Robert Cazimero is the skipper of the Lei Day ship that sails onto the lawn of Bishop Museum on Monday, which is May Day, the annual celebration of Hawaiian song and dance.
For the four decades I’ve been following and reporting on Robert’s growth and career, I can tell you that his magic doesn’t happen without determination and desire. When he was part of The Brothers Cazimero, with his late brother Roland, Robert was always the brain and inspiration of putting on a show. Whether it was strictly cultural with his Hālau Na Kamalei O Lililehua, his incredible hula ensemble which also sings, or in commercial and seasonal ventures in venues like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room, the Waikiki Shell , the Blaisdell Arena, Blue Note Hawaii or alone behind a piano at Chef Chai (restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree bought the grand piano to enable the restaurant to schedule ongoing monthly Full Moon concerts), Robert’s fingerprints always prevailed.
Robert, pictured left, always searches for themes and revels in authenticity and often taps guest artists – dear friends — who bring mana’o and mele to the party.
On the eve of the Lei Day event, Robert was prodded to provide answers to questions I shot his way:
Question: Were you introduced to Lei Day while at Fern School? Was it a happy memory? Had a lei? During those days, schools had the May Day pole dance.
Answer: My earliest memories of May Day is Mama in the yard picking plumeria to make lei for us to wear to school. Never fully understood the foundation of it until much later. My 6th grade at Fern School made me King of May Day with my Queen, Lynette Palama. My mom was so excited; I think I needed a white shirt (short sleeve) and white pants. My mom and family members made a crown of white crown flowers, and I wore an Alfred Apaka-like red carnation lei. I remember being most excited to do the May Pole dance with the rest of my school mates.
Q: “Make a lei. Wear a lei. Give a lei.” When and how did this evolve?
A: The phrase, ‘make a lei, wear a Lei, give a lei’ is a direct quote from my kumu hula, Ma‘iki Aiu Lake. Before we started doing May Day at the Shell, we – Ala, Wayne Chang, good friends and sometimes Ma‘iki herself would meet on ‘the day’ at the old Tahitian Lanai. We loved the eggs benedict and the banana muffins; we’d eat, party, and give lei that we’d make, wear lei and then when done, head to the Bandstand at Kapiolani Park for the appearance of the May Day queen and her court, the entertainment, as well as the lei contest there It was always restive.
.Q: With all the juggling you have in your life as singer and kumu, are you a good planner to tend to halau, your monthly Full Moon concert, special shows like Lei Day and working treks to Japan?
A: I definitely learned to be more prepared, communicate better with fellow cast members and make sure everyone has the same picture I have in my mind. Great communication is an amazing key to success. It is also so very true that it takes a village. Many friends, teachers, associates have helped me to get to his point.
Q: Surely, your Hawaiiana history dates back to your parents, but Kamehameha has been a foundation and a fount for cultural relevancy. Did you ever imagine you’re now up there among the iconic entertainers of the past, from Ma’iki Aiu Lake to Gabby Pahinui, from Iolani Luahine to Eddie Kamae, from Alfred Apaka to Ed Kenney, from Loyal Garner to Beverly Noa, from Edith Kanaka‘ole to Don Ho, from Willie K to Palani Vaughan, from Haunani Kahalewai to Hilo Hattie?
A: I owe a generous percentage of my life’s gratitude to Kamehameha Schools. Just as much to my mom and dad. The consideration of being ‘iconic’ or a ‘legend’ is the last thing ever on my mind. I still get nervous when I think about the real ones, the excitement of meeting them for the first time, to sing with them, party hearty and to know that I said hello to Nina, Goofy, Sam Kapu, Jerry Santos, Quack … that they would say hi back to me. My job today includes talking about them all as much as possible. People use the word ‘legend’ far too quickly. It takes time, and I mean that sincerely. That I’m still here performing the style of Hawaiian music I love and owe so much to, is an honor.
Q: As a senior now, do you still have mountains to climb, and happy about your achievements? Are there any regrets?
A: I still have mountains to climb as a 74-year-old guy. Most of it is physical, LOL. I thought after Roland passed that I would just sit on my laurels and watch the sunset.
Ha! Fat chance! Not with pals like Kuana, Vicky, Zach, Bu, Jonah and HNKOL. I’ve got work to do and ahhh, it makes me happy. Regrets? One. I wish I could have understood more of what my brother Roland (pictured, right, with Robert) was going through when it came to his health challenges. From what I’ve gathered about myself since then, I think I could have been more understanding and loving. Such an interesting place, to find myself, a so-called ‘legend,’ raised in Kalihi, still trying to be the best I can, living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, getting ready to do a sold-out show for May Day Is Lei Day in Hawaii…
And, FYI, after responding to the Qs, after-glow comment from Robert: “I had no idea this was in me.” …
Robert Cazimero on keyboard, with Keauhou in background.
The Lei Day event will be staged from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday –- the concert will be from 7 to 9 p.m., preceded by a Ho’omau Market offering food and more — with starlight galore in a cast that includes lifetime serenaders Nina Keali‘iwahamana and Jerry Santos; 17-time Na Hoku Hanohano Awards winners Keauhou; and hula by Hālau Ka Lehua Tuahine under the direction of kumu hula Ka‘ilihiwa Vaughn Darval. Debbie Nakanelua-Richards and Billy V will share emcee duties. Tickets are $30 to $120, available at wearalei.org….
And that’s Show Biz. …