By Wayne Harada
Robert Cazimero, whose name is synonymous with hula, has titled his latest solo CD “Hula” (Mountain Apple Company) — and it rocks, figuratively speaking.
His life is hula, after all; he is an award-winning kumu hula of Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua. His shows with brother Roland, as The Brothers Cazimero, always feature hula; his songs always provoke a hula.
So late in his career, he telegraphs this hula thing and it’s a welcome and reassuring reflection of his life, his livelihood, his love. Accompanying himself on piano, which is not the customary instrument for dancing hula, Cazimero revisits many of the classics of his storied career — Helen Desha Beamer’s “Keawaiki” and “Kimo Hula,” R. Alex Andeson’s “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Haole Hula” and the signature Kahauanu Lake-Mary Pukui “Pua Lililehua,” his voice stronger than ever with more clarity and substance than ever.
As he sings, he tells stories. If he were in concert, surely, there would be hula by kane, by wahine to express — through hands, eyes, face, body, feet — the passion, the joy, the beauty of the tale being shared. Yes, there’s balance in the fare; the rhythms and poetry of his ancestry alongside the hapa-haole in-English benchmarks that played to a visitor and Hollywood audience but warmly embraced as part of the colorful tapestry that has reshaped Hawaiian music.
There are familiar tunes, too, like the traditional “Kalakaua,” and one of Cazimero’s originals, “Na’u Ho’okahi.”
While he might have been a neophyte student, when he was part of the Hawaiian music resurgence of the 1970s, he now is an elder, a teacher and a kupuna, of the art of preserving and pertuating the music that he has brought around the world and to key American outposts like Carnegie Hall in New York and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He has been one of the handful of traditionalists (OK, he’s had his moments of adventure and experimentation in his lifetime) who elects to showcase the piano as the key accompaniment instrument (Mahi Beamer and the late Charles K.L. Davis are others that come to mind) to augment his artistry.
Few have his savvy of elocution and enunciation to tell his stories-in-song, of lovely hula hands, of crashing waves on the beaches, whether in Hawaiian or in English.
So here he is again, in solitary refinement. The voice. The piano. The hearty hula songs that he has adopted over time and redefined and reinterpreted for his generation of listeners and dancers.
Gorgeously packaged, with handsome and current photos of Cazimero with and without his trademark bandana, "Hula" is classy stuff. And he's a classic.