Finding Iz

There was a lot to like about the movie “Finding ForresterFinding Forrester.” First, I could watch Sean Connery nap on the couch and find it fascinating. Second, it’s amazing to see newcomer Rob Brown hold his own while he shares the screen with Connery, and occasionally dominates it. The story, although slightly predictable, is done so well that I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen it.

As a music freak, though, the thing that made the most lasting impression on me happened as the ending credits started to whizz past, as credits are wont to do these days. Out of nowhere, there was this amazing, high, clear voice, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” accompanied by a ukelele! I caught the name ‘Israel something-impossibly-long-and-Hawaiian’ and scurried for the internet, where I discovered Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Hawaii’s Bruddah Iz.

Born the same year as me, 1959, Israel came from a very musical background. Forming a musical group, Makaha Sons Of Ni’ihau, with his brother Skippy at a young age, Israel started recording under his own name in 1990. Although Skippy had died of a heart attack in 1982, the group continued to record and remained popular in Hawaii. Israel eventually recorded duets with recordings of Skippy, a la Natalie/Nat King Cole. Israel’s health was always a concern as well; his weight occasionally topped 750 pounds.

In 1995, Iz released “Israel Kamakawiwo'ole 'Facing Future'Facing Future” which contains the track “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World.” Neither song is a special favorite of mine; the former has sort of been done to death, the latter has always seemed just a bit trite. Not unlistenable tunes, just not favorites. But hearing Israel’s complete rearrangement, his crystal voice, and the obvious joy he took in his music, makes them both sparkle. He takes marvelous liberties with the lyrics to ‘Rainbow’ but it doesn’t seem to matter; the reason to listen is that voice.

The entire album is enjoyable. Mostly Hawaiian tunes (which makes appreciation of the lyrics a bit difficult for some of us) but besides the tune already mentioned, there’s a fun, humourous cover of “Take Me Home Country Road” with Hawaiian locations substituted for the originals, and a Hawaiian country chorus doing the backing vocals.

The opening track, “Hawai`i ’78 Introduction” is beautiful. It includes voice-overs of Israel talking about his father’s death of a heart attack. Since Israel’s death from the same cause in 1997 it is especially eerie to hear him refer to his father’s words about staying close to the people he loved; advice which Israel says on the album would have saved his father’s life had he followed it himself.

Despite the fact that we have a catalog of more than two dozen albums featuring Bruddah Iz, it’s sad to think he’ll no longer be singing the history of the homeland he obviously loved.