On the Scene with Malani Bilyeu

Malani Bilyeu was a 26-year-old Vietnam vet when he and three like-minded friends — Mackey Feary, D.J. Pratt and Kirk Thompson — formed Kalapana. The quartet became second only to Cecilio & Kapono as the biggest contemporary local music group of the 1970s.

Kalapana drifted apart by 1980, but the success of a reunion concert in 1982 was followed by a reboot — Bilyeu, Feary, Pratt and Gaylord Holomalia — in 1986. Kalapana, minus Feary, who died in 1999, has been performing and recording ever since.

Home for Bilyeu, 68, these days is Kauai: He is the foreman of William Mowry’s Hanalei Gardens & Farms and oversees a herd of about 150 bison.

JOHN BERGER: Hawaiians have been cattle ranching for 180 years, but bison ranching is a relatively new thing. Tell me about it.

MALANI BILYEU: They are grass-fed out in the pasture by themselves — not in a corral — so the meat is very lean and there’s a certain sweetness to it. I work five days a week at the ranch. I get totally exhausted but it’s a good feeling.

JB: Drugs were the downfall of Mackey Feary, and you’ve said that if you had stayed on Oahu you would have died too. Was it difficult to leave?

MB: No it wasn’t. It’s not like the bad things look for you; you look for the bad things. Basically I had to make my mind up about what I’m going to do to break away from it, so I looked into a church on Kauai and moved to Kauai. I’m still affiliated with U-Turn for Christ, a Christian rehabilitation program on Kauai, helping other people.

JB: In 1983, when you wrote and recorded “Molokai Sweet Home,” in honor of the late George…

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