Robert Cazimero

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Roland Cazimero

 

Roland Cazimero was just a boy from Kalihi before he became a Hawaiian music legend. He and his younger brother Robert, as The Brothers Cazimero, played an essential role in the evolution of modern Hawaiian music. However, Roland’s success was not without consequences, and he fell victim to many of the temptations that accompany fame. Roland tells how faith, family and the support of his wife, Lauwa‘e, helped him heal.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, April 26, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, April 30, at 4:00 pm.

 

Roland Cazimero Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

[SINGING] At home in the islands, at home in the middle of the sea.

 

Have you told Robert that you don’t think Brothers Cazimero will ever play again?

 

No, I haven’t told him. I think he knows. I tell him that I’m very proud of him doing what he’s doing, and that I want him to continue. I miss playing with him a lot. I would love to play with him again, if possible.

 

Roland Cazimero, together with his brother Robert, are the very definition of contemporary Hawaiian music. While Robert continues to perform, Roland’s life journey has taken him in a different direction. Roland Cazimero, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Roland Cazimero was hospitalized after falling ill during a May Day performance on Maui in 2014. Since then, Roland’s health problems have prevented the Brothers Cazimero from continuing their highly successful forty-year run. Today, this composer, singer, master guitarist, and self-described bradda from Kalihi, remembers how it all started, playing in his parents’ band.

 

Mama had a group called Betty and Her Leo Aloha, which was Betty and her Voices of Love. Leo, voices; aloha, love. I gotta tell you. Betty and Her Leo Aloha; I would go with my dad and we would set up for the gigs, you know. And we’d go down to like, the Pearl Harbor substation or destroyer, or wherever the place we’re gonna play. People, you know: Hi, Leo; Hi, Leo. My dad go, Hi! You know, like that.

 

And moving around. I’m going—

 

Who’s Leo?

 

–What the hell? Who’s Leo? You know. And finally, one day, I was looking at a poster, and it said Betty and Her Leo Aloha. And I went, Oh, my god; Betty and Leo, and our last name is Aloha.

My mom had a couple of bands. Like, my Auntie Lovey played piano, this other lady, Rose Kamauna played piano after her. Daddy Camacho; all these different players that would come to the house, and every Tuesday night they would have rehearsals, or Thursday, depending. And by the time we were six years old, we would start remembering the songs. And Robert and I always had good ears. So, we would learn the melodies. My sister Tootsie, we made her sing the lead, ‘cause she wasn’t good at parts. And Robert and I would fill in, depending on what key it was in, and who would take the second part, who would take the third.

 

No formal training?

 

Well, Robert had piano lessons. He was my Mama and Daddy’s pride and joy, you know. My dad would always say, Robert, keep playing the piano, I’ll buy you your own college.

 

You know. He never said that to me, ever.

 

Now, why not?

 

Um … kolohe.

 

Oh …

 

I was very kolohe.

 

So, you had the talent, but you didn’t have the discipline. Or the desire?

 

I don’t know. But Robert played piano. And he was playing the song The Nearness of You in F. And my dad pulled out the bass and taught me how to play The Nearness of You in the Key of F. And he taught me the basics. I was about seven years old, I guess.

 

With a bass?

 

And I played bass; yeah.

 

I wish I had a picture of that.

 

Oh; it was funny. Because when I started playing with my mom, I would sit on a high stool with a big jacket, a long jacket, so it looked like I’m a big guy. And play at the back of the stage. And after we take a break, I would have to go outside in the car, ‘cause I wasn’t allowed to stay in the bar. My dad was dating the female bass player at the time, and my mom got mad and fired her. And I got drafted.

 

And you started with the bass, which is later what Robert played when you played with him.

 

When I became part of the Sunday Manoa, I taught myself how to play guitar. And then, when Robert and I played with Peter, I taught Robert how to play bass. When my mom sang, you know, she loved to drink, love her inu. And she drank scotch, which became my drink. But I would sing the high parts for her. That’s why when you listen to The Brothers Caz, you hear the high part? That’s because I sang behind Mama. Whatever song she sang, I always doubled her part.

 

So, before you learned to do Hawaiian falsetto, you were singing a woman’s part?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Because Mama needed the help. We played at all their parties, you know. And I even got to go with my mom on the Lurline, you know. We’d get on a tugboat, the Mikioi, and take us out and we’d get onboard and ride in. And you know, along with all the old-timers, Auntie Flossie, all these wonderful ladies, you know. And they took Robert and I under their arms. Come babe; baby, baby come, come. You know. You make stink ear, ‘cause Auntie Flossie not too good today; okay?

 

You make stink ear?

 

Yeah; make stink ear.

 

Auntie Flossie not quite singing that good today. And you know, we would laugh with her, but whatever they wanted, you know.

 

Your dad worked at Pearl Harbor Public Works?

 

Yeah, the Public Works Center. My dad, you know, I gotta thank my dad because one day, I was sick, and he says to me, Boy, are you sick? And I said, Oh, yes, Dad. And I was; I said, Oh, yes, Dad, I’m really sick, Dad. He goes, Mm, are you dead? I went, No, Dad, I’m not dead. He goes, Okay, go change your clothes, get in the car, we going work.

 

That’s a life lesson.

 

That stayed with me all my life. Am I dead? No. Get up, go to work.

 

Tell us where you grew up, and who were your siblings? What was life like in the home, besides the entertainment part?

 

My dad and mom were married before. My dad had married a Spencer woman, and then, they had four. My mom married a Heirakuji man; they had four. And then, they got together and had the last four, which was my brother Rodney, Robert, my sister Tootsie, and I. When they came here, they lived in the Pali Hotel.

 

Where were they from?

 

Daddy was the luna for the sugarcane company.

 

Where?

 

In Kohala.

 

In Kohala; okay.

 

And Mama was from Kohala.

 

That’s right; the Cazimeros are from Kohala.

 

Yeah. And then, eventually, they moved to Kalihi, where we lived at Palena Street, P Street.

 

With all the kids?

 

At one time, yeah.

 

That’s twelve kids.

 

You know, that wasn’t the, the heavy part. The heavy part was during football season. One would come home crying, one would come home happy.

 

Different schools.

 

Yeah. The rest of ‘em could give a rip. You know. But next week, another sister would be crying, another brother would be, you know, cheering.

 

And you were the baby; you’re even younger than your twin, right?

 

Yeah.

 

Kanoe.

 

Fifteen minutes.

 

Yeah, I was the baby. And eventually, came to the point where, a force to be scared of. ‘Cause you know, when we started having family meetings, you know, if I didn’t think things were right, I’d go straight to my number one brother and tell him where I stood about that, and what I thought about it, and that I wanted to bring it up at the meetings, and you know, whether he would back me up or not.

 

So, you needed permission to speak.

 

Well, in a sense. But you know, I didn’t want to say anything and get shot down. I was bullied a lot. And so, I learned to fight.

 

Bullied by …

 

Classmates. You know, ‘cause I was kind of skinny and runty. I got bust up. You know. And then, I started lifting weights, and then I started taking martial arts, some. And the best thing I did for myself was learning how to punch stone walls.

 

Ouch. Really?

 

Yeah.

 

Literally?

 

Literally. You know, just bleeding. But every day, go out there and punch stone walls. And knowing that if I hit you, you won’t get up.

 

Wow …

 

And so, I stopped being bullied.

 

After Roland Cazimero graduated from Kamehameha Schools, he and his brother Robert joined Peter Moon’s band, The Sunday Manoa. In 1969, this trio released Guava Jam, which sparked the beginning of a new movement in Hawaiian music.

 

When we joined Peter, it was a given, you know, that Peter wanted to do Hawaiian music, and so did Robert and I. And the rest is history.

 

You and Robert, and others woke up and—well, Peter Moon was one—woke up Hawaii. You were at the vanguard of the Hawaiian renaissance.

 

I still can’t spell that.

 

But you know you were there. How did all of that happen? You know, Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian language, all of a sudden became something to be proud of. Because truth be told, for years, there wasn’t a lot of pride on the part of Hawaiians because of what had happened in history.

 

Yeah. We didn’t know. We didn’t know. We were having fun, you know. We just played music. You know, Robert and I had enough repertoire that when Peter came up with an intro or something, we had the music to fit in there.

 

And you knew Hawaiian music. You knew mostly contemporary Hawaiian music; right?

 

Well, we knew both.

 

Both; you knew traditional and contemporary. And then, you put your own spin on contemporary Hawaiian music, with Guava Jam.

 

Yeah.

 

That wonderful, wonderful recording.

 

And it was a wonderful time. So, you know, how did it grow? We don’t know. It just kept growing. We just kept: Well, let’s do another album. And people gravitated to the stuff we were doing.

 

You mentioned how sometimes you, Peter, Robert, you all played off each other, and magic happened. Music is an art, and the eye is in the beholder. So, I’m sure it must have happened the other way too, where maybe one had a great idea, and somebody else didn’t like that way of doing it.

 

I mean, you guys must have bumped up against each other, too; right?

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

 

How was that? Because it’s kind of personal when someone doesn’t like your art.

 

Usually, they didn’t like me.

 

Really? The others too, would tend to agree with each other?

 

Too rock and roll.

 

Oh, too rock and roll; got it. ‘Cause Jimi Hendrix is your hero, always.

 

All Along the Watchtower, you know.

 

And I love that. You know, I love that, eeee. You know.

 

Always Jimi for you.

 

Yeah. And you know, sometimes, my suggestions or what I wanted to use or do at the time, it didn’t sell with them. But, you know, I didn’t care. I didn’t care. You know, I didn’t make a big thing about it. I said, Oh, okay, that’s fine. And then, whatever they brought up, I’d make sure that I put my flavor in there.

 

Roland Cazimero and his brother Robert formed their own band in 1974, The Brothers Cazimero. They played together for so long that they became an institution, performing for years at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and at the Waikiki Shell on May Day. When The Brothers weren’t performing or producing albums together, Roland was a solo artist. He recorded several albums, each with its own cultural inspiration.

 

That is such a magical album you did; Pele. How does it begin in your head? I mean, do you hear the music in your head before you ever play it?

 

In Pele, I heard a great canoe came in from the universe, carrying a woman called Pele. A big canoe; a canoe so huge. You know. And I see it coming in from the cosmos, with Kaumualiʻi standing there. And what you see is Earth … coming in from Kuahelani to Earth, bringing Pele carrying an egg in her bosom. Hiʻiaka i ka poli o Pele; Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele. You know. And so, I hear the thunderous . . .

 

I am ruler of this land, I rule with a strong hand. I am Pele. I am Pele. I am Pele. Pele. I am here to stay. I’m your nows and yesterdays.

 

So, you visualize, and then you hear it.

 

Am everything you see.

 

Lot of times, I just write the words; they just come.

 

While Roland Cazimero was busy pushing the envelope of Hawaiian music, garnering recognition and awards for his work, his personal life was a different story. It was careening out of control.

 

You were a bad boy?

 

Yeah.

 

Playboy?

 

A player. Sometimes your lust … that’s the word I want to use, your lust overrides you, to the point where, you know, my lust took me down to the point of like, I didn’t care.

 

Didn’t care about what?

 

About what I was doing, with who I was doing it with, and where I was going, if at all. Whether it was hurting me or not, I didn’t care. I was in such lust that, you know, I’d fight the person to tell me that, You shouldn’t be there. But I didn’t care. You know. But one day, I took a good look at my two twins. You know. And when they said, Dad, Dad, you know, I knew it was time to stop. And at that point … people that I felt very close to me were not around. You know, I was there for them, I helped them out, I did whatever I could, you know, stood up for them, whatever. And when I needed them to stand up for me, they were gone. You know, alone; alone. You know, when you’re alone, what’s the use of being here? What’s the use of being a part of all this? It means nothing.

 

And you’re saying you were alone, even though you had all kinds of admiring audiences, and professional respect, but you felt alone.

 

Alone. And you know, I was ready to just end it all, commit suicide. You know, ‘cause there was nothing for me to stick around for. At that point, I was so alone, I didn’t even think about my own children. And you know, when you’re at that point in your life, you’ll just step off the edge, or whatever. A good friend of mine, John, I heard him in my head. If you ever need me, Boz, call me. He and I would go to the mountains, you know, in his jeep. And I did; I called him. And he came within five minutes, and he took my hand, and he says, Pray with me, and ask the Lord to forgive you of all your sins. And I did. You know, he said, Sinners pray with me. And it was just like a whole lot was lifted off my soul, off my body, and it looked like a good day again. You know. And I hated Him; I hated the Lord, because he took my good friend away from me. We were close pals, smoking pals, hit the mountains and, you know. But when I was at the lowest point in my life, I believe it was like he was right here in my heart and in my head. Call me, Boz; call me. And I did. And when he left that day, I said to him, So what, you going take me to the ocean tomorrow and baptize me? He goes, See, you got the program already.

 

And that’s what happened?

 

Yup. He took me to Pokai Bay. We drove all the way down to the country, and blessed me. And I’ve never looked back. It was a good time. All of that was a good time. I don’t say I regret it, ‘cause I don’t. You know, it was part of me learning and part of my writing. And I’m glad that time is pau. You know.

 

Why are you glad it’s pau?

 

Because I have my wife. You know.

 

You’ve had a lot of health problems in the last two and a half years. And you’ve been right there by his side. It must be really challenging for both of you.

 

Yes, it is.

 

I went from zero doctors, to eight. And my doctors kept telling me that if I kept up this stressful life I was living, I would be dead by the end of the year. And so, they made me change my diet. They kept changing my medicines.

 

So, what’s your outlook? You know, you haven’t played music, except as on a drop-in basis, I think.

 

Not even.

 

Not even. So, no music since you left the stage on May Day, 2014?

 

I play funerals. You know, I’m still playing funerals. I go in, and I do a few songs. I kinda developed carpal tunnel. So, I can’t squeeze, you know, although, I hope to get better.

 

So, carpal tunnel. Is it your heart?

 

ROLAND:        Yeah; I have … what?

 

LAUAE:            Congestive heart.

 

ROLAND:        Diabetes, you know.

 

LAUAE:            All of the above.

 

ROLAND:        All of the above. You know.

 

And they all act on each other, I’m sure.

 

LAUAE:            Yeah. They all interact.

 

Your public image is, you’re the bantering, smart aleck, funny half of the The Brothers Cazimero.

And you were just giving your brother a hard time, and it was super-funny.

 

I knew what song was coming up, so I’d start hitting it; I’d start hitting it. And then, you know, as soon as I knew he was gonna start singing, I start strumming. You learn that after years of playing. You know, I love playing with my brother. I told him once, I don’t have to play with you, I love playing with you. But if you want to go on and go do your halau, go right ahead, because I don’t need you, Robert. I can go build a band. And I have. You know, I can go work with this, I can do this. But I love playing with you. I don’t get that kick with anybody else in the world, that I do with you.

 

But, you know, I’m still writing, I’m still in the recording business. I have a lot of things that I want to record.

 

But you know that your main concern has to be your health; right? That’s your real business right now.

 

Yeah. I have to take care of myself, and still record. You know. Otherwise, I’ll just go back into the same spin. And I don’t like that spin. I’ve been there long enough, you know, so I think the only thing I want to spin is a record or something like that. But for spinning in my life all the way to the cosmos and goodbye. You know. No; the Lord has better things for me to do.

 

Mahalo to Roland Cazimero for your tremendous musical achievements. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Are you still a rebel, though? ‘Cause bad boy and rebel are not necessarily the same thing.

 

I’m still a rebel. You know. I stand for Hawaiʻi. I stand for everybody to be treated right. But I put away the bad boy that hung with the bad people. You know. Lot of people don’t know that about me, but I did hang around with the hoodlums. And I don’t regret it, because you know, there was a camaraderie there that you can’t put aside, you know. At times when you needed it, you know, they’d come next to you, and they stand up with you. And if need be, they’d back you up. You know. In the world of entertainment, you know, I always tell people, John DeMello took care of all the high makamakas, you know, Robert and Ala take care of the middle ground and some of the high makamakas. And I hung out with the hoodlums. ‘Cause you know, you gotta respect them, too.

 

[END]

 

Roland Cazimero, Almost 3 Years After Onstage Illness

Robert Cazimero, musician and entertainer.

 

Roland Cazimero, who was hospitalized after falling ill in 2014 during The Brothers Cazimero’s Maui May Day concert, and who has since performed only rarely, speaks with me about his health challenges, personal life and career in a Long Story Short episode debuting Tuesday, April 25 at 7:30 pm on PBS Hawai‘i.

 

Roland, whose nickname is Bozo or Boz, still hadn’t discussed the state of his health with his older brother and longtime music partner, Robert Cazimero: “We just don’t.” But he believes Robert knows that the sun has set on their iconic performances.

 

A virtuoso of the 12-string guitar, Roland would let Robert, on bass, handle the artful and upbeat onstage oratory and the smooth segues between songs. Roland injected teasing; he also was a master of short, flippant remarks. Together, the Brothers drew crowds and created enduring fans with their beautiful, soaring music and their entertaining banter.

 

In our conversation, Roland speaks comfortably and at length about picking up music easily as a kid in a musical family, but never getting formal piano lessons like his brother Robert and his twin sister Tootsie, because he was “kolohe” (a rascal). Also as a keiki, he met the legendary singer/guitarist Gabby Pahinui, and was entrusted with buffing up Pahinui’s guitar. He laughs that Gabby never got his name right; Roland was always Ronald.

 

As an adult, he was a “rebel” and a “player,” or womanizer. He said Robert and their hula dancer, the late Leina‘ala Heine, would take care of devoted fans and “high makamakas,” and Roland would “hang with the hoodlums.” They were his friends, and he says almost all of them have died, some in prison.

 

Appearing at PBS Hawai‘i with his loyal wife and caregiver Lauwa‘e, Roland explains matter-of-factly that his partying lifestyle was bad for his health, which is still touch-and-go. The couple reveals that he’s been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

Now more of a homebody, Roland still writes songs and plays guitar, adjusting for his carpal tunnel condition. Lauwa‘e, who holds down an admin job when she’s not taking care of him, is his “best friend in the world,” he says – next to God, who’s “the best, period.”

 

One doctor told him plainly that he should make peace with his maker. “Done,” says Roland. While he’s still not always compliant with what the doctor says, he’s become a follower of Christ. When people ask about his health, Lauwa‘e likes to keep the answer short and sweet: “He’s alive.”

 

For any of us, that’s a gift.

 

Aloha a hui hou,
Leslie signature

 

NA MELE
Keauhou

 

Young trio Keauhou stand framed by red velvet curtains, white columns and koa furniture – a recreation of a bygone era, when Waikiki was about opulence and old-world splendor. While these young men have no firsthand experience of this era, when they sing, their ringing falsetto sounds right at home. Composed of Zachary Lum (vocals and guitar), Jonah Kahanuola Solatorio (vocals and ‘ukulele), and Nicholas Lum (vocals and bass), the name Keauhou translates as “the new or renewed generation,” fitting for a group that plays traditional Hawaiian music from the early to mid-20th century with a modern approach. The program features original songs from the group, such as “Hanohano Haʻiku,” “Kahiko Kapalama,” and “Aloha Maunalua” as well as a special guest performance from mentor and musical legend Robert Cazimero.

 




NA MELE
Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero

NA MELE Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero

 

Three magical talents, Mahi Beamer, Nina Kealiiwahamana and Robert Cazimero, blend their voices together to create an intimacy that only comes with the melding of family and good friends in this encore presentation of a vintage NA MELE episode from the PBS Hawaii studios.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Robert Cazimero

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Robert Cazimero

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 29, 2008

 

Award-Winning Singer, Songwriter and Kumu Hula

 

Robert Cazimero, award-winning singer, songwriter and kumu hula, joins Leslie Wilcox for a good-fun, talk story session in which the two share laughter, tears and touching stories of living and loving – including stories about The Brothers Cazimero (Robert and his brother Roland) who’ve led a resurgence of Hawaiian music, language, dance and culture since the 1970s.

 

In part two of a two-part, good-fun, talk story session. Robert shares stories about his hula halau, the all-male Halau Na Kamalei.

 

Robert Cazimero Audio

 

Robert Cazimero Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and mahalo for joining me for another conversation on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Robert Cazimero is familiar to us in Hawaii as half of the Brothers Cazimero, the award-winning and highly successful musical duo. He’s well-known. But how well do you know him? When he speaks publicly, it’s almost always about an upcoming May Day concert, new recording, new DVD, a planned performance. Or he’s having a fundraiser for his all- male hula halau, Na Kamalei. Coming up next – we ask Robert to talk about the person, not public events. Part One of a delightful, two-part conversation with Robert Cazimero.

 

The Brothers Cazimero, Robert and Roland, were leaders in the 1970s resurgence of Hawaiian music and culture. More than 30 years later, they continue to record and they perform locally, on the Mainland, abroad. Robert is also kumu hula of the all-male Halau Na Kamalei.

 

I know you as a singer, a performer and a kumu hula; but where did all this start?

 

Well, I don’t know how far back you want to go, but I’ll start with being born.

 

Okay.

 

Now, our parents, Roland and my parents were music people; they were entertainers. So we fell into that immediately because we were surrounded by it.

 

Did they perform in Waikiki?

 

Actually, not so much in Waikiki, although they did do that. Mostly for the military clubs and for private parties. And they played standards; the old mainland standards. So we learned to play that kind of music as well as Hawaiian music.

 

Whats an example of a mainland standard?

 

Well you know like, Our Love Is Here To Stay, for example, and Please Release Me, and stuff like that. So we do that, besides Kane‘ohe and Royal Hawaiian Hotel. And so it started there. And we thought everybody else did the same thing in all the houses that surrounded us there in Kalihi, until you know, we found out different. And then we went to high school, and we got more involved with that. In high school I met my kumu hula, Maiki Aiu Lake. And as she left the class that she had come to speak with, which was the class we were in, she told me; she says, You know, someday you’re gonna want to teach hula, and you know, You’ll want to take hula, she said; and I’m going to be that teacher. And I was like –

 

Did she know anything about you?

 

Well, I had just played the piano for her to sing the song that she had come to talk about. And so she – but no, she just told me that. And at the time, it didn’t really register, the depth of what she had said. So I said, Okay; and then went to lunch. You know, sort of like today, actually.

 

[chuckle]

 

And then years later, I found myself at her door, of her school. So I went to the university, I took voice lessons when I was there. I would fight with my teacher every day. His name was Jerry Gordon, a really nice guy. I kept saying to him, There are a lot of people who sing your style, but not enough people who sing my style. So I’ll do what you want in class, and then I won’t do what you want –

 

Whats your style?

 

I think it’s more – at the time, I thought it was more laid back, island, floaty. You know, and what he wanted was something that was a bit more pronounced, more exact, full of history of a far-away land. I mean, Italy; when you’re from Kalihi, you don’t think so much about Italy. You know, so …

 

So it wasn’t just how you sang, but what he wanted you to sing about.

 

Yes. What he wanted me to sing about, and how it was presented. You know, because when I sang Hawaiian music, it was much more laid back and I would not say apologetic. But I mean, it was a step back. When I was taking voice lessons from him, it was definitely, you were out there. You know. So I was there with him for a few years, and then I left school because well, our careers started to take off with the Sunday Manoa, first, and then –

 

Well, now, what happened to the 60s and rock and roll? Were you part of that?

 

Of course. Yeah; yeah. Loved the rock and roll years. Yeah; I was definitely there. We thought that The Platters were cool. And Roland was a real big fan of Jimmy Hendrix; real big. And we got all into that. You know, I didn’t – we didn’t get so much into the drugs of it, as much as we did the music.

 

Mhm.

 

We really liked the music. And the fact that, you know, we’re the original Flower People, so we were like out there.

 

[chuckle] People talk freely about how you were instrumental in that Hawaiian renaissance; the music and language, and everything that came with it.

 

M-hm. You know, people do speak freely about the fact that we were there at the start of the renaissance, and leading the way. We had no idea. We had no idea we were leading the way for anybody, or to anything. We were just there, having a good time. We were just so happy to have people standing in line out there at Chuck’s Cellar in Waikiki, not to come for steaks, but to listen to us play music. You know, so we really had no time to think about this whole idea of the renaissance, until maybe like two or three years after we had already been in it, and someone brought it up and said, What was it like? And we were like, Oh well. You know, it was very interesting, and it was fun, and –

 

Well, when you would go out for gigs, did you and Roland think about, you know, your marketing plan, and who your audience was and how to tailor your music? Anything like that?

 

No. We were just as wild on stage as we were, you know, at home. We were doing what we were doing. Roland and I used to go to work in caftans and get on stage and change, and then on the breaks, we’d wear these caftans, walking around the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know.

 

They’d never seen anything like that before.

 

Well, no. I would wake up in the morning, and cut my bedspread, and throw it on, and go to school at the university. ‘Cause it was the ‘60s, and you were supposed to wear your bedspread to school, or something like that. So yeah. It was never really planned out or strategically, or any kind of game plan, or –

 

But it was just who you were. You were doing what you were.

 

Yeah. And we were still kinda deciding what we were, and what we were doing. You know. And lots of experimentation in so many different facets. Lots of experimentation. So –

 

Did you do all kinds of music, or did you do just Hawaiian?

 

Well, at the time, with the Sunday Manoa, we kinda like felt like we should stay in this niche of Hawaiian music, you know. But the influences of like big things that were happening on the mainland became a part of what was entwined with the Hawaiian music. Yeah. So …

 

So Chuck’s Cellar was your Sunday Manoa time.

 

Was – yeah – was the very beginning, when we became known. Yeah. And I was 19 years old at the time.

 

Did you get all big-headed?

 

No, because we were change – you know, if you thought – there we go again. Just to make sure you knew you weren’t that important, we would change in the parking lot. There was no dressing room, you know, and you still got $15 for the whole gig. You know, so yeah. There was no way you could get big head. As the career got to be better and better, some people would say, You know, you folks are getting to be so Waikiki, so mainland. You know, you’re forgetting where you’re coming from. Well, let me just say, there is no way you can ever, ever forget that you’re from Kalihi, I don’t care what you try to do in your life, you know. And after a while, it gets to the point where it’s a time that is so beautiful, and so worth being a part of, that you never, ever want to forget. You know, I’m proud that I’m a Kalihi guy.

 

What part of Kalihi were you raised in?

 

We would say Waena. So it’d be like Kam IV Road, where you know, we were there before they built that monstrosity, the Kuhio Park Terrace. So in the old days, from the roof of our house, or the back porch actually, you could see the fireworks at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. You can’t anymore.

 

Wow; amazing.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

And you always lived in the same place as you were growing up?

 

M-hm. And I finally moved out, gee many, many years later. ‘Cause our mom had Alzheimer’s for something like 15 years. And I had come home one day, and she had washed all my silk clothes in Clorox. And I knew that it was time to go.

 

Mm.

 

So I left, and I never looked back. [chuckle] Roland still has the house.

 

Both of the Brothers Cazimero, Robert and Roland, are masters of their craft and consummate performers. But you’d never mistake one for the other. Different lifestyles, different approaches; but as artists and businessmen, the same respect for each other.

 

I really learned how to talk, to be comfortable in front of a crowd through Loyal Garner – watching her perform. Really too, the Society of Seven, as far as flow is concerned, in a show. And our friend Gramps, who was very influential, and my kumu, Maiki; watching them. Of course, now, there are the other influences, like Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Kenny Rankin, who I would listen to for hours. I’d play his records, and I would listen to his style, and try to mimic it. And if he was gonna hold it for these many measures, I was gonna hold it for that many measures, and one more. You know.

 

And you always thought you would go into music professionally?

 

No; because getting back to this brother and sister thing. The brother above me, Rodney, was the one who we considered the voice in the family. So it was very difficult, after he went into the service, for me to start singing, and then to have to sing in front of him. So that was something we all had to learn about; how to handle things like that.

 

Because …

 

Just the whole respect thing; that he was the older one. And still is. And I still think that of all of us, he has the most beautiful voice.

 

And how much does he sing now?

 

Well, he’s working on a new CD, my brother Rodney is. So I’m very excited for it.

 

Well, Roland seems like chaos.

 

[chuckle] He’s uh –

 

He’s out there.

 

That’s a good way of putting it. You know, he’s really reeled himself in, within the last maybe ten years. But you’re right; he was out there to the max, and over the top, being Roland Cazimero. I mean, he was wild and wooly and the women were everywhere and the liquor and the drugs and the food; and that’s making me sound like I was a prude.

 

[chuckle] And he would probably be late, and you would be on time? Is that how it worked?

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, big fights about that; I tell you. And it was really some difficult times there. But he – yeah; he had a tendency to come to work when he was ready to come to work. Yeah.

 

How about musically; I sense there wasn’t –

 

Incredible.

 

There was not any kind of schism about that?

 

You know, the thing about Roland was that he would come with stuff, because of his life, where it was. It would be so far off of what I thought was Hawaiian but I liked it. You know. And so he would do stuff, and I was like, Okay, let’s put that in and tape. Mind you, another thing about that too is, we had been with the Sunday Manoa, and Peter Moon was the leader at the time. And Peter and Roland got along really well. Because as much as I was grounded in the Hawaiian thing, those two boys were out in the world, and they liked other music and would bring it to the table. After we left Peter, then I had to listen a little bit more to Roland, because he would be the orchestra. I was just gonna be the voice; he was gonna be the orchestra. And it worked out quite nicely, actually.

 

Sure has; and still going strong.

 

Still going strong. And you know what? I can say now that it’s much more fun than it’s ever been. I’ve learned to relax a lot ‘cause you know, I was the one on pins and needles, thinking that I had to like choke his neck to shut up so that I could do a show. And now it’s just to the point where like it really – it sounds like such a cliché, but it’s all really good when it’s me and Roland. ‘Cause we’re just having a really good time, and it’s terrific.

 

Lets talk about Roland and you for a while.

 

Okay.

 

I mean, you’ve had this long career with him.

 

Yes; very long. It’s a marriage, you know.

 

Long, and spectacular. And he’s your brother. I mean, did you folks grow up fighting with each other? Like –

 

All the time.

 

 

Like most siblings do?

 

Yeah; yeah. We fought all the time. But we got to a point – and I think – you know, we really started playing music professionally with our parents in the – well, I started in the latter part of the 60s, or middle 60s. Roland was already playing when he was eight years old. So when we went on our own, and by the time we got to like 1973 or 74, we had pretty much made up our minds that as much as this was show business, we were gonna concentrate more on the business part of it, than the show. I mean, the show would come along, so we knew that pretty much no matter what happened – believe me, dear, a lot has happened that we would stick it out. I mean, it’s not like we haven’t had full-out fights on stage, at the Waikiki Shell on May Day. I mean, not throwing blows, ‘cause people could see that; but I mean throwing words back and forth, and yeah. So it’s been a challenge, but it’s been great all the way.

 

Well, you two seem like such different personalities. I’m actually surprised that you are such an enduring and endearing duo.

 

I think because we embrace two different worlds that we bring everybody in from those different worlds and meld them into the Brothers Cazimero.

 

Well, how do the dynamics of the two of you work?

 

Well, okay; here it goes. We come from a family of twelve kids; eight boys and four girls. And it was understood thing as we were growing up that if our parents were there, the oldest child always was the one who we would listen to. I’m older than Roland by just one year. So …

 

Were you the oldest? No, right?

 

No, no, no; I’m number ten of the twelve, so there are nine above me. And so I would just tell them and they’d have to listen.

 

But you could only boss two other kids.

 

Yeah. Because if I said something, and my older brother or older sister said something over me I would say nothing after that –

 

But you could boss Roland.

 

I could boss Roland, and I could boss my sister, ‘cause she’s the twin to Roland. So although, I wouldn’t call it – Roland would call it bossing. [chuckle] But I wouldn’t.

 

Youre there in your nice aloha shirt and long pants, and he’s in green tights and a sweatshirt sometimes, crossing his legs on the stage.

 

Yes; yes.

 

Its just – it’s so funny, and so beautiful.

 

He does wear some of those clothes. And I have to take credit for some of it, ‘cause I did buy him a few of those things to get him into it at first. And as I grew out of them he just more and more into them. And it causes a lot of trouble for me in other places, I’ll tell you.

 

But he knows who he is, and you know who he is, and you understand each other.

 

Yeah. So there’s no problem there. You know. And we’ll make fun of it, too. He’ll make fun of it; and it’s fine. I like him so much more now, and that’s why we get along so much better.

 

One year difference.

 

Yes; only one year. But I always felt like I was tons years different than he was. Difference, as far as age.

 

Did you always feel like you had to keep the duo together, because he was not disciplined?

 

You know, I don’t know that I felt that way, ‘cause I knew – we had already decided on the business part, so I knew that late or not or whatever indecision, we were still going to be together. But it didn’t mean it didn’t give me heartburn or heartbreak or whatever. Because I was on pins and needles.

 

How much does he surprise you on stage with his comments?

 

Oh, I never really know what my brother’s gonna say; I never do. And sometimes I will say something that will trigger, and I know that it’s triggering something in my mind, and I think to myself, You stupid, stupid –

 

Dont make eye contact, right?

 

Yeah.

 

Dont laugh.

 

I shouldn’t have said that; and sure enough, he picks it up, and he goes, and I tell you, I can’t say anything, because the people are laughing so much, and it’s really so good, and I’m so pissed off.

 

[chuckle]

 

But it’s so funny.

 

It works.

 

Yeah. One time, we were on stage at the Shell; it was Roland, myself, and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. I was between the two of them. And they started on this thing together, and I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. All I know is that the audience was dying outside, and I just said one thing, Leslie; I said just one thing, and I don’t remember what it was. Well I was smashed down like a bug, and I was like, Okay, I’m so staying out of this one.

 

[chuckle]

 

Because Roland and Israel together they were amazing. They had a lot of fun, and a lot of history. So –

 

And that’s part of the fun of entertaining; the interactions, and you feed off each other, right?

 

Yeah.

 

And you become better than –

 

Especially when they’re –

 

– the sum of the parts.

 

– really good, talented people. You know. When you don’t have to say anything or explain anything. So it’s like you and I talking right now. You know, I’ll just say, Okay, you take it, and then you say, You take it, then we’ll both talk together, or finish each other’s sentences. Happens all the time. That’s why I said Roland and I have a relationship that is like, you know, we’ve been married longer than our parents were I think. You know how in Hawaii we tend to call people “Uncle” or “Auntie” as a sign of respect? Here’s a tip, Don’t do that to Robert. You’re about to find out why. And Robert also explains the feeling he’s had for some time, the one that drives him to sing every song like it’s the last time.

 

You know, in terms of experience and achievement, although I don’t know about in terms of age, you’re a kupuna. Are you treated as such?

 

Um some people try.

 

But you don’t let them? [chuckle]

 

No; I don’t.

 

What do you –

 

Another thing I –

 

– tell them? [chuckle]

 

I just – actually, you know what? I I’m very lucky that way. No one sees me as really being a kupuna. But –

 

 

And thats a good thing for you.

 

And that’s a –

 

Thats a –

 

– really good thing.

 

You know, that is a mark of respect, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. I just I do have a rule, though, and it’s, Don’t call me Uncle. Which is my email address, don’t call me uncle.

 

[chuckle]

 

Unless we’re actually related; and if we are related, you gotta mention some names in the family line that I have to recognize. Otherwise, just call me Robert. You know. And I’ve gone through the gamut of people calling me Bobby from when I was a kid; Bobby and Bob, and god, I hate that.

 

Neva Rego calls you Roberto.

 

Oh, well; yeah.

 

You dont correct her. The voice coach you go to.

 

Oh, no; she can call me Roberto for the rest of my life. That’s fine. But the Bobby one makes me a little queasy. But then you know which part of my life they’re from. You know. And –

 

Do you tell people, Call me Robert? I mean, just –

 

Yes; I do.

 

– straight out?

 

Yeah. Hi, Uncle. No; just call me Robert. And you know, you know for Hawaiians, that’s a hard thing, because part of the respect is that you call each other Uncle and Auntie. But I just tell them, like, Don’t –

 

Thats because –

 

Don’t put any kind –

 

– you don’t see yourself as Uncle?

 

It’s because, you know, when you’re in the entertainment business, there is no such thing as age. Once you get out of high school, we’re all the same age. That’s what I say. So, don’t call me Uncle. And don’t call me Auntie, either.

 

[chuckle] Whats your middle name?

 

My middle name is Uluwehionapuaikawekiuokalani.

 

Which means?

 

Which means the verdant – the abundance of flowers at the summit of the sky. And my mother was pregnant, and she didn’t know she was, and my aunt, my Auntie Mary Sing who lives in Kalaupapa – that’s a whole ‘nother story – she called my mom and said, You know you’re gonna, you’re pregnant. And my mother said, No, I’m not. And she said, You’re pregnant; and my mother said, No, I’m not. And she said, Just listen to me; you’re pregnant, here’s the name of the child. So she gave my mother my name.

 

And shes calling from the Hansen’s Disease settlement at Kalaupapa.

 

Yes; she is. So my mother said, Okay. But because of the flowers in the name, o napua, she thought that I was gonna be a girl. Well, anyway; so but I got the name, anyway. And so yeah; sure enough, she was pregnant. She didn’t know it, but she found out from my aunt. And I’ve had that name ever since.

 

Do you think you live up to the name?

 

Oh, I hope so; I hope so. Because the funny thing is, as I graduated kids from my school to their own schools, they’ve taken parts of the name.

 

Oh.

 

And they have it in their school. My niece is my namesake, and she has the same name. And then one of my dancers asked if he could name his son after me. And I said, Yeah; except take out the o napua, take the flowers part out. So this boy, Uluwehiikawekiokalani, is one of the newest members in halau now. He’s dancing in the school. That’s the kinda stuff just blows my mind. I’m just so glad I’m seeing it all happen. You know. It’s really cool.

 

Sometimes you look back at your life, and you go, Wow, if only this hadn’t happened, where would I be.

 

Yes.

 

Was there any one of those moments for you?

 

Yeah. Would have been my seventh grade; if I didn’t go to Kamehameha, that would have been very different. I think that – because if not, I would have gone to Farrington. And for all I know, I could have ended up being a drag queen.

 

Mm.

 

Just scary, you know. For me. Another thing is that you know, I constantly worry about my voice, and in December I have a tendency to catch colds, in December. So I try and be really careful about that. And one year, it got really bad, and I lost my voice. And we were doing three concerts with the Honolulu Symphony. And I did a concert every night, without a voice. I talked my way through the whole thing. And thank God that the people were receptive. Because it was one of the best concerts, ever. So, and then I have to tell you about one other time. Roland and I were performing at the Holiday Inn in San Francisco, near the business district. And we were doing the show; it was Christmastime, and the whole electricity, within like about eight, ten blocks, went out. And the management said, You know, we need to cancel the show. And the people said, No, don’t cancel the show. So they brought out this flashlight, a real big one, like this. And they stood at the back of the room, and they put the flashlight on, and we played the show. And we did like –what would you call that? Like well, unplugged concert. It was one of the most beautiful shows in my life; it was just great. So you know, glad we did something that at first we weren’t gonna do.

 

What do you see as the future of your singing career?

 

You know, it’s kind of difficult for me to think of a future, as far as I’m concerned. Because I just made – well, I’m telling everybody I’m 62, but I’m not. It’s just that they say to me, Wow, you look really good for 62.

 

[chuckle]

 

So that by the time I get there they can say, Well. But I don’t see me being here that long, on this Earth, for this life. So what I really want to project is the fact that we just keep playing and doing the best in what we do. And if we can produce an album or a CD every year until the time of my demise, then I’ll be totally happy.

 

Okay; now, youve just shaken me up. You see yourself as having an untimely or early death?

 

Well, I thought – from when I was a kid, I always thought that I’d be dead by 21. I think it’s in a past life thing of mine. And the other thing was that if I stayed away from home longer than two months, that I would never return home. So that’s why my trips have always been short, and coming back in time. And then the longest one was maybe a little over two months, when Roland and I went with Maiki to Europe. But I always felt that after 21, all these years are real gifts for me. You know.

 

Do you think you, you live more fully every day, because have this –

 

Absolutely.

 

– thought that you might not have a lot of time?

 

Absolutely. You know, when Roland and I were – I don’t know that I’ve ever said this on, you know, for television or anything. But when Roland and I were playing with Peter Moon – this was before 1975; we were working at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and we would get bomb threats in the room. And we would just be playing, and all of a sudden, all the lights would come on. And they would – we’d have to have everybody taken out, and we’d go out, and the cops would come in, or the bomb squad or whatever they were, and they would check the whole room, and then they would say, Okay, it’s okay. Now, this would happen sometimes three times a week. So but I’ll tell you; if you were in the audience after that bomb scare had been nilled, you found yourself at one of the most amazing, amazing shows. Because we sang like it was the last time. So ever since then, I try – I do that now. That whenever I do sing or perform, I do it like it’s my last time. Just in case; just in case.

 

Wow.

 

You know, I really enjoy getting to know people on this program – especially people I did already know, like Robert. He’s got much more to share, including what it takes to get into his respected Halau Na Kamalei, why he expelled his much-loved brother Roland from the halau, and his favorite music lyrics. Please join me and Robert Cazimero for Part Two of a two-part LSS next week on PBS Hawaii. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

I gotta ask you one more thing.

 

Okay.

 

The local thing with the [clucks tongue].

 

Yeah.

 

Can you tell me about that?

 

[chuckle] We were at the Ala Moana Hotel; in those days, we were upstairs at the Summit, which is now called Aaron’s, I think. And I was singing a song, and there was a man in the audience who was looking at me weird, and then he would say he was just looking at me, and so I said I said, What? He says, You’re singing the wrong words. And I was like, Okay. Then he said, If you want, I’ll teach it to you here by the elevator. So we just sat there, and he taught me the words. The next time I sing it, I’m downstairs at the – we called it the Cave at the time.

 

Mm.

 

The Kama‘aina Room. And there was a woman in the audience, but this time she added that. She’s going, like [clucks tongue]. And I was pissed off. So I said, What? And was like, You’re singing the wrong words. I said, No, I’m not. I learned this from a guy who lives in Keaukaha. And she said, My mother wrote the song.

 

So I sat with her, and I learned it.

 

Again. [chuckle]

 

Again.

 

Robert Cazimero: Part 2

 

Aloha no. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Mahalo for joining me for another LS S – another island program produced and broadcast by locally-owned, non-profit PBS Hawaii. When singer Robert Cazimero stopped by to talk with me, one on one, he wasn’t alone. He mentioned that his ancestors, all those who went before, were right behind him. And part of the reason he is driven to meet high standards is the heavy obligation he feels to make them proud. Coming up next – Part Two of a two-part conversation with musical artist Robert Cazimero.

 

Robert Cazimero is more than a successful singer and recording artist. He’s also a most-respected kumu hula – teacher of Hawaiian dance. His all-male hula school is called Halau Na Kamalei. The halau is the subject of a documentary being shown on PBS channels nationwide that explores expectations and stereotypes, following the halau as it prepares for competition. Produced and directed by Lisette Marie Flanary, N           : M     H   shows us Robert Cazimero’s exacting and sometimes harsh teaching style and it reflects his deep devotion to his kumu, the late Maiki Aiu Lake.

 

I had a hard time with that, ‘cause they wanted me to tell stories about my kumu. And you know, outside of the family, we don’t tell stories, because it’s just so personal. You know. I didn’t want to tell stories. And then I said to Lisette, If this will help to show my respect for my teacher, then I’ll do it. Not realizing that it was really gonna show a lot more, and that it was okay. And that what I found out about my students is that they love me like how I love my teacher. [Whispers] Sorry.

 

How easy was it for you to control people’s lives? I mean, you know, kumu hula – That’s a really – – by definition is a –

 

– good question.

 

– control freak, right?

 

Yeah.

 

You know, it

 

Yeah.

 

Im not saying it very graciously, but –

 

No, no, no; it’s true, though. Yeah. And you have – there is such a power in being a kumu hula, you know, that is willingly given to you when the students come in. Because it’s what I did with mine. You know. If she told me to jump off a building, I would have asked, Which one, and how much higher do you want me to go? ‘Cause you just love them, you know. But I didn’t really know how to become a kumu. It’s like being a parent. You really don’t know how to be a mother or father until you have kids, and they teach you how to be that way. It was the same thing with being a teacher. When I started, my kids were like 15, 16 years old, and I was like 23, 24. And the only way I knew how to do it was to scare the well, to scare the –

 

And you used those –

 

– out of them.

 

– words too, right?

 

Yeah.

 

You would swear?

 

Yeah.

 

Youd call them names?

 

Yeah; I did. And they would say to me, You know, I don’t even let my parents talk to me this way. I was like, I’m not your parent; I’m your kumu. So you just better get over it, or there’s the door. And luckily, they stayed. Or luckily, they didn’t beat me up. And by definition, you have to keep order and discipline.

 

How did you decide how hard core you were gonna be as a disciplinarian, as somebody who punishes, or has control over –

 

I just played by –

 

– second chances, third chances?

 

Yeah. I played that by ear. I set really – you know, some really heavy duty rules on them. And if they broke it, then you know, there was no second chance.

 

Whats an example of a heavy duty rule?

 

Well, you know, I did not like drugs. I was never a drug person. I, well, sans liquor. Sometimes.

 

Mm.

 

But yeah. So it’s like, you know, if I knew that you were coming to a performance, and if you were stoned then you’re out, from the performance and the halau, too. You had to be a certain look, you know. No one could – I still say it, although I’m much more lenient now. No student could dance if they were bigger than me. And back then I was almost 300 pounds when I first started. You know. So they all had to make sure that I the clothes, they looked good. Otherwise – ‘cause you know, people don’t really want to see guys dance in clothes; you gotta wear those malo things, and the lawalawas. And I never could wear

them, because well, ‘cause you know. But they had to. You know, ‘cause it was the look, and I wanted to make sure that people knew who we were.

 

Well, at that time, you had the only male halau.

 

Yeah.

 

Is it still the only male halau?

 

You know, I think it is. Because most people have both women and men dancing for them. But it was really Maiki’s dream that I teach only men. And I’ll tell you; like I said, I would have done anything she asked. So I had no problem saying, Okay; I’ll do it. The thing that you need to know about, if you’re gonna – Leslie, you’re ever gonna teach men? You want to –

 

Yes.

 

– be a kumu hula. You’ll be not making any money. And –

 

As opposed to teaching women; you would make money?

 

Women, you can make money. People buy houses by teaching women. Teaching men, you will not make money.

 

Because?

 

They’re not gonna pay you to teach them how to dance hula. They’re – and there go – it goes back my kumu again, who said, If a man dances for you, then it is a privilege that you should have them. So I you know, when I was in halau, I was constantly on scholarship. And so that’s the way I’ve run my halau ever since; that it’s all scholarship.

 

You teach for free?

 

Yeah; yeah. And then when we need money, then we have a fundraiser. Or, if it needs supplementation, I have my career. And I swear, my kumu knew that too. ‘Cause I’m like her. She needs six of these things done, her daughter says, You can’t have the money; she’ll grab her money and do it herself. And I do the same thing. You know, it’s like, Well, no one tells me no when it comes to the halau. But if I want something, and they’re like, You know, we don’t have that much money we’re getting it. Yeah; we’re gonna just do it.

 

As successful as the halau has been, I’ve heard you say in the past that it’s not easy to get men to dance.

 

Yes; yeah. It gets harder and harder as the years go along. Although, a new revelation has come along for us; and that is that now, the sons of my students are dancing for me. And you know, I’ve graduated students as teachers. Four of them are teaching, even as we speak.

 

And thats a legacy.

 

That –

 

Mhm.

 

– really is. But as far as, for me, a real legacy and a continuation, so that I can actually see it myself; having the kids of my dancers with me. It makes me want to live longer. It really does. And it makes me want to be a better teacher, too.

 

How does someone get into your halau? Can any guy get into your halau?

 

Well, no. [chuckle] No, you can’t. You have to be invited.

 

And all of your dancers are part-Hawaiian?

 

No.

 

They’re not?

 

No. No; and I don’t think that’s really important, either. And that comes from my kumu. You know. Because it’s more about the heart, I think, and the fact that once you become a member of my halau, then you are Hawaiian to me, because now you’re not just a member of the halau, but a member of the family.

 

Family; mm.

 

Yeah. And so all my family, all my brothers and sisters, and my nieces and nephews; they all know these guys. And they all know my family. So several years ago, we had a, a family reunion in Kohala, and they said, You know, we’re all going. And I was like, No, you’re not. They was like, Oh, yeah; we are. ‘Cause sister Jean and sister Gerry told us, and cousin Momi, that we’re family. So they all came. We all went to Kohala together and –

 

Whats more important; heart or dancing ability?

 

Oh, right now, today, at this very moment with you and me; heart.

 

But tomorrow, dancing ability?

 

Tomorrow, if we have a show to do and it’s time to get on the stage; dancing ability. But for right now, heart. But it doesn’t mean I’ll get rid of you. You know. Where before, I would get rid of people much faster. Today, I’m much more lenient.

 

Among your students in your halau, you’ve admitted your brother.

 

Yes. Roland came to halau for a while; I think it was a little over a year. And I kicked him out of halau because he was given an assignment and he didn’t finish it.

 

What was the assignment?

 

He had to learn two chants. And we laugh about it today, because had he learned, especially one of them, we’d be – we do it all the time in our lives, you know; all the time now. But I give my brother a lot of credit. You know, we’re born as brothers in this lifetime, and then he goes and puts himself, again, in my life by being a student. That’s a difficult thing to do.

 

Well, you could give him a second chance.

 

Well, the second chance is that he’s no longer a student, but he is a kokua. So my brother is there all the time. And I think in being the kokua now, it’s better than being a student. ‘Cause you still get the lessons, but you don’t get too much of the same pressure that happened. And what’s happened is, I’ve learned from that lesson too, and because of him, I’ve learned to be able to give chances to others. Where before, I would have [SNAPS FINGERS] got rid of ‘em, like how I did him. You know.

 

And

 

And the other thing is, you can’t talk back to me.

 

[chuckle]

 

You can’t talk back to me.

 

He would have to stop talking back to you.

 

You can’t talk back – no. And Roland would like – you know, you can’t talk to me. Not in front of my students; you can’t talk back to me. That’s just the way it is.

 

But he can as a kokua?

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

So he worked it out.

 

Yeah; he did. And I’m really glad he’s the kokua. And yeah. I love him; he’s a good guy. I’ve never said that before on camera, either. That took a bit.

 

[chuckle] Hes gonna want copies.

 

I think so too. He’ll be sending out to the family.

 

In birth order, Robert and Roland are number 10 and number 11 in a family of 12 children from Kalihi. The two men are family for life and highly successful musical partners for more than 30 years now. Appreciating family and health became more important than ever to Robert in 1990. That’s when he found out he has diabetes.

 

You were 300 pounds at one point?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was a long time ago, but still, it was a part of my life. I look at those pictures, and I go, Who is this monstrous person?

 

Had you always been heavy as a kid?

 

Yeah; yeah, I always was. And then in 1990, my doctor said to me; he says, You know, you gotta watch out, ‘cause you’re a diabetic now. And I was like, Oh; okay. So he said, You have to really think about this, and you know, you have to cut down, and you have to do this, and you have to exercise, and stuff. And I was like, Oh, jeez; what a bummer. And I started walking in 1990, and it’s been my companion for that long now, and it’s kept me down so that I’m now – I fluctuate between 197 to 204 pounds. And it helps with everything; you know, the heart, the blood, the breathing; stuff like that.

 

Thats right; breathing. I mean, you have to have good breath control, or you’ll lose your occupation.

 

And that’s why, you know, I never liked cigarettes. My father was real adamant about us smoking. You know. So I never liked that, ‘cause I thought, Okay; I’m gonna tell you another story.

 

Shoot.

 

When Peter, Roland and I were recording our second album called Guava Jam, no; sorry, Guava Jam was first, Crack Seed was second. I had just finished singing a song called The Queen’s Jubilee, from a family songbook of the Iaukea’s. And I was sitting in the studio, and Peter and Roland and the engineer were in that small room that they are over there, and Peter said, Okay, we’re gonna play this back to you. I was like, All right. So there were two big speakers here, and they started playing the song, and I’m singing along with it. Well, there was a mirror on the floor on the side over here, and I just happened to glance over it. And I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I thought, I found it very difficult to believe that the person I was looking at in the mirror was the owner of this voice that was coming through. Because I didn’t feel that person matched the beauty of the voice.

 

Mm.

 

And that, for me, was – what’s that word; epiphany.

 

Mhm.

 

It was an epiphany for me, and I kind of realized that this voice was something special; and that’s when I decided that I’d better take care of it. So all these years, you know, losing the weight and keeping it down and exercising and watching what you eat …

 

And continuing to take voice lessons.

 

And continuing to take voice lessons with my dear kumu leo, Neva Rego, who I love to pieces. Both Roland and I went to Neva at a time where our voices were beginning to fade a bit. We weren’t aware of it. Well, maybe we were, and that’s why we went. But she added so much to what we needed to remember and do. And still does, you know. I don’t go as often as I used to, but she has spies. And they’ll come, and they’ll see us, and they’ll call her. And then she’ll call me and she’ll go, Roberto …

 

[chuckle]

 

Can you come see Auntie Neva?

 

And its all about getting the best of your voice at any time in your life.

 

Yeah, and to keep it going. You know. My doctor, Kalani Brady, who is also a student of Neva’s – you know, we’re all kinda like intertwined. So there’s Neva and me, and there’s Kalani, and there’s Roland, and all of us, and stuff like this, and they always say to me, you know, This is something special; you have to take care of it; we’re gonna help you the best we can. So it’s an obligation too, you know.

 

You mentioned the beauty of your voice, which is so true. How do you look at that? Do you see that as a gift you take care of, or do you think uh, of something you created, or …

 

No; I think it was a gift. I really do. And I find that as I get older now, and as much as I love to sing, I think singing makes me beautiful. I also think that it’s one of the most honest and scariest things that I do in my life. Because when I’m on stage, or I’m at home, or at a cousin’s party, and if I’m singing, it is the most honest I could possibly be. I am as wide open as a book; and you can read all the chapters, ‘cause nothing [chuckle] nothing’s been blocked, or censored. It’s just honestly, blatantly there.

 

Well, funny you should say that. Because I was reviewing what’s been written about you over the years, but, you know, I didn’t really see a lot about who you are. Just what you do. Is that because you keep it close?

 

Yeah. You know, it’s not that I do that conscientiously; it’s just, I’ve always felt when we were talking to anybody, being interviewed, you know, that has a game plan. We’re talking about the CD, we’re talking about this May Day concert, we’re talking about entering Merrie Monarch and why we’re doing it. And so I did that. You know. Someday, someone will. And maybe it’ll happen; I’m not real sure.

 

I mean, well, you could do it now.

 

Okay; go.

 

[chuckle] I would just like to know what drives you, what moves you, what …

 

I think, first of all, my family. And my kupuna, the ancestors, and the fact that I feel that the – my heaviest obligation is to make them proud. To not make them embarrassed. Because – and I’ve said this before, and I love this image. That even as I’m here speaking to you, there are thousands of people behind me right now. Some I know, and some I don’t.

 

From generations back? From generations before, from countries that I don’t even know about; they’re just here. And you don’t want them rolling your eyes.

 

Yeah.

 

Their eyes. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; uh-huh. Or this thing; [clucks tongue]. You know how local people do that [clucks tongue] thing. And that would just kill me. But they’re all here, and I feel an obligation towards them, and you, and our people and this land. And then I think if I’m gonna do that, then I have to have an obligation to my health. Even as last night, I’m at a restaurant eating stuff that maybe I shouldn’t have, you know. I didn’t have the dessert, but okay, I had the pasta. And then when it comes to the hula, I have an obligation to my teacher and to my students. And I just want to be good for them. I want to really be good for them. And if it means that my personal life – my personal life does not suffer from anything; it suffers from me, if I want it to suffer. Okay. But my personal is really the family. And it’s a real broad use of the word family, because it encompasses the ones that I’m related to by blood, and those that I’m related to by heart. And it just keeps getting bigger. Sometimes I feel like I have no control over this; and at the same time, maybe I’m not supposed to. So I live my life now in a – I love to say this; a perpetual state of gratitude. I wake up every morning, and I just say thank you to everybody, and everything. You know, we’re from Kohala, on the Big Island.

 

North Kohala?

 

North Kohala. My mom is from Hawi, and my dad’s from Niulii. And my mother used to say, When you go to Hawaii Island, she says, you must say hello to everyone – the people, the rocks, the ocean, the trees; because they’re related to all of us. You know. It’s how I feel with uh, with everybody that we meet now, you know. That there is a purpose, and nothing is by accident; that I’m there to learn the lessons that are happening. And that I’m really, really grateful.

 

Its been such a long haul for Hawaiians, who still populate our prisons and are represented on the poverty lists and many haven’t had access to Hawaiian homelands. I mean, how do you see the Hawaiian condition today?

 

Oh, I think it’s appalling. At the same time, though, I’m one of the lucky ones, you know, who Hawaiians will look at me and say well, sometimes they’ll say, you know, You sold out.   I don’t – I’m not so sure how I did that; I was just working. But the other they say is, you know, I want to be like you. And I’m thinking, Oh, I don’t know whether you want to do that eit You know. But if I can help in any way I can and I think of Don Ho. ‘Cause he said to me one night when we were at you know, he used to go to McCully Chop Suey all the time.

 

M-hm; at 3:00 a.m. [chuckle]

 

Yeah, yeah; there you are. Okay; order all that food.

 

Yeah.

 

And Don said to me; he says, You know, when people ask for money, I give them money, our people. He said, Are you gonna do the same thing? I said, I don’t know that I can give them money, but I’m gonna give them what I can. You know. And if it’s the voice, or if it’s just being there then I’ll do it.

 

Do you what you can with what you have.

 

Yeah. Yeah. God, I can’t believe I said some of that stuff.

 

I forgot Don Ho used to go to McCully Chop Suey in the middle of the night. No, but it’s true; you’ve got to decide you know, how far you’re willing to go, and how much you’re willing to give.

 

 

Yeah. And you cannot just talk it; if you said something already, you know, people remember. They can go back now – especially with the internet; they can go back and see what I said 20 years ago. [chuckle]

 

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. He was trying to get you to do the same thing he was doing.

 

Yeah. Yeah. And you know, Don was one of our greatest supporters.

 

Wow. He didnt feel a competitive deal?

 

No. He just liked what we did. And his mother liked us. So you know, it’s a Hawaiian thing. You know.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

You’re a local girl; you understand that.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know, I used to always say I don’t know that I would go to war for the United States of America. I don’t know that I would kill someone for the United States of America. But if they’re threatening Hawaii I would stand out front. And years ago, we had this – there was a kue. there was a march of all Hawaiians. It started at the Aloha Tower, and it came up to the Palace. Several – Ala, myself. Mapuana, maybe Vicky; we were there at the front, and our job – Manu. We were to chant all these people as we came in, continuously; it was to be hours and hours of our chanting these people in. And just before they were gonna open the gate, someone had told us that there might be something happening. That would include, you know, guns and stuff like this. And Roland had told Ala; If anything happens, you grab my brother, and you folks go in here. And you can talk the talk but if you can’t walk the walk, then what’s the purpose of it? I said, You know, if anything is gonna happen, then it’s meant to happen, and I’m putting it out there right now. So if anything happens, I ain’t going; I’m staying right here. I think it’s how you – when you believe in something, whether it’s our world, or peace or just another person, we have to do what is best for ourselves, and hope that it’s best for everyone too.

 

You know, you mentioned that lyrics really speak to you in song. What are the most beautiful lyrics that you sing, and in what language are they?

 

Well, there’s – if I had to pick an English song it would be two. One would be David Gates from Bread – he wrote a song called If. And my favorite line in that song is, And when my life and when my love for life is running dry, you come and pour yourself on me. When I sing that line, it’s like, to me, the heavens open up, and I am just drenched with all this love from the people who know me. The other one is from Carousel, I think. If I loved you, da-da longing to tell you, but afraid and shy I let my golden chances pass me by. And I’ve let many a golden chance pass me by. But there’s no regret. You can’t have regrets; I refuse to have regrets.

 

What about in Hawaiian?

 

In Hawaiian, too many; too many. You know, for me, the most simplest things have the deepest meanings. So oh, gee; god, what’s the – there are so many. I can’t even think of – okay, there’s a song what was written by Lei Collins, and it’s called – they call it Kealoha. And it goes, [sings]. In the third verse, it says [sings]. That I become very relaxed and I am comfortable when the scent of my lover is present. I love that line. Because no one knows that scent, except you, you know. And whether they’re there with you or not, physically, that scent that you remember can put them right in front of you. And I think that’s powerful; that’s – you know. And then another one is from Pua Ahihi, written by Kawena, and it says [sings] No, no, no, no. There’s this one verse, and it talks about there’s a flower, okay, so it’s you know Lanihuli? Lanihuli is that mountain there at the Pali; when you’re standing at the Pali lookout, it’s the one on the left hand side. And what it says is that you’re – this person that you love is like a lehua flower up there, but it is pretty much unreachable. And the reason that person is unreachable is because you put that person there. That that’s how much your love is extended to the fact that you would take this person that you love, and put them so high out of reach that it’s worth the love. That’s what it means to me.

 

Beautiful lyrics, lovely sentiments. Speaking of sentiments, I’d like to thank our viewers who’ve sent kind thoughts and encouraging words as PBS Hawaii works to deliver quality, local programming that inspires, informs and entertains. Mahalo to you and to Robert Cazimero for sharing your time and joining me for this L S S . I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

You know, we’ve lost some just treasures of Hawaiian music, and just recently too.

 

Yeah.

 

And of course, you know that you’ve earned a place in that vaulted place; I mean, you’re already there, where you’re a treasure. Do you ever think about how people will receive news sometime long from now, I hope, when you pass away? I think that’s why I work so hard when we do an album to make sure that it’s the best that it can be. Because really, it’s that music that’s immortal. It’s not this; it’s that music. So I try hard, and I wonder how they’ll receive it. You know, I wonder.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Neva Rego

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Neva Rego

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 1, 2008

 

Hawaii’s Voice Coach to the Stars

 

Neva Rego is known by many as Hawaii’s Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names.

 

Leslie Wilcox sits down with Neva to discuss how she followed her musical dreams, and how she shares her training and experience with her vocal students.

 

Neva Rego Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha no and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox with PBS Hawaii. We’re about to sit down with Neva Rego. Never heard of her? Neva is known by many as a Voice Coach to the Stars, the wind beneath their wings, with  a list of vocal students that includes Robert Cazimero, Tony Conjugacion, Jimmy Borges, Jasmine Trias and Jordan Segundo, and a waiting list with more than a hundred names. Neva Rego—next.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox – produced with Sony technology – is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in HD. High definition… it’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

Neva Rego is an extraordinary woman because she did an extraordinary thing. She followed her dream. Her wish was to be trained in a classical, Italian style of singing, the kind she’d been listening to on records since she was a child. So, at the tender age of 18, not long after World War II, she hopped on a freighter and shipped off to Italy to seek her destiny. She didn’t speak Italian and she didn’t even know the name of the technique she was seeking. It turned out to be bel canto.

 

It’s very hard to explain. It’s easy to listen to. What I think about it is, it’s so legato, meaning tied together; it’s all beautiful singing without pushing, without smashing those poor little notes. You know, it’s just gorgeous, beautiful singing; very legato. And free. I mean, if you’re singing bel canto, you’re not killing yourself when you hit a high note. It just—Pavarotti is an example of bel canto.

 

You know, my dad was a radio DJ and when I wanted to work in television I said, Dad, how do I use my voice? And he said, Do it the bel canto way. And of course, I had no idea what that meant. And he said, Take a candle and light it and put it in front of your mouth and speak, but make sure that you don’t blow that candle out.

 

Right.

 

No clue what he meant. And of course, when he spoke in front of it, he knew how to use his voice. But how does the candle relate to bel canto?

 

It doesn’t blow out. I’ve tried it so many times. It’s because your air is utilized with your voice, and no [BLOWS] comes out. No spurts of air or anything. It’s amazing.

 

And so that should help you as a performer to have a career over time, that you don’t destroy your vocal cords.

 

Oh, yeah. You don’t hurt yourself. And then it’s easier. Singing wise, you’re using your diaphragm and not your throat muscles to hold it up, you know, like some singers do.

 

So tell me a little about what life was like for you growing up. You were in Ka‘imuki.

 

Right; on 18th Avenue. And I’m still there. And I must say, we had a beautiful childhood, my brothers and myself. And at that time, there weren’t that many houses around us. You know, we had a lot of empty lots and little foresty-looking places that we built our clubhouse and all the kids would gather after school there. And I must say, it was a lovely time.

 

And you went to what school?

 

I went to Sacred Hearts Academy. And loved it. The nuns were wonderful, and I think they were a bit instrumental in my learning languages. Because all the nuns at that time were French, and I remember studying Latin and the teacher taught to us in French. How do you like that? And we had a lovely sister from Germany, Sister Polaneya, and she was a fabulous musician.

 

Now the girls at Sacred Hearts Academy are primed to go to college, and have professional careers. What was the goal in those days?

 

In those days, I do believe that a lot of the girls strived to be nurses or teachers. There weren’t that many kooky ones, like I was. [chuckle]

 

And how were you kooky?

 

Well, I wanted to something in music. I wanted singing; I loved it. And you know, here’s this little kid from Kaimuki, wanting singing. And you know, I don’t know why, but I felt it. As I recall, when I was seven years old, I heard this beautiful aria on the radio with this Italian singer. And I remember telling my mother that was the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my whole life. All of seven years, yes? And Mother said, You really loved it? I said, Oh, I love it, I just love it. Well, that did it. Mother went down to House of Music, at that time in Waikiki, and she kept buying all these records of Italian singers. And well, that whetted my appetite for opera.

 

What were the other kids on the block listening to? What kind of music were they listening to?

 

They were mostly in Hawaiian. And I loved Hawaiian; but there was something about opera that was for me, I felt. You know. And if nobody else liked it, that’s okay; but I did.

 

What appealed to you about it?

 

Oh, I loved the language, first of all. The Italian language is so beautiful to sing. You never have a bad sounding word in it.   You know, everything is so fluid and beautiful. And the drama, the music; I mean, it’s just glorious. Opera is complete, I feel. You have acting, singing, dancing, tragedies, happiness; everything all rolled up in one. You know? And that appealed to me.

 

So Italian opera was speaking to you from the time you were seven years old.

 

Seven.

 

And you’re singing at Sacred Hearts Academy.

 

M-hm.

 

And looking at graduation.

 

Yes. And then I said, I think I want to go and study more music. I was looking all over for it; I had seven teachers here, and they were wonderful; all seven of them. But it was not what I was looking for. I kept hearing this other thing in my head, and even though all my relatives told my mother that they were sorry for her, because they felt that she had only one daughter, and what a shame she was crazy.

 

[chuckle]

 

So I thought, never mind, they can’t hear what I’m hearing. So I convinced my mother and father that I had to go to Italy. So my mother said, Oh, my god. You don’t know Italian; what are you gonna do? But you know, when you’re 18 you think you have the world in your hand; you can do anything. So I said, I’ll learn it; no problems. So [chuckle] off I go on a on a freighter to Italy.

 

You know, some people follow their dreams to find fortune or fame or truth. Neva Rego heard a beautiful sound and followed it all the way to Milan, Italy simply to seek its beauty. Today, with air travel and cell phones and the internet, traveling halfway around the world, alone at that age, may not seem so remarkable. But to do it, at that time, seems so foreign.

 

Who did you go see? I mean, who did you know in Italy?

 

Well, before I left Honolulu, I was singing at the Hawaiian Village. And Rossano Brazzi, this Italian actor, he heard me singing, and he said, You know, senorina, you should be singing opera. And I said, Oh, I’m going to. And he said, Yes? I said, I’m going to Italy. And he said, Oh, wonderful. He said, I write to La Scala for you. And I thought, Well, that’s very kind, you know. But when I got to La Scala, I realized that [chuckle] it was so silly, because it was like shooting mosquitoes with a cannon; it was that ridiculous. I wasn’t ready for anything, except maybe to clean it.

 

[chuckle]

 

You know. And but the maestro was very nice, Vittorio di Sabato. He was very nice, and he understood my plight. And he told me, Oh, senorina, I will get you a teacher and this and that. So I got set up with this teacher.

 

How did you pay for this? Were your parents funding this uh, adventure?

 

Not really. I mean, they gave me a little in the beginning, ‘cause I didn’t come from a wealthy family. We were medium, you know. And so I had saved money when I was at the Hawaiian Village. And then just before I left, I was fortunate to get an Atherton scholarship, Atherton Foundation scholarship.

 

M-hm. They’re still giving –

 

–thanks to Bob Midkiff.

 

Still in business today, helping folks.

 

Still in business. So that really helped me. And I thought, Maybe I’ll stay a year and see how I do, you know. I think I’ll understand well after a year. Oh; after a year, I didn’t know beans yet. So I knew I had to stay on. And there was no more scholarships; my mother and father helped me a bit, without a doubt. But then I started to get jobs; little jobs. I’m not ashamed to say that I cleaned a few houses in the beginning, because I didn’t know the language. And then I started to teach English, which I think was horrible, because I didn’t really understand the grammar. [chuckle] And poor Italians would study with me, but they were mostly interested in speaking.

 

Conversation.

 

You know, conversation. And then later on, I got a job with the designer Pucci. And that started me working in haute couture. And I went on from him to Valentino and I was with him for seven years. And all the while, studying.

 

Now, were you dreaming of becoming a huge Italian opera star?

 

You know, I have to say no, I was not. Because I was so interested in this bel canto technique, that that’s what I kept looking for. I was trying to find it. And after two and a half years with this maestro from La Scala, I wasn’t finding it. And I was so embarrassed to tell my family that I didn’t find it yet, in Italy, two and a half years. So I didn’t tell them.

 

Did you think maybe you were chasing a phantom, that it really didn’t exist, it was something you heard, but you really couldn’t learn?

 

I knew it existed; I just couldn’t find it. You know, and I didn’t know where to go. And so I quit La Scala, the maestro from La Scala, and and then I must say, I passed about three months of sheer depression. [chuckle] I just said one fine day to the dear Lord, If you really want me to sing, you better show me the way, because I’ve exhausted everything. And so now, I leave it in your lap. If you want me to find this elusive little thing, you will let me find it. And so I stopped worrying. But that night, I had to get out of my little apartment, because I was getting stir crazy, you know. And so I went to La Scala to hear a concert. And I heard this girl singing. She was studying with me before at Scala, but she had left—she was gone about a year. And she was singing divinely; just what I was looking for. So I thought, How could that be; she must have found someone. So I was sitting in the opera house in the very top, which we call the chicken coops, yes?

 

M-hm.

 

And I rushed down, but somehow I was too late; and I missed her. So I was so upset and depressed, because I didn’t know how to get a hold of her. And I remember walking home; I couldn’t even take the tram, because I was crying. And so the next morning, I got up, still depressed. I said, I’ve gotta get out of here. So I went—in Milano, they have this big galleria in the middle of town, glassed in, and you have a coffee, you know. And it’s a nice diversion; people are walking to and from. And I was sitting down and all of a sudden, here comes this girl that sang the night before, walking down. Wow; I ran after her, and I said, Ciao; I said, I heard you sing last night; it was just beautiful. And she said, Oh, Neva; did I find a teacher. I said, I can hear it, I can hear it. And she said—I told her that I left that maestro, and she said, I wondered when you were gonna get smart. You know. I said, Yeah, but I didn’t know enough to know I didn’t know. You know? And so she said, What are you doing now? I said, Absolutely nothing. She said, Well, I’m going to a lesson; come with me. So I followed her to the lesson one-hour lesson, and I sat in a little corner, and I listened to lesson, and I cried for one hour. [chuckle] Cried. Because it was like there was so much emotion, because it was like something I was looking for, for so long and I found it. And so afterwards, the senora came over to me and she said, Senorina Neva, she says, are all Hawaiians so emotional? And I said, No, Senora, I said, you know, it’s just because I was looking for you since—I was trying to find you since I was seven years old. And she looked at me, and she started to cry. And we hugged, and it was love from then on; for 22 years, I was with her. Yeah.

 

What’s her name?

 

Her name is—was Magda Piccarolo. She was a lyrica leggiero soprano, and she sang all over. She sang at Scala and in America at the Met.

 

So you continued to have lessons with her for twenty-two years?

 

Yeah; twenty-two.

 

And you became a singer in Italian opera houses.

 

Italian opera. I first started off in concerts, because that’s what everybody does to get going; get your feet wet sort of thing. You know, and then you get a little role here and a little role there, and it just starts getting better and better.

 

What was your favorite role?

 

There’s so many. Gosh. Lucia is beautiful; Rigoletto is beautiful. I love La Sonnambula, but we never do it, because it’s very classical, it’s very bel canto, and maybe boring. But the singing is beautiful. And those are ones I love.

 

To sing in opera houses in Italy. To live and achieve a dream. Can you imagine? Neva Rego did what she loved and loved what she did. And that’s what I love about this story!

 

You know, I love the language. And I love the people; they’re so wonderful. You know. When I first went to Italy, it was not too long after the war, so people were still quite poor. And we didn’t have a refrigerator in the house. And there was no washing machine either. [chuckle] You’re looking at it. And you know, it’s difficult to wash sheets in the bathtub.

 

You did that for years?

 

I did all of that.

 

Ah.

 

Yeah, I really learned well. You know. And then I realized, silly Americans, when they complain; how beautiful our life is in America. And I think anybody who speaks against America should go abroad a while. Then you will how wonderful our country really is. You know. I know we are having problems now, but I mean, you know, the life is beautiful in America.

 

You stayed how many years; 26 years in all?

 

Twenty-six years. Really. It’s a lifetime, isn’t it?

 

Had you intended to come back? I mean, were you going to come back?

 

I think I might not have. The the thing that pushed me back was, in the late 70s, the man responsible for opera in Italy—he’s the one that subsidizes—that part of the government subsidizes opera. It was a Communist who got in. And when he got in, he decided no foreigners were gonna sing.

 

How high had you risen in the hierarchy of opera singers? Were you a big deal?

 

Well, I don’t think so. It was hard to get to be a big deal, because it was so political.

 

M-m.

 

You had to do so many things; you had to make sure an empresario liked you. [chuckle] And I didn’t wish to go further than that. So I just struggled along and sang and it worked well. But say that I got to the jet stream top; no.

 

And was that okay with you?

 

That was okay. Because I didn’t start off to be a big opera star. I started off looking for this technique. [chuckle]

 

And you found it—

 

I found it.

 

–and then you practiced it, and –

 

And now, I’m teaching it.

 

Neva Rego is a professional voice coach, teaching her beloved bel canto in her longtime family home in Ka‘imuki.

 

I never intended to teach. Never. But when I arrived home, after Italy, I thought, What am I gonna do? So I decided I was gonna go to Seattle. Because Seattle had good opera. And I was still young enough. So, then my father got ill.

 

M-m.

 

And had a stroke. And so that determined what I should do; I should stay home and take care of him. Because my brother was taking care of him all those other years, ‘cause Mother died so young. And so I stayed home, and this man came over and did an article on me in the paper. And the phone started ringing. And that’s the wonderful part of the story; it hasn’t stopped.

 

You have a waiting list this long. How many people are on your waiting list to take lessons?

 

Well, it used to be 200; right now, I think it’s down to about 100, 120. Which is nice; it’s security.

 

So the world started beating a path to your door; people wanted voice lessons from you.

 

Right. And one of the ones that came was Robert Cazimero.

 

How old was he then? Was he a young singer, just starting out?

 

This was in the 80s, early 80s.

 

In the 80s.

 

They were just from Manoa—

 

Sunday Manoa.

 

Sunday Manoa; and Robert came to me and said, You know, I’m having to lower my keys, and I don’t like that. He said, So I thought maybe if I studied a while, you’d help me. So 15 years later [chuckle]–

 

Now, why fifteen years?

 

Well, because he didn’t want to leave. He kept saying, No, I need it. I said, Robert, you don’t need lessons anymore; you know it so well. But we got on so well; he’s wonderful.

 

And this is not something that’s a quick fix, right?

 

No.

 

A student has to commit himself or herself.

 

Oh, yeah. With poppy music, I would say two years, two years and a half. Classical, forget it; six and seven. And you can’t learn it overnight; it’s not like you learn to play piano overnight. You know, you just need time. And anybody can learn to sing, if they wish it.

 

You are such a popular voice teacher. What kind of criteria do you have in accepting a student?

 

Just that they really want to learn, and that there’s a voice there.

 

So tell me some of the people you’ve trained over the years.

 

Well, as I said, Robert Cazimero. And I had Shari Lynn at that time too. She’s been great. And Jimmy Borges, and Tony Conjugacion. At one time, on Broadway, I had 17 people. Really. That was great for me, but it was kind of sad, because I wanted one at the Met.

 

[chuckle] Don’t ask for much.

 

And everybody was on Broadway. I said, Oh, my lord; what am I doing? You know. We even helped Richard Chamberlain study, Betty and I, and gosh; there’s so many.

 

Well, and just recently, American Idol came along and—

 

Oh.

 

Didn’t I hear your name with Jordan Segundo and—

 

Yes.

 

–Jasmine Trias? After the competition, though; not before.

 

After. And Anita Hall, Les Ceballos is one of mine too; a dear one. Jasmine, Danny Couch, and John Koko from Makaha Sons. You know. So there’s a long list, and they all are like children, like my kids that I never had.

 

How interesting that a lot of these people distinguish themselves in singing before they had lessons from you, but they were motivated to learn—

 

More. And you take Jordan, for example. He’s singing so well now. I’m so proud of him. And that he’s such a nice boy. And I really want him to get ahead. And he’s learned very well. He never misses lessons, he’s so enthusiastic. See, that’s—

 

Now, he didn’t win American Idol, obviously. Do you think he would have gotten farther if he’d had the lessons earlier?

 

Without a doubt.

 

How would his voice have changed?

 

Well, he would have—now, he has a complete range. He sings down the bottom, he goes all the way to a B-flat, and a high C. He never had those notes before.

 

How about Robert, because he had wonderful training at Kamehameha, I would think.

 

Yes. Robert can go to a B-flat like that too. You see, what you do with the technique is, you tie the voice together. Especially people like Jordan and Robert; you might sing with your chest voice here; but then the minute you get near what we call the break, the passagio, you have to have a different placement for those high notes. So you have to blend in the bottom to the top, and you learn to go over that transition very smoothly with study. And they do it; beautiful. Listen; listen to Robert. After all these years, he still sounds glorious.

 

And after all this time, it’s still bel canto for you.

 

Yeah, it’s still—

 

You’ve never heard another type of vocal technique that works as well for you?

 

No; I’m in love with bel canto.

 

And so your mother didn’t raise a crazy daughter after all?

 

No, I don’t think so. I hope not. I don’t know if others feel that way, but I’m in love with what I’m doing. I love it.

 

Mahalo to Neva Rego for sharing her stories with us today. And thank you for joining me for them. That’s all the time we have for this Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ciao bella and aloha hui hou kakou!

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is produced in HD by PBS Hawaii with Sony technology. High definition. It’s in Sony’s DNA.

 

My name is not really Neva; it’s Aggreneva. And everybody gets all twisted ‘cause they don’t know who she is. But my mother named me after a Russian opera singer, and her name was Agraneva Schlovanskaya. I’m kinda happy Mother stopped after Aggreneva. Mother never told me that I had this name. I knew it was a kooky name; at school, they called me Aggrevacious. You know how school kids are. Anyway, all of a sudden, I said to Mother that I was in love with music and I wanted to do music. So Mother said, Well, you know, I think I’ll tell you about your name. And she told me about Aggreneva Schlovanska, who had come here years ago with some Russian group. And they sang at Hawaii Theatre. Isn’t that interesting?

 

And your mother obviously had a love for opera.

 

Yeah. But I was the one that was gonna make it my life.