Last Saturday evening, legendary Hawai’ian performer and Kumu Hula Robert Cazimero returned to the Kahilu Theatre for his 36th annual May concert.
Cazimero’s Waimea performances began in the mid-1980s and were part of a Lei Day/May Day celebration that he and his late brother Roland started in 1978 with concerts at the Waikiki Shell.
“It branched out here to Hawai’i Island and became a triad of events covering Oahu and Maui,” recalled Cazimero in our interview. “I always looked forward to coming to Waimea because my family’s from Kohala. When I was in the Kamehameha Schools Concert Glee Club for Boys, years before the theatre was built, we used to do shows at Kahilu Hall.”
Despite returning on Monday from a five-concert tour of Japan, and the complexities of COVID saliva testing at the Tokyo airport, the entertainer was upbeat and in good humor.
Cazimero’s concert experience is a well-oiled machine, and there’s lots of detail that goes into production that may be unknown to his audience.
Five hours before his show, Cazimero arrived at the theatre and helped unload the bounty of beautiful flowers that surrounded him on the stage. Then, for the next two hours, the seasoned performer perfected four segments of the concert that featured his four hula dancers.
“Stand over there, no, in the middle of those lines, and then cross over,” commands Cazimero, seated at his piano bench. He’s a perfectionist and wants it just right for their audience.
His three male dancers all have varied backgrounds. Buddy Martin is an instructor at the University of Hawaiʻi and studied hula for over a decade with Cazimero. Kaleopa’a Vares worked as a multimedia journalist in Oregon. Kaulana Vares is a Cultural Resource Specialist at Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu. Lahela Spencer is also a Kumu Hula and has spent 20 years as a professional entertainer in Hawaiʻi.
Cazimero concluded the rehearsal, and the dancers left the stage. For the next hour or so, he sat alone playing the piano. The theatre was empty, with only a few busy tech staffers passing by to adjust cameras. Nevertheless, the sound of him playing the 9-foot Steinway was exquisite.
“Most people would think my performance at Carnegie Hall would be a very high point in my career, and that’s not to say that Carnegie wasn’t something special, but we’ve had concerts at the Kahilu that Carnegie couldn’t even hold a candle to. The people that come to these shows in Waimea make it special for me.”
Even though Cazimero has a structured setlist, he leaves time for talking story, humor improv, and the occasional song that comes to him on the fly. He was honored to see that the Kahilu used a concert clip from last year’s show featuring “It’s a Beautiful Night in Waimea” as a video trailer to promote the current event.
Cazimero premiered some new material from his current album Mine. Besides the title track, he also played “Meet Me at The Moon” and “Ka Pali Hotel.”
Just as we thought the show was done, Cazimero returned for a Hana hou, something he usually doesn’t do. He sang the lovely “Lei of Love.”
Cazimero has big plans for the rest of the year and even larger ones for 2025. “Kuana Torres and I have more shows to do in Japan, together and individually. We also plan to do at least two more albums before the year is over.”
“But there’s even bigger news. In 2025, I will celebrate being a Kumu Hula for 50 years. We have committee people, people on the mainland, and we’re talking about having concerts up and down the coast that will end up with a massive show in Honolulu. I’m hoping we’ll do one at the Kahilu. And for that concert, I hope to bring the whole hālau.”
Listen to a pre-concert interview with Robert Cazimero
Notes & links
Concert Date: 21/May/2022
E O Waimea | Nani Waimea | Hola E Pae | Pololei Oiai’O |Ha ‘Ina of Hola E Pae | My Dreams | Ku’u Ho,e O Kahalu’u | Little Grass Shack | Home in the Island | Kealoha | My Sweet Pikake Lei | Honolulu I am Coming Back Again | E Ku’u Morning Dew | Hidden Valleys |Oli: Kahiko ; The Trilogy | Kahlilua | A Ko’Olau Au | ‘Au ‘A ‘Ia | The Beauty of Maunakea | Moku O Keawe | Meet Me at the Moon | Kalaekilohana | Pali Hotel | Mine | I’m Happy To Be With You All This Evening | Hawaiian Lullaby | It’s a Beautiful Night in Waimea | Hi’Ilawe |
Lei of Love
Read a review of Robert Cazimero’s 2021 Kahilu Concert.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: ©2022 Steve Roby