KAILUA-KONA — Malani Bilyeu was an integral part of the Hawaiian music scene, a singer and songwriter who helped push the music group Kalapana into the history books as one of Hawaii’s most famous rock bands.
The co-founder of Kalapana died on Dec. 27 from a heart attack at his home on Kauai. He was 69.
To fellow Hawaii musician Henry Kapono, Bilyeu was more than just a contemporary and occasional musical partner — he was a longtime friend.
“We just played together a couple of weeks ago,” Kapono said. “I knew he had some health problems, but he seemed to be in good health then and he seemed to be doing OK.
“I’m just sad for the loss of another friend.”
Kapono and Bilyeu were scheduled to play together again on stage at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea on Jan. 19, the final part of a three-concert series that was still being promoted recently featuring Kapono performing with other iconic Hawaii musicians. Kapono had played at the Kahilu previously in the series with Keola Beamer and Jerry Santos.
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Bilyeu’s legacy will still live on, despite his death. When reminiscing about his friend, Kapono described Bilyeu as a “fireball on the stage and off the stage.”
“We had some really good times together, and he was always the wild card in that group,” Kapono said. “He was really fun.”
Bilyeu was a founding member of Kalapana, along with David John (DJ) Pratt, Bryant Mackey Feary and Kirk Thompson. Kalapana was formed and rose to fame in 1973 on Oahu, and released their first album, “Kalapana” in 1975. The band opened concerts in their establishing years for Kapono’s band Cecilio &Kapono as well as Earth, Wind &Fire, The Moody Blues and Sly &The Family Stone. In 2011, Kalapana received the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He was always up for anything, like I said, he was the wild card,” Kapono said. “He was such a great guy.”
The band was still actively performing up to Bilyeu’s death, and released a greatest hits album “Black Sand: The Best of Kalapana” in November with Manifesto Records, a label that puts Kalapana in the same league of artists such as Dead Kennedys, Alice Cooper, The Turtles and Tom Waits.
Four days after his death, on New Year’s Eve, the band performed in Mililani on Oahu, the first without Bilyeu.
“He had a very distinct voice and style of writing,” Kapono said of Bilyeu’s contributions to Kalapana. “And I think that’s what made them unique.”
A GoFundMe page was created to help Bilyeu’s family cover the funeral and memorial expenses in Honolulu and on Kauai. As of Thursday afternoon, $9,027 was raised.
Bilyeu is survived by his wife, Crystal, and seven children.