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Henry Kapono finally making his Canadian debut

Hawaiian musician bringing island vibe to Kay Meek Arts Centre
Henry Kapono
Hawaiian musician Henry Kapono was “snowed out” the only other time he’s been booked to perform in Canada. Next week he finally gets his chance to play here (and maybe see some more snow).

Henry Kapono with Jay Larrin, Grosvenor Theatre, Kay Meek Arts Centre, Friday, Feb. 7, 8 p.m. All proceeds from event go to the West Vancouver Foundation.

 “Bad Moon Rising” starts with a D chord. So does “I Can See Clearly Now” and, as it turned out, so did Henry Kapono’s career.

Growing up in Kapahulu, a small town just outside Waikiki, Kapono sang in church choir. He played the ukulele. But it wasn’t until he was sitting around a fire one night at church camp that he found his instrument. His friend was playing guitar. Kapono stared. And then, his friend let him cradle the guitar.

“He showed me a chord. The D chord. And that was it,” Kapono recalls.

Back then, the guitar was an instrument to fall in love by. For Kapono, it still is.

Speaking from Colorado on a Monday morning, Kapono reflects on a nearly 50-year career that’s included just about everything except a show in Canada. He was close to making his north-of-the-border debut when he was one-half of 1970s pop folk duo Cecilio & Kapono, but it didn’t work out.

“We were supposed to open for Charley Pride or something,” he remembers. “We got snowed out.”

He almost had a different career, he notes. His baseball skills got him into Punahou Academy – a prep school that would later count former U.S. president Barack Obama as an alum.

A strong football player, Kapono earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Hawaii. He dreamed of playing pro football but while the gridiron had his body, rock ’n’ roll had his soul.

He remembers doing shows with a local rock band when a promoter gave the group a chance to play in Vietnam.

What he didn’t quite give them was the chance to come back.

“I went to the far east to play for the troops – and never came back for two years,” Kapono says.

He carried a guitar in a war zone.

It wasn’t a USO tour, Kapono emphasizes. “We were playing out at the bases in the jungle.”

He saw a lot, he says. And what he saw changed him.

“It was a big wakeup for me,” he says. “I had to pay attention to what was going on,” he adds with a laugh.

After a stop in Thailand he made his way back to Hawaii. His dream of athletic glory was over. And, he decided, that was OK.

“I feel like it was meant to be,” he says. “By the time I came back I’d learned a lot, as a human being and as a musician.”

His life has been about music ever since.

“I write a lot about the islands, a lot about love and friendship,” he says. “I like to do songs that have a positive message and uplift people.”

He hasn’t been writing much recently, he says.

“I’ve been focusing on a new project that I’m working on of all the classic songs. Classic songs that we grew up listening to and that my parents loved.”

He’s been reworking “Always On My Mind,” “Blackbird,” and “Fools Rush In.”

“Once in a while I’ll play one in my set and it’s amazing how people just gravitate to it,” he says.

He’s planning to put together an album of these classic songs, he says.

“It’s kind of like a reset for me,” he says, explaining he’ll write more original songs after the album’s finished.

The business is a lot different than when he started, Kapono notes.

“The music and the music industry have just changed so much,” he says. “Social media is what keeps you going ‘cause then you know you can reach an audience.”

In terms of making a living, live performances are generally more important than recording, he says.

His audiences have changed, too, he notes.

“It’s mellowed out a lot,” he says.

They used to scream to beat the amps. Now they listen.

“They want to know the stories behind the songs,” he says. “It’s changed a lot. . . . You just have to do what you can to adjust to the time without giving up yourself.”