Tue, 23 December 2014
I don’t want to say that The Brothers Cazimero have been around a long time. But their first release came out on 8-track. And their first Christmas album was released on both vinyl LP and cassette.
But that is by no means a dig at two gentlemen who arguably did more to perpetuate and further the Hawaiian music tradition in the 20th century than any other artists. There might not have been any such thing as “contemporary Hawaiian music” were it not for their seminal contribution (Guava Jam, from the group known as the Sunday Manoa which featured brothers Robert and Roland Cazimero and wizard of all stringed instruments Peter Moon). At the very least the duo lit the spark that became the blazing inferno now known as the “Hawaiian Music Renaissance” of the 1970s. And they did it by remaining both largely respectful to their past and true to themselves as artists. Make no mistake, in their younger days they took more than their fair share of cracks for jazzing and rocking Hawaiian music a little too much, a few more still from such mentors as Alice Namakelua and Eddie Kamae for singing a few Hawaiian lyrics incorrectly. (Some still have not forgiven them for their version of “Morning Dew” which by Robert’s own admission was well off the mark with regard to their use of the Hawaiian language.) But these are the growing pains of musicians that would become artists, and now it is Robert who is grooming the next generation of Hawai`i’s musicians.
I do not know a life without The Brothers Cazimero. Cherished aunties and uncles would make their annual trip home to Hawai`i and return to the East Coast with 35mm films (this was the pre-iPhone era, after all) of the boys at Chuck’s Cellar or Waikiki Lau Yee Chai, and I was enthralled. I kept wondering… How do two guys make so much music? They sound like five or six! Of course, the answer was two-fold and lies both in their soaring, intertwining voices – diving and swooping in and around each other until they sound like a choir of thousands – and in Roland’s unique 12-guitar style, approaching the guitar like an orchestra with an eye (and ear) toward laying down a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for their singing as well as playing melodic counterpoint at the same time, often wiring his pick-ups in stereo so that half of the notes come at your left ear and the other half at your right. They were ahead of their time in more ways than we can count.
And so nearly a decade into their career as a duo after the untimely implosion of the Sunday Manoa, the brothers finally gifted us with their first of what has turned out (so far) to be three holiday-themed releases, Christmas Collection in 1984. It is exactly what you would expect from the groundbreaking duo and perhaps more – their creative juices sprinkled with the magic dust of Christmas to make everything that is uniquely Cazimero even moreso (as if that were possible). From the pahu drum that opens “We Three Kings” (a nod, no doubt, to their own king, David Kalākaua, and his revival of the hula), you knew from first listen 30 years ago (has it really been that long?) that this was going to be a holiday album like no other previously from Hawai`i. Robert and Roland created a template that would be followed for the next three decades – setting the stage for such inventive outings as those from Keali`i Reichel and Willie K. In short, the brothers – like Lena Machado, Kahauanu Lake, and Eddie Kamae before them – made it alright to push the boundaries of Hawaiian music as long as one foot was kept firmly in tradition, all was done with impeccable taste and respect, and the whole thing was wrapped up in something uniquely Hawaiian.
And this is precisely what Christmas Collection was and remains three decades later. Robert and Roland melded their contemporary take on songs and hymns that remind us of the true reason for the season (“Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”) with such winter-themed chestnuts as “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” And Roland, the baby of the massive Cazimero `ohana, summons up his inner wonder when the big, burly Hawaiian sings “Me & My Teddy Bear.”
In short, Christmas Collection was a joyous romp that inspired many similar creations from the artists that would follow in their footsteps. And to show our gratitude for forging a new path in Hawaiian music and for many years of enjoyment, the brothers have more than earned this position on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i. You can hear the entire delightful album on such streaming services as Spotify or Rhapsody or download it to your iPhone or iPod from iTunes or Amazon.com. Because the album has been packaged and repackaged over and over again throughout its 30 year history, you will today most likely find it under the title Cazimero Christmas Favorites which also features a few selections from their follow-up holiday release.
Next time: #2 on Ho`olohe Hou’s list of the 25 Greatest Christmas Albums from Hawai`i…