Black Sand: The Best of Kalapana, a 20-track anthology from the Hawaiian band drawn from the years 1975-1983, presents a vivid portrait of the group that, despite various personnel changes, has been playing to sold-out crowds for 45 years now. Yet one question lingers: how has Kalapana languished in obscurity on the American mainland for so long?
Malani Bilyeu, D.J. Pratt, Kirk Thompson, and Mackey Feary came together to make music in 1973. All but Pratt were born in Honolulu; the lead guitarist had his roots in Kapahulu. The name “Kalapana” came from a town on the Big Island, though the bandmates had differing ideas as to what the word meant; reportedly Thompson thought it translated to “beat of the music,” and Pratt felt it was “black sand.” Or did it translate to “sprouting money,” oddly enough? Thompson pushed to call the band “Dove,” instead. But whatever the meaning, the name stuck, and Kalapana would soon translate to: one of Hawaii’s most beloved bands. All four proved to be talented songwriters as well as musicians as they carved out a niche in the Hawaiian pop landscape in a rich period that also saw the success of artists such as Cecilio and Kapono, Country Comfort, Olomana, Sons of Hawaii, and Keola and Kapono Beamer.
The collection’s opening track “The Hurt,” one of three reprised here from the band’s self-titled 1975 LP, sets the tone for the abundance of musical treasures that follow. It’s an instantly catchy, uptempo soft rock tune that would fit comfortably on any yacht rock playlist with its smooth production, happily honking saxophone, and as many vocal and instrumental hooks as can be squeezed into a three-and-a-half-minute pop song. Guy Aoki’s liner notes suggest that every one of the tracks on Kalapana could have been a single, and it certainly seems plausible based on the breezy ode to a “Nightbird,” with woodwinds gently wafting through like tropical air, or the sad, beautiful “Naturally” with its subtle harmonies and lustrous strings. All three cuts, still among Kalapana’s most beloved songs, play like lost classics on an alternate AM dial.
With lyrics addressing universal emotions of love and loss, and clean, shimmering arrangements and strong melodies redolent of the California sound, Kalapana captured the zeitgeist of the period. They cut straight to the heart with the tender, bittersweet “Dorothy Louise,” one of four songs selected from the group’s sophomore album Kalapana II. The soaring bossa-pop of “Moon and Stars” continued in the vein of “Nightbird.” Guest musician Michael Paulo’s saxophone solo on “(For You) I’d Chase a Rainbow” underscored the languid atmosphere of the romantic ballad – a form at which Kalapana excelled – and Paulo also stood out on the Thompson composition which gives this collection its title. The moody, evocative “Black Sand” (still the band’s opener in concert today) offers up instrumental, Latin-tinged fusion, with room for improvisational solos.
Mackey Feary’s demons got the better of him (for the first, but sadly not the last time) and the writer of such songs as “The Hurt” and “Nightbird” was dismissed prior to Kalapana III. With Randy Aloya as his replacement and the addition of Michael Paulo and Alvin Fejarang, the band pressed on. Black Sand presents a trio of tracks from this transitional album. “Songbird” showcased Pratt and Bilyeu’s vocal as well as songwriting blend. Bilyeu contributed the dramatic “Another Time,” and Pratt collaborated with Fejarang on the edgier, rock-oriented “Alisa Lovely” with nods to blues and funk.
Director Gary Capo gave Kalapana the chance to score his surfing documentary film Many Classic Moments. Black Sand has culled a couple of tracks from the soundtrack including the lushly arranged title track and “Water Song,” both penned by Bilyeu. When Many Classic Moments took off in Japan, Kalapana gained a new audience there – one that remains loyal to this day. Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo was the site where 1978’s In Concert was recorded. The live versions here of two songs from Kalapana III (“Inarajan (The Village)” and “Girl”) find the band in high-energy mode with a raw, less polished sound than on the studio productions. Before they could return to the studio, however, Kirk Thompson departed the line-up. Another major change came when the decision was made that Kalapana, for the first time, would not helm the sessions themselves. Ira Newborn was brought in as producer. The New York-born musician would later gain fame as the composer of such memorable films as Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mallrats, and the Naked Gun series. At the time, he was perhaps best-known as a songwriter who had placed tunes with Manhattan Transfer, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, and Leo Sayer. Newborn helped the shape the taut arrangements of Northbound with disco and R&B influences. There’s a Philly soul almost Hall and Oates-esque flavor on D.J. Pratt’s driving “Hard Times.”
Following Northbound, Randy Aloya and keyboardist Kimo Cornwell quit the band, followed by Malani Bilyeu and Michael Paulo. D.J. Pratt took the reins for Hold On, represented by the AOR-leaning “Running Hot in the Street.” The final tracks on Black Sand are all from subsequent live releases. “How Does It Feel,” from Hold On, is all rocking energy in the live rendition from 1980’s Japan Jam Live. Similarly, “Northbound” in its 1981 Alive recording evinces a tougher, more guitar-heavy sound than Kalapana had displayed in the past. Ironically, Pratt was out of the picture for 1982’s Kalapana Reunion, in which Mackey Feary, Malani Bilyeu, Kirk Thompson and Michael Paulo all participated and came together for the first time in six years. Feary’s uptempo “Going, Going, Gone” from that Waikiki concert closes out this collection on a high note, with its nods to “Jamaica Farewell” and “Valhevela.”
Sadly, there can be no further Kalapana reunions. Mackey Feary died in prison by his own hand in 1999. Alvin Fejarang died in 2017. Today, Bilyeu and Pratt carry on with Kenji Sano and Gaylord Holomalia. Kirk Thompson and Randy Aloya have both returned to the fold on occasion in recent years, too. Black Sand: The Best of Kalapana, which is being released by Manifesto in conjunction with The Original Album Collection, a 7-CD box set (including the U.S. debuts of Many Classic Moments, Live in Concert, and Northbound), celebrates their legacy in high style. Splendidly remastered by Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz, and featuring a 20-page illustrated booklet with track-by-track notes, this transporting, sun-kissed anthology should earn the band its long-overdue recognition on the mainland.
- The Hurt
- Dorothy Louise
- (For You) I’d Chase a Rainbow
- Moon and Stars
- Black Sand
- Another Time
- Alisa Lovely
- Many Classic Moments
- The Water Song
- Inarajan (The Village)
- Rainy Day
- Hard Times
- Runnin’ Hot in the Street
- How Does It Feel
- Going Going Gone
Tracks 1-3 from Kalapana, Abattoir LP KALA0001, 1975
Tracks 4-7 from Kalapana II, Abattoir LP KALA0002, 1976
Tracks 8-10 from Kalapana III, Abattoir LP KALA0004, 1977
Tracks 11-12 from Many Classic Moments, Abattoir LP KALA0005, 1978
Tracks 13-14 from In Concert, Trio LP AW-3001-2, 1978
Tracks 15-16 from Northbound, Trio LP AW-1034, 1978
Track 17 from Hold On, Trio LP AW-1045, 1980
Track 18 from Japan Jam Live, Trio LP AW-1052, 1980
Track 19 from Alive, WMOT LP FW-37571, 1981
Track 20 from Kalapana Reunion, Paradise LP SLP-843, 1983