TO many on the mainland, Hawaiian music is still the music of Don Ho - or ukeleles, torches, and cellophane grass skirts. But the Brothers Cazimero, Hawaii's premier musical duo, recently proved there's a good deal more to this music than those stereotypes. It happened at their Carnegie Hall debut last month - a show titled ``Hawaiian Paradise - Kaulana Na Pua'' (``Famous Are the Flowers''), featuring Robert Cazimero on string bass and vocals, and his brother, Roland, on 12-string guitar and vocals. They performed with the Royal Dance Company of Hawaii, a 20-member troupe that re-created some fascinating bits of islands history on stage.
The Brothers Cazimero are part of a cultural renaissance sweeping Hawaii whose goal is to dig into the past and bring it to the present by combining the islands' traditional music with the music of contemporary Hawaiian songwriters.
I had heard a few of the Brothers Cazimeros' albums before the concert and found some of their music overly sentimental. But at Carnegie Hall, I forgot my preconceptions and was swept away by the sheer musical power of Robert's soaring tenor and Roland's lovely falsetto. The two sang in perfect harmony and accompanied themselves with rich chords and driving rhythms that brought the music to life. The Cazimeros' humor was irrestible, too, and the pacing of the show kept everyone eager for their next move.
Their dances traced the ancient oral history of Hawaii in chants and percussion (gourds), and took the audience on a musical tour of Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and the Big Island. The ancient hula was danced not only by beautiful women in skirts made of broad leaves, but also by men - who originated the dance. Clad in grass skirts, they moved with a grace equal to that of the women.
The music ranged from the most traditional of chants to the more contemporary melodies originally introduced to Hawaii by missionaries.
``They wanted to teach the local savages how to use their vocal cords in a more civilized way,'' quipped Robert, to much laughter.
The audience was a mixture of transplanted Hawaiians and other fans dressed in colorful Hawaiian shirts or beautiful gowns, many with leis around their necks. Some were familiar with the Cazimeros' music and sang along.
The day before the Carnegie Hall performance, I spoke with Roland Cazimero. He and Robert were excited to be in New York for the first time and to be performing at Carnegie.
Their parents were fond of traditional Hawaiian music, explained Roland. ``Robert and I ... played all the old Hawaiian music. But we're of this generation, so as we grew up we found out that none of the kids around us wanted to learn the old Hawaiian stuff. We liked the music of today, too, so we decided to incorporate it [into the older music.]''
They had started out in the '60s as aspiring rock stars, with a band called the Sunday Manoa. When that group split up, the brothers started performing together. Now, 15 years and 24 successful albums later, the brothers are known throughout the islands, where they've been playing at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach for eight years.
Both Roland and Robert feel strongly that Hawaiians need to learn about their past through the music, because, as Roland puts it, ``...Hawaii has no identity. People don't know what it is to be a Hawaiian, and a lot of the Hawaiian kids would rather play reggae music and identify with that, and a lot of pop and rock.''
Roland says the arrival of missionaries and their church music had a great impact on Hawaiian chant. Settlers from Portugal introduced the ukelele, and the guitar arrived from Spain. These instruments changed the face of Hawaiian music even more. But the importance of the lyrics of traditional chant, handed down orally, has not been lost.
``Language and music go pretty much hand in hand. Language is very powerful. ... We adopted the music [of the missionaries]. It was like a football: We took it and put it under our arm, and we're still running with it.''