My dad, Rudolph “Duffy” DeLima, named the band Kapena. He told us, “You don’t want a long, Hawaiian name. You want something short and to the point.” He told Me, Tiva and Timo that he used to cut out of school and go to Kapena falls and he really liked that name. Kapena, in hawaiian, means a captain of a plane or ship. We entered Brown Bags under Kaimuki High School as Kapena in 1985. However, that year, it went through an elimination process called Hawaii High. We competed against Leilehua High School and the winners between the two high schools would go to Brown Bags at the Waikiki Shell. We had cheerleaders and it was filmed. Brown Bags was a huge event back in the day! The Hawaii High competition took the top three Kaimuki High School groups and the top three groups from Leilehua High School and out of those six, one Leilehua High School group and one group from Kaimuki High School would move on to Brown Bags at the Waikiki Shell.
We didn’t win for Kaimuki High School that year and we never made it to the Brown Bags competition at the Waikiki Shell. But, after that, we started playing together at little parties. We couldn’t do more than a 15 minute set when we first began. But my dad made us booklets and he worked with us. I remember those days when we would just rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. We learned a big repertoire of songs until we could play 5 hours without a break—just, straight music. We got our first gig playing at the Polynesian Pub in Waikiki, 6 nights a week, 6-8 hours a day and we would only play for tips. But, we were making so many tips! 18 was the drinking age then and we would pack people in to that place. Tiva and Timo’s brother, Sam Tatofi, would count the tips, and Timo would joke that “some of it went missing!”
I remember Tony Conjugacion just winning a Na Hoku Hanohano award and Timo and Tiva looking at me and saying “brah, when are we going to break out of this? When are we going to get popular, do an album and start traveling?” I told them, “I don’t know but our day will come.”
Tiva started working as a doorman at the Hungry Eye. All the top groups in Hawaii were playing there and Tiva would tell the management that he had a group that wanted to play there. Well, Uncle Mo used to play at the Hungry Eye on Saturdays and on one Saturday he had another engagement to be at so he called us to fill in for him. We got there at 3:30 p.m. and they don’t usually start until 5 p.m.! We were just so excited! This was a really happening place and we wanted to do a good job. We started playing at 4:57 p.m. The manager at the time was this German guy. He came in a half an hour after we started and he was infuriated when he saw that we were playing in place of Uncle Mo. He said, “Where is Mo? Who the hell is this group? Get them off now!” The bartender calmed him down and explained that Mo had another engagement that evening. He looked at us angrily and just said, “play, play!” He sat at the end of the bar and watched us play with his hand under his chin and his jaw to the ground the entire set. After we finished he came to us and said, “Who are you? Who’s Kapena? You guys are terrific! I want to hire you! You start on Sunday. The guy that plays on Sunday always comes late. I fire him!” We were in the major leagues, we felt like.
Shortly after that, we met Eddy Moreno who became our manager. He pushed us to do a live recording at Sparky’s Lounge. We wanted to call it Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Your Money Back, but we didn’t actually want to give anyone their money back so we settled for Satisfaction Guaranteed. The day of the recording was a Saturday morning at Sparky’s Lounge. My dad passed away the Wednesday before that and we dedicated the album to him. I remember going up the Pali and hearing our song for the first time on the radio. I remember thinking, “man, I can’t believe after everything we’ve been through and everything we came out of, our music is playing on the radio!” At that point, this was the biggest thing I had ever accomplished. I was a bad kid growing up and I felt like I had finally done something right in my life. My dad wasn’t there but I knew he would have been proud of me.
The release of our first album really made us feel like we were finally peers with the top-notch musicians in Hawaii. We were nominated for a NaHoku Hanohano Award for Most Promising Artist the year we released Satisfaction Guaranteed and although we lost, it made us way stronger and hungrier than ever!
We did our second album, Kapena and More. That album won us two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards in 1988 for Contemporary Album Of The Year and Group Of The Year. We also had the number one song on FM100 for 10 months straight. We started traveling all over after that. We were touring for most of the year and when we weren’t touring we were doing 4-5 shows a day at home. Sometimes, we would do shows on 2 or 3 different islands all in the same day!
We met Ken Thompson shortly after that who became our new manager. The first gig we did with him was in Maui and we were nervous because he was from the mainland and we didn’t know if we could trust him. We finished the show, paid him his share and we split the rest of the pay. From then on, we were really on our way.
We continued playing and making good fun music together for many years until all the traveling and gigging started to take a toll on our home lives. Our schedules outside of music got busier; we were all raising children and had other responsibilities to take care of. So, after years of music making, we decided to go our separate ways. However, music creates a bond that is unlike any other. With the arrival of our 30–year anniversary came so many amazing memories of the beginning of Kapena and that amazing ride my brothers and I journeyed on so many years ago. It only felt right to come together again and to thank the people who made us who we are by giving them one more electrifying show. To the people of Hawaii and every Kapena fan worldwide, thank you for your years of support and love.
– Kelly Boy DeLima