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Roland Cazimero, Musician Who Helped Define Modern Hawaiian Culture, Dies At 66

Roland Cazimero.
Ric Noyle
Ric Noyle Photo Productions
Roland Cazimero.

Roland Cazimero, a guitarist and singer who helped define the nobly mellifluous sound of contemporary Hawaiian music, primarily as one-half of The Brothers Cazimero, died in Honolulu on Sunday at 66 years old, his twin sister, Kanoe, confirmed. No cause of death was given, though the artist suffered in recent years from congestive heart issues, diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome.

The Brothers Cazimero, with Robert on upright bass and Roland on 12-string acoustic guitar, had been a cornerstone of the Hawaiian music scene for the last 40 years, and arguably its singlemost influential group during that time. The duo's trademark sound, liltingly sweet but rhythmically strong, was always distinguished by a full-bodied vocal blend: Robert, an exceptionally gifted singer, sang lead, while Roland handled the high harmonies, often in an imploring Hawaiian falsetto.

The Brothers Cazimero took flight precisely in step with, and at the center of, a cultural movement called the Hawaiian Renaissance, propelled by musicians, artisans and custodians of ancient hula and chant. In cadence and repertoire, the group honored the root sources of Hawaiian music. But Roland and Robert also had an instinct for pop songcraft, creating music that combined traditional materials with the earnest gleam of mainland folk-rockers like Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The self-titled debut album by The Brothers Cazimero was released in 1975; its most recent, Destiny, was released in 2008.

The duo was a perennial favorite at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, Hawaii's version of the Grammys, winning enough "Song of the Year" honors to stock a compilation album, 20 Years of Hoku Award Winning Songs. As a live act, The Brothers Cazimero presented a study in contrasts; while Robert struck a tone of elegant precision, Roland played the part of a rascal and a wiseacre, which wasn't a stretch.

Roland Kanoelani Cazimero was born 15 minutes after his sister Kanoe, in 1950, the youngest in a large family of 12 children, counting half-siblings. Their parents, William Ka`aihue Cazimero, Sr., and Elizabeth Kapeka Meheula, were local entertainers, and music was a constant presence around their house in the working-class Honolulu neighborhood of Kalihi.

Roland graduated from Kamehameha High School in 1968, one year after Robert. Soon afterward they joined Peter Moon, a ukulele player and slack-key guitarist, in a group called The Sunday Manoa. Its 1969 album Guava Jam quickly became a bedrock document of the Hawaiian Renaissance, its declarative subtitle making plain their artistic intentions: "Contemporary Hawaiian Folk Music."

Robert and Roland broke away from Sunday Manoa to form The Brothers Cazimero in 1974, becoming both torchbearers and cultural ambassadors. For a dozen years, beginning in the early '80s, they held a residency at the posh Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, performing mainly to delighted tourists. They also toured widely, appearing at Carnegie Hall.

Politically motivated civil disobedience was a key subtext of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and Roland counted himself an enthusiastic member of the resistance. "I've been supporting sovereignty from day one," he once told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, recalling his efforts to house and supply the protesters who occupied the tiny island of Kaho`olawe in 1976.

The following year, Roland collaborated with songwriter and chanter Keli`i Tau`a on an album called Hokule`a — The Musical Saga, paying tribute to the eponymous Polynesian voyaging canoe that traversed the oceans using only ancient navigation techniques. (The Hōkūle`a, a symbol of the Hawaiian renaissance, has remained active, completing a three-year circumnavigation of the globe just weeks ago.)

Roland's first true solo effort was Pele, a 1979 concept album about the Hawaiian goddess of fire, complete with expository voiceover. The songs framed a mythological story in often personal terms, forming a clear narrative arc. The sound of the album combined pastoral folk with something approaching prog, as on a track called "A Promise Forgotten."

Along with Robert and twin sister Kanoe, known as Tootsie, Roland is survived by his wife, Lauwa`e Cazimero; another brother, Rodney; and his children Hawai'iki Cazimero, John Devin Kumau C. McWilliams, Jonah Cazimero, Jordan Malama Cazimero-Chinen, and Justin Pono Cazimero-Chinen.

The Brothers Cazimero played their last proper concert on Maui in 2014. Roland had to interrupt the performance, and was treated in a local hospital for walking pneumonia.

During a recent interview with Leslie Wilcox for the PBS Hawaii program Long Story Short, Roland was asked whether Robert knew their playing days as The Brothers Cazimero were probably over. "I think he knows," he said. "I tell him that I'm very proud of him doing what he's doing, and that I want him to continue."

He paused. "I miss playing with him a lot. I would love to play with him again, if possible."

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