Hawaii’s music man

  • Photo by Ron Kosen / Special to The Garden Island

    Malani Bilyeu sports a Tamba Surf Company hat and U-Turn For Christ T-shirt.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file photo

    Fellow Kauai musicians Paul Togioka and Malani Bilyeu at a local music festival.

  • Courtesy of Art Umezu

    Malani Bilyeu graces the cover of the Seven Seas magazine in 1994.

Paul Togioka was still in shock Friday while at work for the County of Kauai.

“I was supposed to play with him at the Chicken in a Barrel dinner,” Togioka said. “When I found out, Thursday night, it blew me away. This is a big loss.”

Malani Bilyeu, a founding member of the musical group Kalapana, and a Hoku Award-winning solo musical artist, died Thursday. He was 69.

“My cousin Malani Bilyeu of Kalapana just passed away on Kauai,” said state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim in a social media post. “I am at a loss.”

Bilyeu was born in Honolulu and grew up in Kalihi Valley, founding the Kalapana group with Mackey Feary, D.J. Pratt, and Kirk Thompson in 1974 when Bilyeu was 26 years old and a Vietnam veteran.

Kalapana became second only to Cecilio &Kapono as the biggest contemporary local group of the 1970s, playing to sold-out concerts at the Waikiki Shell, and partnering with C&K in 1976 to co-headline the biggest Aloha Stadium concert of the decade.

“I was with TGI when I met Malani in 1983 when he came to Kauai to perform as a solo act, and also did a duo with the late Mackey Feary for the Hawaiian Island Production concert series at Tahiti Nui and a venue in Lihue that is currently occupied by the Kauai Beer Company,” said Art Umezu, recently retired from the county’s Office of Economic Development, and president of Music of Kauai.

“Malani and I had a mutual friend in Kimo Cornwell from Kalihi who is the keyboard player for the popular jazz band Hiroshima. Cornwell, who was a member of Kalapana before joining Hiroshima, was a classmate at Leeward Community College on Oahu where we studied music theory in the 1970s.”

Kalapana drifted apart by 1980, and Bilyeu recorded a solo album, “Islands,” that included a song that became an island favorite — “Molokai Sweet Home — which was a tribute to Molokai-born Hawaiian nationalist George Helm.

“I just found out late last night about the passing of Malani,” Umezu said Friday. “While cleaning out my storage last week, I found the Seven Seas magazine for which Michiru and myself interviewed Malani in 1993 for the January, 1994 issue. The publisher of the Japanese magazine wanted to do a special story about Malani who lived on Kauai with his wife and children.”

Following the success of a Kalapana reunion concert, the group continued to perform and record. They were very big in Japan. Kalapana earned the Hawaii Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Bilyeu received several Hoku Awards as a member of Kalapana, and in 1995, Bilyeu earned Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Religious Album of the Year with his solo album “Saved.”

“This is a big loss for the musical world,” Togioka said. “I’m only a slack-key guy, but Malani called and offered his friendship. During the Legacy Awards, when I came off the stage, there he was. I wish his family the best, and I know he will be missed. I will never forget what he did for me.”

Togioka said Bilyeu was community-minded.

“He was a very good man,” Togioka said. “As a musician of his caliber, he didn’t have to perform at the places he did. But he did performances for U-Turn For Christ, the veterans organizations, and more recently, at the Kauai Slack Key Festival — we have pictures of him performing! — and the Chicken in a Barrel dinners.”

Umezu extends his sympathy to the Bilyeu ohana.

“Malani often spoke fondly about performing with Kalapana at summer concerts in Japan,” Umezu said. “He leaves a legacy with his songs and recordings which will be remembered by his many fans in Hawaii, Japan, and around the world.”

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Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.

1 Comments
  1. harry oyama December 29, 2018 5:13 am Reply

    I remember the band Kalapana when they had a regular gig on Kapiolani Street across Ala Moana where Wal Green sits. They used to play on the second floor called Top of the Shop while I worked as a fry cook down stairs.

    On break, I used to go upstairs and listen to them practice before the main gig that occurred at nights. Never knew him as well as I knew Macky Feary who was more sociable, but still talented. Only worked there for a month before moving back to Kauai then into the Air Force.


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