With four decades of performing, around 40 albums released, numerous Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, and a Grammy nomination for "Some Call It Aloha Don't Tell," the Brothers Cazimero still reign supreme. Playing together since helping to spearhead the Hawaiian music renaissance with Sunday Manoa in the 1970s, Robert and Roland Cazimero long ago established a reputation as pioneers of Hawaiian music. Their most recent "Destiny," features magnificent interpretations of songs by Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Manu Boyd, Keli'i Tau'a and Mekia Kealaka'i. In 2008, they were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In anticipation of their annual concert at the MACC, we chatted with Robert Cazimero about things current and past.
Question: It's another May Day coming up. How do you go about changing and revising shows as the years roll by?
Photo courtesy of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
The Brothers Cazimero, Robert, left, and Roland
Photo courtesy of the Maui Classical Music Festival
The Jupiter String Quartet, Nelson Lee (from left), Meg Freivogel, Daniel McDonough and Liz Freivogel, are featured at the Maui Classical Music Festival.
Answer: What's happening shapes what we're gong to do. Because of Roland's illness during the holiday season (he had pneumonia), and as he's been trying to recuperate, it's been a real cause for reflection. For our Hawaii Theater concert in March, I pulled everyone together and said, let's talk about our favorite moments in the past few years. And that's how I put the concert together. It's the premise for all the concerts this year, a remembrance of wonderful times and moments past that we want to try and capture one more time in song and dance.
Q: Wayne Harada wrote a wonderful review in the Advertiser, talking about the recent Hawaii Theater show bursting with enthusiasm and inspiration.
A: Wayne has been with us from almost the beginning, and like many people who have been part of us, had moments that that they wished they could see again. His glowing report was enlightening and inspiring for us as well.
The Brothers Cazimero perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Tickets are $37, $28 and $12, plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Q: A couple of years ago you were both honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Is Living Treasure next?
A: I would not turn it down; let's just say we're not real anxious to get it right now, because I don't think I'm treasure material yet. I'm working on it. Within the next 10 years if that award would come along, it would be very nice.
Q: You were raised in a musical family where everyone had talent, and yet you and Roland where the ones who excelled most?
A: We talk about luck and being at the right place at the right time, but we certainly had more of our share of talent. Our older brothers and sisters did what they had to do in order for us to be able to live and enjoy what we do. Not everybody gets to have a job that they love. Because of our older brothers and sisters and our parents doing that kind of job that perhaps was more important to let the family afford eating and living and giving us the freedom of choice, I'm still very humbled by that and very appreciative. When people ask me how I'm doing in life now, I say I feel like I'm in a perpetual state of gratitude. I'm just so grateful. So every show that the Brothers do, everything I do with the halau, I want to make sure it's worthwhile and enriching. The aborigines say we all have our own life songs, and when we meet other people we become a part of their life song until it's time for us to move on. Right now I'm so full of life songs, all I really want to do is share them.
Q: It's fairly unusual to have a duo of standup bass and 12-string guitar. What led to that combination?
A: The bass is not my first instrument, and the guitar is not Roland's first instrument, either. He's the real bass player in the family and I was the pianist. I was forced to learn the bass, otherwise I wasn't going to work. From then on, you just have to hone what you're doing. Within the last few years, since I've been playing piano nights at Chai's, my piano skills are fantastic. Sometimes it's difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can still teach them, you just have to be more patient and maybe say the same thing 20 times. Roland is my bass teacher. So whenever we do a new project and he has a particular sound he wants to hear, he will give me a clue and we take off from that.
Q: And where did the white cube come from?
A: The whole idea of the cube was Roland would sit on it so his head would match the height of my head on the bass. Of course we are getting older and Roland's knees can't take that, so now he has a stool to sit on and it's much more comfortable for him.
Q: The late '60s and early '70s were very fertile times musically all over the world. Here you were in Hawaii, growing up absorbing traditional culture while waves of powerful rock music were washing in.
A: At the start of it we were just thinking of doing something fun and so it was a surface type of grabbing from here and there. The whole foundation was still Hawaiian music. Today this island music or contemporary island music that's very popular, especially the reggae and Jawaiian, it's not Hawaiian music-based. And the way this electronic world of ours is going now, you don't have to hone your talent that much, you can make everything up with a machine, and that I think is sad. It's a sad case of lack of creativity and talent. Someone in our family once said, 'Why don't you don't like Jawaiian music?' and I said, 'I hear all our kids singing that stuff, but I don't hear any Jamaicans singing 'Kaulana Na Pua.' "
I realize even more now that those people who, when we were starting out and being avant garde, how nervous they must have seemed, and yet I'm so grateful that they saw some light at the end of the tunnel to give Roland and I the kind of encouragement that helped us get to where we are today.
Q: Was there a particular moment when you realized that you had a unique vocal gift?
A: Years ago Roland and I were doing the second album with Peter Moon, 'Crack Seed,' and I had just finished recording 'The Queen's Jubilee' and Roland and Peter were in the tech room and they played it back. As the voice came on there was a mirror to the right of me and I couldn't believe this beautiful voice I was hearing was coming from the body I was looking at. That's when I knew I had a gift that was on loan, which I was lucky to have, and I needed to take care of it. It was one of those epiphany moments.
Q: I understand when you were younger a psychic predicted your voice would get better?
A: She told me, as much as my voice sounded fine, it wouldn't be until I hit my 40s that it would be at its peak. I think she was right.
Q: Talking about predictions, it's fascinating that your kumu, Aunti Maiki Aiu, met you in high school and foretold you would be a hula teacher.
A: I have always been guided to these people who would eventually guide me and help me to where I wanted to go, but didn't know it at the time.
Q: And later she suggested you specialize by just teaching men.
A: After I graduated as a teacher she said, 'Now you will no longer teach women, you will just teach men.' I said OK, because I was in love with my teacher.
Q: Your hula life was captured recently in the documentary on your halau, "Na Kamalei: The Men of Hula," which was screened on PBS.
A: I really did not want to do it. I didn't think I was worthy. But when the biography on my kumu came out, I was so taken aback by it. To see her was profound and terribly moving for me. So if it would help to hold her up even higher then I would do it.
Q: Looking back over the past decades are there any special moments that you feel most proud about?
A: When I was just out of high school we had gone to a family party and my parents were playing music, and my father called out and said, 'Robert stand up and sing this song.' Everyone quieted down to hear me sing. It was a real pivotal moment for me, because I never felt that close to my father, and it was quite an acknowledgment.
Another was the time with Sunday Manoa I just talked about. And then when we won at Merrie Monarch in 2005. I went there to support my other students who I had graduated as teachers. When we won all those awards, I was terribly moved. And I was really embarrassed to keep going back up on stage again and again. I've learned how to lose so gracefully that I don't know how to win gracefully except to say thank you, and sometimes it just doesn't seem enough.
Q: There are major shifts happening now in the entertainment world and globally, how do you best adjust to these changing times?
A: You wake up in the morning and are grateful for waking up and you just carry on through the day. I think though that the groundwork that we have laid from so many years ago has helped us persevere and carry on at a kind of level that offers us a great deal of love and respect.
The annual Maui Classical Music Festival returns to our island opening at 7 p.m. Saturday with a concert at the Makawao Union Church, featuring the acclaimed Jupiter String Quartet. Concerts will also be presented at historic churches in Makena, Hana and Lahaina.
Featuring an ensemble of internationally known musicians and rising stars, among the musicians attending are violinist Sean Lee, a student of renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman; cellist David Requiro, a standout at last year's Maui concerts; pianist Phillip Bush, who performed at the 2007 festival, and violist Yizhak Schotten and pianist Katherine Collier, the festival's music directors since its formation in 1982.
Selected from among 300 participants, Lee was awarded second prize at the 2008 Young Concert Artists Inc. International Auditions. He also won third prize at the 2008 Paganini International Violin Competition.
The Jupiter String Quartet consists of violinists Nelson Lee and Megan Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough. They have received several recent chamber music honors, including first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition, and grand prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.
The New York Times praised the quartet for, "both energetic firmness and fine nuance." And the New York Sun hailed them as, "one of the strongest young string quartets in the country."
Saturday's "Three B's: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms" concert features Bach's "Sonata for viola and piano in G minor, BMV 1029"; Beethoven's "Trio in B flat for violin, cello and piano, Op. 11"; and Brahms' "String quartet No. 2 in G, Op. 111."
On Monday at 7 p.m. a "Sunset Soiree: Classics to Crossovers" concert at the Keawala'i Congregational Church in Makena features Schumann's "Piano quintet in E flat, Op. 44"; Waller's (arr. Art Tatum) "Ain't Misbehavin' " for piano; Noble's (arr. Art Tatum) "Cherokee" for piano; Gershwin's "Three preludes for piano"; Bolcom's piano rag, "The Serpent's Kiss"; and Schoenfield's "Cafe Music for violin, cello and piano."
On Wednesday the festival travels to the Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana for a "Community Concert" at 7 p.m.
And it concludes on May 7, returning to the Makawao Union Church at 7 p.m. with "Verve and Virtuosity," including Haydn's "String quartet in D minor, Op. 762"; Dohananyi "Serenade for string trio, Op. 10"; and the Mendelssohn "Piano trio in D minor, Op. 49."
* Suggested donation is $25 adults, $10 students. For reservations, call 878-2312.