancer.

 

This is a f—uh, a dance company you founded.

 

Correct. We just celebrated um, ten years last year. And uh, you know, uh, even at the beginning of it, I was heavily influenced by ballet. Eventually, I found modern, and eventually it brought me back to hula.

 

I’ve seen you do hula, Samoan slap dance, Tango. I mean, what is Tau Dance Company?

 

It is all about identity. It’s about my—what I am today. And I call myself a modern Polynesian, a modern artist that is uh—contemporary artist that is living in the now, uh, respectfully understanding the base and the traditional base, because that’s my roots. And then trying to project where that will take us, and live—little—leave little gems for our future generations say, That’s what they were about then. And uh, um, hopefully also, the traditional side will survive. Because we—it’s a living culture; the Hawaiian culture is a living culture. And I like to think that Tau Dance Theater will help um … the culture survive on the—on the modern sense of the word. Because I’m—I’m about uh, using Western form to tell traditional stories.

 

You’ve already mentioned beginnings and endings; uh, when we come back, I’d like to ask you about transitions within your production, and what goes into your head as you—you look to make bridges uh, between genres. That’s when we come back, with Peter Espiritu.

 

 

Peter Rockford Espiritu is the founder of the Tau Dance Theater. How’d you get the name, Tau Dance Theater?

 

Tau is actually my name; it’s a shortened version—it’s Samoan. It’s my middle name. And my name is Ututau, but my family calls me Tau for short. And uh, um, I didn’t know what I was gonna call my—my—my company, and one day it was—I gotta give her credit; it was Melveen Leed who told me, Tau, you should just call your company Tau; Tau Dance Theater. You know, and I said, Well, it’s gonna be Tau Dance Theater. I said, Are you sure? And she says, Everyone’s doing one name thing now; use Tau. It’s Polynesian, it’s easy, you know, and then it’s—and it means more than one thing. So um, I did; I used Tau, and it stuck.

 

And that’s why you say Pacific Islander, rather than Hawaiian, because you’re Samoan too.

 

Correct. My father is Hawaiian; he’s half-Hawaiian from Maui. And my mother is actually from Fagatogo, from uh, American Samoa.

 

Let’s talk about transitions within your productions. You tell stories.

 

M-hm.

 

And you go from one genre to another, but those transitions have to make sense. How do you make them flow?

 

For instance uh, Naupaka, which was the last full evening length work we did, um, the whole idea is to stay open to not trying to just tell a story in one genre, but for instance, uh, uh, when the two lovers meet um, there is tension, um, they’re just meeting, they’re young. And—and uh, and what does that whole scene mean to me? It means that there is uh, entanglement. And what is the genre that I chose? Tango. And I think that that—if you understand the process, um, the—the language that’s singing in is Hawaiian, but it’s still that—that entanglement of it. The—what is that—they’re meeting is gonna cause something, it’s action and reaction. And so uh, in that scene when they dance, uh, we start with tango, but it’s also—there’s a girl on point. Um, uh, what they’re singing about is—is uh, is this love tension happening, and—and with new love, you never know. They’re being drawn to each other, but they don’t know what that is. And—and so a tango was the thing. In the awa section, in uh, Naupaka, it’s about the drink of awa. But what is the cup that is used? It’s a coconut. So we used uh, more of a traditional—well, Samoan coconut style dancing, and—and we used the slap dancing or—or Hawaiian, they use the pai umauma to uh, start it. It’s a very physical kinda male thing. And I use those genres and—to tell that story. So um, my whole as artistic director or as a storyteller through dance and movement is to identify what is the most appropriate movement tool to tell that story. We’re not a halau, so we’re not uh, um, left to uh, confines of one genre. Uh, I use all of the styles possible to tell a story, as long as it helps tell the story, not detract from the telling of it.

 

Do you ever use traditional Hawaiian music for your modern uh, productions?

 

I do. Um … now again, you’re talking about tradition. And um, if it’s a—for instance, if it’s a m—if you’re talking about music and tradition, if it’s a mele or an oli that is uh, existing, um, I tend not to touch them. If I do touch them, they—they will pre—be presented in the form that is most um, appropriate. If it’s gonna be, for instance, a Kalakaua chant, it’s gonna be done the way it’s supposed to be in, an olapa style. No changes, no nothing. Um, so we rarely go there. We um, we tend to want to create new uh, oli or mele, and then create—then we can go on from there.

 

So you write your own music or you have your own music written for your productions.

 

Correct. Uh, I think it’s safer, and it’s more respectful. That way, um, if you’re gonna touch something, it’s not gonna be um … misused, uh, misinterpreted. And uh, I think it’s safer.

 

You know, respect is a word you use almost as often as you use identify. But very important to you, both of these concepts.

 

M-hm. I—I think it’s uh, um, it’s the basis of what Tau Dance Theater is all about. Um, without the—the core base tradition, I’m nothing. Without the traditionalists keeping their traditions alive and—and without people understanding the base, um, I’m just—we’re just a bunch of people jumping around, doing weird things. And that’s not my goal. My goal is to understand that there is a connection. Um, it’s just like modern art against um, against, you know, like a uh, a traditional type of form uh, a s—uh, a study of fruit against, maybe, something like this piece of uh, art. It—there—it could be there. And uh, my job is to help you identify and understand that connection, that piece is connected to this in some way. The hala, the beauty of the—and the scent that it gives off, and the traditions. I’m—I am both of these things. And as a—as a modernist, my job is to uh, help you understand that the reason why I’m here is because of the connection to these. And uh, I wa—I—I’m asking for respect also. I’m ak—and I’m asking for pe—to understand that you have to understand both, and uh, I am asking for respect to um, my genre and where I’m going. ‘Cause I’m not just doing anything; I’m—I’m trying to keep the traditions alive by identifying who I am. So …

 

To do this, you have to understand all of the genres and yourself.

 

And not be afraid to take those steps. ‘Cause um, you know, you put something out there, you’re leaving yourself open for people to uh, you know, not agree. And I don’t need you to like my work or agree; I need you to understand that this is one person’s view, my view. I don’t expect to be correct; I just expect you to understand that I’m expressing myself artistically, respectfully, and trying to find my own identity.

 

Did you ever miss the mark for yourself?

 

Oh, man; more often than not. And I—I myself sometimes don’t like my own work. And I’m very honest about it. I’m learning, I’m—I’m uh, still a student. And uh, I don’t think I’ll ever master any of it. But um, if uh, uh, I think that sometimes I do miss the mark, and uh, the other thing to remember is to um, apologize if you do miss the mark. It’s—

 

Well, how—what have you ever had to apologize for?

 

Well, sometimes I feel like I um … I uh, maybe get close to a line, and uh, I will um—in the um, liner notes of the program say, If for some reason this offends you, uh, that’s never my intention. My intention is to try to identify that there’s a problem, and that—that—maybe that um, my artistic renderings will help you—uh, us as a people to identify those—those problems. Um, and Naupaka was one of those things where I thought um, understanding that … what you do, your actions, will cause a reaction. And maybe your intentions were not to cause uh … any uh, problems, but uh, you have to understand that whatever you do will cause a uh, a reaction.

 

So what was a reaction that uh, you wish hadn’t happened?

 

Um … sometimes on my—what I’m doing is misinterpreted, or you know, uh, I think that um—I mean, I know when I first started, a lot of traditionalists did have a problem with what I was doing. And I uh, I think they thought that I was maybe um … uh … maybe um, uh, causing uh, a uh, a problem with understanding uh, the traditional side. But uh, you know, it’s—I don’t know; it’s hard for me to articulate that.

 

But uh, you put yourself out there, and uh, and uh, you do become something of a lightning rod.

 

You do. And uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, um—and uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, uh, that um, you have to do your homework and be able to under—explain what it is that you’re trying to say. ‘Cause you know, people might not get what you’re trying to do.

 

But you know, and—and probably related to some of the leading figures in traditional hula.

 

I do. Uh, and I continue to study my—my um—my first kumu hula was the late John Kaimikaua. Uh, my auana teacher was the late Uncle George uh, Kananiokeakua uh, Holokai. Um, I now study uh, olapa uh, traditional with Auntie Cissy Akim, and Mel—Melvin Lantaka. Um, uh, I do take ballet class on a regular basis, and take modern with my original modern dance teacher, Betty Jones, who was a founding member of the Jose Limon Modern Dance Company in New York. So I keep my tradition, you know, base solid. But uh, I also try to keep myself open to new things.

 

So you’re a dancer and a dance student. And um, Tau Dance Theater is a 501C3 nonprofit foundation, and you do everything, right? You—you choreograph, you do the business side, you—the promotional side—

 

M-hm.

 

–must be intense.

 

Uh-huh.

 

You market, you fundraise.

 

Yeah. [chuckle]

 

How do you all of that?

 

You know, it’s a—it’s a matter of survival. I mean, I—I have to believe th—that um, eventually the right people will come into play. Um, it’s—it’s real sensitive, what Tau Dance Theater is all about, and uh, uh, the circle is very small. I don’t do that on—I—I don’t do that on purpose; it’s just, you know, if you’re not—the right people have to come. So uh, unfortunately, I do wear many hats, uh, including grant writing, um, budget projections, final reports, keep—making sure our 5013C is healthy, fundraising, and—and the vision of that, as well as kokua groups that I think are—are important to support. Um, it’s all part of the kuleana, and I—I know you understand that, because um, with Lokahi and uh, a lot of other things, uh, you know, you’re—that’s part of who you are, and that’s important to you. So—

 

But it’s hard to do all of those things well, because they each take time.

 

They take a lot of time. And uh, um … sometimes I don’t have enough time for just myself. And uh, and we were talking about fishing, and that’s where I—that’s my—my time. Yeah.

 

And how much fishing do you—how much ulua fishing do you get to do?

 

Well, uh, I go once a year to the uh, Hilo Casting Club uh, uh, competition where they—they do a state um, um, island wide competition. So I try to go maybe three or four times a year. And uh, um … uh, an—any time I go to Hawaii Island, even for research, uh, I go out and—and fish. If not ulua, maybe small game; which is always good.

 

So I noticed that even in your recreation, your hobby, uh, you know, you can catch fish that weren’t predators. But ulua are strong, fierce, smart fish, as fish go.

 

Uh-huh. And they—

 

An—and that’s what you choose to try to catch.

 

Yeah; I never thought about that. I never thought about that. It’s—uh, I think it’s challenging, ‘cause you’re—you’re—you’re restricted, once again, to the shore. We’re not doing off—of the boat.

 

M-hm.

 

And uh, the elements, and what have you. And—

 

You’re trying to get them into your turf.

 

That’s right; they have to—they have to come into that small, little area that you’re at, and hopefully you’ll be successful in catching. And we’ve been pretty successful.

 

Does your mind really clear when you are out there fishing?

 

I call it um—I call it artistic detoxation. Um, I think that uh, when I’m fishing, I—I can let go of all the stresses of—of—and it is stressful—and all the—all the things that are my responsibility and kuleana, and I can actually just look at the elements and—and uh, whether we catch fish or not. And I’ve been lucky enough where we usually always do. But um, it’s just [INDISTINCT]. Places like Kau, or Kalowalo, or you know, Hamakua side, or um, uh, Kalapana area; um, these are all Hawaii Island areas, ‘cause that’s where I choose to go and stomp, and—and—and travel. But um, those are … places where my electronics won’t work. I can bring my computer, but it won’t be able to connect, my cell phone might not work, and uh, that—

 

And that’s a good thing, right?

 

That’s a great thing. I look forward to it.

 

Well, when we come back, I’d like to ask you uh, just uh, whether you’ve ever met anybody like yourself, if you’ve sensed a kindred soul. Because you’re complex, you’re very original, very different. Uh, we’ll find out from Peter Rockford Espiritu when we come back.

 

 

We’re back on Long Story Short with the founder of the Tau Dance Theater, and that is Peter Rockford Espiritu. Welcome back.

 

Thank you.

 

You’re so … different, yet you meld so many ways and are aware of so many genres. And you say you like to keep the Tau Dance Theater small uh, because you need to work with people who truly understand. How many people do you find who—who are kindred souls?

 

You know, um … actually, there’s a good uh—on average, the dancers that I used about thirteen to fifteen strong. For a large production um, it usually bumps up to double that. But uh … kindred souls. I think uh, uh, collectively, the people that I work with become one for me.

 

But they don’t have to have the same vision you do; you just have to tell them of your vision right now, right?

 

Yeah; and they don’t necessarily have to agree with me. They have to be strong enough to call me on things and say, You know, I don’t understand where you’re going with this. So—and uh … yeah; they have to understand what I’m all about, but they also have to be strong within what they do.

 

And now you’re taking your efforts out to the schools; you’re—you’re—you’re working with kids.

 

We are. We’ve always been in the school system, and we’ve always done um, youth and outreach. And all—every production we’ve done has always had a educational element. We are actually now in the process of starting a youth group; it’s called Tau W2, like Y squared. And uh, it’s because uh, after ten years of being uh, a company, I felt that it was time to take a step towards uh, really investing in our future. The ideas that this youth group will uh, not only represent us as youth, but down the line. Uh, hopefully, they will be the feeder uh, company to uh, to the Tau Dance Theater, which is the—the adult company.

 

Are they more open than others, say, to o—to mixing genres, combining?

 

You know, the—what we’re doing now is identi—helping them identify the different genres. Truthfully, a lot of these uh, youths do one genre. They’ll take—or they’ll go to a school and learn jazz, ballet, tap, and all that. But I—I think a lot of them tend to excel in one form. Or they’ll go and only do one form; they’ll do only jazz, or only ballet, and uh, not understand how all of those genres can actually create a new form. That’s where Tau Dance Theater um … has evolved to. And that’s where our job is to, one, identify—help them identify what the genres are that make Tau Dance Theater, which is ballet, modern, uh, hula, and—and maybe a little jazz, hip-hop. And then understanding how those genres have helped evolve Tau into what it is now.

 

How are most dancers that you work with at uh, moving from one genre to another? I mean, you’d think most people would be best at one, and they have a second, and they’d have a distant third.

 

Sure.

 

How easy is that for them?

 

It’s not easy at all. Uh, a lot of my dancers uh, have one form that they are comfortable with. I push them to be comfortable with two or three. Uh, truthfully, many of the dancers who naturally fall into Tau Dance Theater, um, have had hula background, um, uh, but chose Western form. And so uh, uh, I think uh, a lot of them—uh, or they’ve had ballet, and then have had others. I don’t think I have too many that are just, you know, specialty. You know, that’s very rare when I’m—I’m using a dancer that way.

 

Is there any dance form that you say, Forget it, I’m not putting that in one of my productions? Tap dancing; anything?

 

Uh, we haven’t done tap yet, and I’m not gonna say no. But uh, also cultural—you know, it’s—it’s hard to fake something, and I don’t ever want to fake something. Um, and so uh, there’s many genres we haven’t done. There’s some that I—uh, there’s not one that I have said no to. There’s some that I would like to, you know.

 

For example?

 

Um, I think um … Balinese would be interesting. You know, very, very interesting to add into. Uh, I’ve been Bali a couple times, and I—I really like the genre of—of how they move and the—and the expressiveness of the hands and the—and the fingers. And the eyes.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah.

 

Sounds like that would be very hard to get a grasp on in a short number of years.

 

I think you’d ha—have to be really selective on how you use it, and—and—and find a special uh, s—uh, someone who understands the movement to help us integrate uh, respectfully, again.

 

Do you think what you’re doing will always be an alternative form of the arts, or can you see yourself going mainstream with this?

 

Uh, you know, I—I think um, we, once again, walk that fine line of mainstream. I mean, we do convention work, and we do that kind of um, corporate business kind of thing, where it’s uh—to me, that’s not reality. I mean, and—and I have no problem with that side, ‘cause I …

 

When’s the last time you used this for a corporate deal?

 

We just did two major things. We did the Governor’s Ball, which was the March of Dimes uh .. large fundraiser, just this weekend. And uh, my—I—my job was to help connect, once again, the cultural base with corporate identity. And then also, help it … ease into understanding uh, on a fundraising level. A large—

 

Well, how did you do that?

 

Well, you know, the—uh, I’m very strong with my cultural ties, and I understand the corporate side. Um, and I understand the connection to it. So for instance, we ended up using uh, elements and uh, for instance, water. Now, culturally sound wise, I—first thing that came into my mind was, ohe, the—the uh, nose flute. So using the nose flute, and going into an oli, going into hula, and then that nose flute transcends into a jazz flute. And now you have a connection. And the jazz flute can go into the corporate—the uh, phonetic movement of the, you know, of every day kind of thing. An—and uh, my … I kept using those kinds of themes; using fire, using earth, and—and—and trying to help translate the Hawaiian base into a corporate theme. Um, the other thing was, we just did uh, Hyundai, which is the Korean car company. And uh, that was another big challenge, ‘cause we were unveiling cars. And so they wanted two different styles. So you know, uh, reinventing what I do, and then trying to keep our integrity, um, will—even when it’s a commercial venture, um, is challenging, but I—I welcome the challenge.

 

So you were say Hyundai.

 

[chuckle]

 

How do you translate art at that point?

 

Um … that’s a good question. I have to identify the car; what is the—what is their vision to that car, and what—how do they want to connect that. So for instance, I had a halau; it was Sonny Ching’s halau, Na—Halau Na Mamo O Puuuanahulu. And they did—the women did uh … the implement number; I think it was Moku—Moku O Keawe, where they did uh, puili, bamboo, uh, uh, ipu, and—and uh, uliuli, and went into uh, Kamapua traditional, uh, the men. And the men did all this whole oli thing, and we went into this whole other—that when the car came, this was where the transition came in, where we had this beautiful kind of goddess girl bring the car in. And uh, and she did this dance, which was part of—you know. So then it wasn’t disrep—disrespectful to the Hawaiian side. And at the end, they wanted this big celebration thing. I chose a mele mai. ‘Cause to me, it was uh, a birth; it was about creation. And—

 

What is a mele mai?

 

It’s uh, procreation. And uh, I don’t think they—to this day, they know what it was all about. They loved it. But it was my creative way of using tradition to—to still uh, continue traditions, but at the same time, you know, maybe use the time to educate them.

 

An—and not everything has to be literal.

 

It doesn’t—

 

In the translation.

 

–have to be literal. They don’t even have to understand it. And that’s another thing about my productions. Maybe—uh, uh, I try to layer things. You can choose to enjoy just the beauty of the movement and the sound, and the—and the music. Or you can choose to go deeper, ‘cause there’s always gonna be layers, and you can actually dig deeper to try to find the cultural connections to what I’m trying to say.

 

And you are a person of many layers. You know, I’m—I’m kind of surprised that hala, with its uh, beginnings and endings—

 

M-hm.

 

–is—is what you think of. Because you seem to me at the core to be a person of transition and—and bridging.

 

Uh-huh. But for that transition to happen, there has to be an ending. So it’s not necessarily and ending, but uh, it has to—there has to be a finite thing that happens. I’m good at connecting, and I’m always trying to make it seamless. But at the same time, maybe um, that’s part of what I do, is to make it seem like there is no ending.

 

And what’s uh, what do you do—what are you gonna connect with next in—in your career?

 

We are actually working on a uh, piece of work that will honor Poliahu, the goddess of uh, of uh, Mauna Kea and the snow. And uh, we’re going to start to lay down the—the basis to where we’re gonna go with that. That—we’re projecting the winter of 2010.

 

Well, it’s been wonderful talking with you.

 

My pleasure.

 

And you’ve been so patient with me; I’ve had a hard time with—with part of your name, because I pronounce it local style.

 

Uh-huh.

 

And you have an artistic um, interpretation. Could you explain that?

 

Sure. I mean, a lot of people go, Oh, Espiritu. E—Espiritu—

 

Which I—

 

Espiritu.

 

Which I’ve done again, and again, by the way.

 

Yeah. And—and—and truthfully, a lot of my family members say that. I tend to go more towards the um … the, I guess, Latin version, which is Espiritu, like [LATIN LANGUAGE].

 

Peter Rockford Espiritu; thank you so much for being with us on Long Story Short.

 

Thank you for having us. Aloha.

 

Aloha.

 

[END]

 

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