On Friday evening, Jan. 31, contemporary Hawaiian music fans are in for a very special treat as HAPA’s original members Keli`i Kaneali`i and Barry Flanagan reunite for a memorable concert at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea.
HAPA formed in 1983, but Kaneali`i and Flanagan decided to part ways in 2001 after years of exhaustive touring finally caught up with them – five hundred gigs a year, including up to eighty shows out of state. Now, thirty-seven years after they first met, HAPA has reunited.
Their blend of Hawaiian and European folk-and-pop styles offers sweet-sounding vocal harmonies and an array of exotic musical textures, mostly derived from the 12-string rhythm guitar, paniolo guitar, and the traditional slack-key.
This phone interview was done a week before their concert at the Kahilu. It was edited for clarity, continuity, and space.
Let’s start off with your reunion. You parted ways in 2001 but reunited after 17 years. I understand you both had vivid dreams of returning to the stage together. Can you talk about that?
Barry: I had a dream, about 17 years after we split. It was about Keli‘i’s father… sort of an in-and-out state of sleep dream. And then our paths started crossing again. It rarely happens that Hawaiian music duos that have been apart for so long reunite. It definitely felt like the hand of God put me back together with my brother.
Keli`i: I had a dream that we were both playing on stage again. I was in Honolulu and people kept coming up to me saying they’d just saw Barry. It happened about six times in a two-day period. I’d been there many times, but no one mentioned Barry. I asked God, ‘If this is you, please show me.’ The timing was impeccable. I’m grateful to be back with Barry playing once more.
Over the course of your careers, does one HAPA show stand out as the most memorable?
Barry: Let me digest that one for a minute. You have to understand, we were doing 500 shows per year for 10 years. We were the first group from Hawaii to do the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. We opened at 10 a.m. with our late chanter Charles Ka’upu. It woke everyone up, the sun came out as we started playing, and the snow began to melt. That one really stands out. We later met James Taylor who was a great influence on HAPA’s music
Keli`i: For me, it was opening up for the Doobie Brothers on Maui. The crowd was crazy and the energy I felt was new for me since it was early on in our career.
Have you ever considered a documentary on HAPA?
Barry: That would be heavy. We’d have to go digging for the footage. They didn’t have cellphones back in the early ‘90s.
How would you say your music has evolved over the years?
Keli`i: Our playing has matured, and we know what sounds better and cleaner. I missed playing with Barry for so long and singing harmony. It’s different when you’re playing solo and you try to cover everything musically, but when we sing together now… there it is! There’s more energy and fun.
Looking ahead, what does the rest of the new year look like for HAPA?
Barry: We’ll be touring and will be in Japan in the summer and fall, and in April our mainland tour starts in San Diego. We’re looking forward to doing the first HAPA CD live in sequential order.
What can fans look forward to at your upcoming concert at the Kahilu Theatre?
Keli`i: Probably the energy of seeing us back together. It’s going to be a great night of music.
Barry: What I love about singing with Keli`i is looking out over the audience when we’re singing one of our ballads, and you see these handkerchiefs coming out and people wiping their eyes. The funny part, it’s mostly men! It’s been proven that men get more emotional with music than women, but you see the women crying too. We have four or five new songs that we’re working in. A new release should be coming out later this year. Of course, we’ll be touching on all the songs people want to hear.
Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
Barry: God bless you for interviewing us. Promoter Tim Bostock is the sweetest guy we’ve ever worked with! We love the Big Island and are thrilled and blessed to be over there again.
Keli`i: I’d like to thank our family and friends who love our music so much. We love and can’t wait to see you!
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine