Local singer Jeff Apaka croons the classics.
It’s 5 o’clock on Sunday afternoon—pau hana time at the Tapa Bar in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The warm, tropical sun is dipping, burning, disappearing beyond the horizon line. The crowd has traded in their bikinis and board shorts for rainbow-colored aloha wear. Trays of tasty Mai Tais adorned with fresh cut pineapple are flowing around the open-air bar area.
Now, Jeff Apaka, 67, son of the great Hawaiian singer Alfred Aholo Apaka (1919-1960), is working the summertime vacationers who are starting to mix and mingle. Dressing in flowing white with red carnation lei, he steps from table to table warming up his Australian and American audience with light, friendly banter. Up on stage, the members of his Village Serenaders trio play along with guitar and percussion.
Then, his signature baritone voice launches into his two-hour set including hapa haole (Hawaiian songs with Western influences) standards like “Blue Hawaii” and “Little Grass Shack;” fusing in Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and some of his dad’s own hits like “Lovely Hula Girl” and “Hula Hips.” All the while, Nani, a local hula dancer dressed in regal red with a fragrant plumeria lei and a flower tucked behind her ear sways her hips to the music.
Like his famous father before him, Apaka personifies the charm and romance of the islands. He loves to play for residents and visitors alike right in the heart of Waikiki. “I love the opportunity to share aloha spirit and the history of Hawai’i with the people that I meet from all over the world. During the show, they’re learning about the islands through my performance and I’m learning a little bit about them as well.”
Actually, Apaka sees himself more as an entertainer than a singer. “I try to create a good, fun atmosphere for the show,” he explains. “I throw in a couple of great hapa haole songs. I do the stuff that was left to me by my dad, Don Ho and others.
I feel like visitors crave this particular style of nostalgic Hawaiian music of yesteryear.”
As his family story goes, Bob Hope first discovered the senior Apaka performing at a lu’au at Don the Beachcomber’s in Waikiki in 1952 when Jeff was a first grader.
Shortly after, his family flew to LA where he was raised and went to school while his dad worked in film and TV. Even his mom, Edna Mae, was a big band singer. “My mainland training has a lot to do with what I do now in Waikiki,” he says.
Then, for over 25 years, Apaka worked the 1960s-1970s music circuits on the mainland including Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace; and even traveled to Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Although he grew up and worked on the mainland, he eventually returned home to Hawai’i. When he’s not singing, he spends his week fundraising and creating special events as the director of community relations at the Waikiki Community Center, a local nonprofit that’s dedicated to caring for the families, seniors and children who live, work and visit Waikiki through quality programs and services.
Yet, no matter how rewarding that work is as a longtime Waikiki resident, he relishes his two-hour Sunday afternoon gig onstage at the Hilton. “I think that visitors come to Hawai’i for the experience and to hear Hawaiian music. When they leave my Sunday show, it’s good to see a warm smile on their faces.”
Quick Tip: Ask nicely and you can have your picture taken with Jeff in front of his father’s bronze statue in the lobby after the show.
Jeff Apaka and the Hawaiian Village Serenaders
Tapa Bar at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Sundays 5-7 pm