The voices of youth
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
The summer's biggest blast of island music in its 13th year and now a two-night affair will again assemble hot acts who'll share their sizzle with Waikiki Shell revelers.
Sure, the fixtures will be in place: Sean Na'auao, Fiji, Ten Feet, Kapena, and lots more.
But an emerging next-generation layer is bubbling beneath the surface of island rhythms:
- Kapena DeLima, 15, is gaining momentum in the music scene.
- Darrell Labrado, 18, is a one-time rookie from Moloka'i who's trying to gain a foothold in the Mainland mainstream.
- Caleb Keolanui, 14, is the youngest member of The Next Generation, the spinoff group of the dissolved Mana'o Company.
Here is a look at the teenage movers and shakers who are reshaping the sounds of the Islands.
Kapena DeLima set on making own waves
Kapena DeLima, 15, is stoked about being in his father's musical group, Kapena.
"He's strict, but he's been real helpful," said Kapena (Hawaiian for captain) of his dad, Kelly "Boy" DeLima.
The group Kapena has been a mainstay on the island music scene for about three decades, and singer-musician Kapena DeLima is carrying on a family tradition.
"I used to be nervous," he said of playing in a grownup band. "But now, it's more fun than nervous."
Because he's still in school (Word of Life Academy) and attending summer classes (he's taking math) before the fall semester begins (he'll be a sophomore), DeLima makes studies a priority. It wasn't until about a year ago, when he started high school, that he took serious interest in music as a career.
"I was playing off and on with my dad's band since I was 10," said DeLima. "By 13, everything was locking into place."
Yes, he gets paid for his gigs, and yes, he's saving the money.
But he's indulged in a truck a Ford Ranger that he can't drive until he's 16. "It cost $20,000, and I'm paying for it myself," he said. He has an outstanding loan of $9,000.
Music, he said, keeps him out of trouble, and he encourages other youths to try it. "Music is really a good alternative to hanging out at the mall with your friends," he said. "I do that sometimes (hang out with pals), but some days, we have five or six gigs, back to back, so it's often physically tiring. But most of the time, it's great; it's a job I love to do. I tried sports and other things, but music was the only thing I was really good at."
And music helps with his school work. "You have to concentrate when you're playing music, even if it comes easily, and you also learn to work your mind when you concentrate in school," he said.
Sure, he said, he's heard some folks say he got his job because of his fatherly connection. "That's why, when I get on stage, I give it all I got. I try to prove myself," he said.
His life has always included music piano lessons at 5, drums at 11, bass since a little more than a year ago. "I'm picking up the steel guitar now, and yes, I can play 'ukulele, but I leave that to my father," he said.
He also sings.
The group Kapena occasionally allows Kapena DeLima some solo time, and he'd like to do a solo CD eventually.
For now, however, he's got enough on his plate. Besides a slot in dad's group, Kapena DeLima will perform with The Next Generation, the youthful spinoff of The Mana'o Company, in the weekend KCCN FM 100 Birthday Bash, and also will jam with the Island Music MVPs, the all-star kids-with-adults combo organized expressly for the Bash. And dad Kelly will provide a watchful eye, too, since he's also part of the MVPs.
"It's great to have this experience, to work with the rookies and to play with the adults," said Kapena DeLima.
Darrell Labrado goes mainstream
It makes sense for Darrell Labrado, 18, to title his upcoming CD "Caught in the Dream."
He's living the dream of a young recording artist with small-town roots and big-city aspirations.
A 2003 graduate from Moloka'i High and Intermediate School, Labrado who lives in Kaunakakai but will move to O'ahu this summer has become one of Moloka'i's hottest exports and is targeting a national music audience.
He's a good example of emerging talent from the Neighbor Islands but unlike fellow Moloka'i singer
Raiatea Helm, whose traditional island sounds keeps her rooted in this market, Labrado has his sights set on the mainstream.
"It's still a struggle, but a lot easier now than when we first started out," said Labrado, who was 11 when he made his disc debut. "Not everybody likes the music you put out, so it's kinda hard to get airplay. But you keep promoting."
His earlier "Master Blaster (Jammin')" got him Mainland notice and Billboard recognition. His follow-up CD single, "I Want My Island Girl," is a dance-floor favorite, so he's started filming a music video (with an MTV crew) this week on O'ahu, Maui and Moloka'i. His prime boosters are in the ages 18-to-26 market. And largely female.
"I think it's an advantage when you're from Hawai'i, because you're letting people know what's happening here," he said of his pop sound. Of course, he's a teeny fish in a big ocean as he grapples with the challenges of launching a national campaign to win a wide audience.
But he's prepared to try. Hard.
"Competition is keen, so it's hard to break into the business, because a lot of people are trying to do it, and probably a lot longer," said Labrado. "So when you're from Hawai'i, you gotta try harder. And wait for opportunities."
He's aiming to go full throttle with the new CD, which will be recorded in New York.
"It's really an exciting time of my life," he said.
But a budding career means many sacrifices.
"I like surfing, boxing, sports, working out; I actually wanted to be a personal trainer, an athletic trainer," he said. "But no time for that now. I love singing, but I'm basically a home guy. I mean, I am not a party animal. I prefer to hang out at home, or go see a movie. When I'm in Honolulu, friends want to go clubbing. That's not my scene."
Labrado is a harsh self-critic. "I don't listen to my own albums, but when I hear my songs, I start questioning: Why did I do that? Why didn't I do this? Since it's already done, that kind of criticism is not too good. I need to work hard and not let these slip-ups happen."
Labrado was born in Honolulu and moved with his family to Kona on the Big Island, then Nanakuli, before settling on the Friendly Isle for the past eight or nine years.
He has no main squeeze now because he's keeping his options open. "If the career means that I have to live on the Mainland, I'll move," said Labrado. But first things first: He'll move to O'ahu shortly, to be closer to where the action is.
Caleb Keolanui: voice for 'The Next Generation'
|Hawai'i's newest entertainers and elders: Kapena DeLima, seated, Caleb Keolanui, left, Sean Na'auao, Kelly "Boy" DeLima, Robi Kahakalau, Wendell Ching, Steve Ware and Nathan Aweau.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
"It feels good to be in the group," he said of TNG, a spinoff of TMC. The latter group is The Mana'o Company; Keolanui's uncle, Danny Kennedy, was one of the founding members. The spinoff includes Caleb's brother, Micah, 18, who also sings; J.P. Kennedy, 18, Danny's nephew; and Kapena DeLima, 15, son of Kelly "Boy" DeLima, who is a member of musical group Kapena whenever possible.
"I've always loved the sounds of TMC," said Caleb, who will be a freshman at Kaiser High School this fall. "So I love island music. I listen to rap, too. 50 Cent. And Eminem. I think they're cool. But I like island music the best."
He doesn't play an instrument, and he knows he still has time to consider music as an adult career. But Caleb enjoys the adoration of fans and doesn't mind posing for pictures or signing autographs. Even if he knows his voice will change with time.
"I used to be nervous," he said of the spotlight. "Not too bad now."
Being a member of the group, however, requires commitment and sacrifices.
"There are a lot of rehearsals," he said. During the summer it's manageable, but with school reopening in the weeks ahead, studying is a priority.
He said it's somewhat natural that he got hooked onto island music. "It's because of The Mana'o Company," he said of the band that was a prime force of island sounds about 12 years ago. The group disbanded, then reunited in 2001 for about a year. TNG emerged last year.
"We're the next generation, carrying on the tradition," Caleb said. Not surprisingly, a TMC signature, "Spread a Little Aloha," is his all-time favorite island melody.
Since he was a fan before he became a music personality himself, Caleb has be thrilled about meeting some industry peers over the years, notably Fiji and 'Ekolu.
TNG has three backup musicians: Nainoa Nu'uhiwa on drums, Justin Kalawaia on bass, and Sam Gonsalves on electric guitar.
"They treat me real good," Caleb said of his fellow group members. "They don't treat me like a kid. I like that."