I recently returned from a great vacation in one of my favorite places, Hawaii. Although–sadly and paradoxically–Hawaii has no radio stations playing Hawaiian music full-time, you still hear, see, and feel the presence of the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole everywhere you go. His medly versions of “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” has forever etched his music in our souls. HIs voice is soft and angelic Once you hear it, you’ll put it up there with Satchmo’s famous and much raspier earlier version.
Israel was born in 1959 and died in 1997. He was only 38 years old. Like his brother, he died early from complications of his severe obesity—he weighed 760 pounds. But his 1993 cd Facing Future helped him achieve fame during his lifetime. The album was recorded informally in a Honolulu studio in one late-night session. Since then, it’s been in many films and commercials. And featured constantly on KCRW. Chris Douridas even gave out the record label’s phone number after Israel died. The Mountain Apple Company was swamped with calls. Iz was named one of the 50 Great Voices on NPR in 2010.
Iz helped spark a renaissance of interest in Hawaiian music and culture. There is also a new film, The Descendants, that was filmed in Hawaii and has a Hawaiian soundtrack that should bring new listeners to the wonderful genre.
Here’s a beautiful youtube video from his label, The Mountain Apple Company, featuring the famous song: