This is a minor update (replacing some videos that were no longer working and adding a few comments) of my first Music Diary I posted. I still feel this dude transcends genres and really, really sounds great even though the basic music isn't what I THOUGHT was my style.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a kick ass Hawaiian singer from the 1970's until his death at age 38 from complications of obesity in 1997. Amazing voice and amazing person.
Here's the big man singing (in an amazingly eerie yet beautiful style) "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," one of his top songs:
As someone who was raised by a mother who listened to Don Ho, THIS guy strikes me as a really genuine performer and just a nice guy. I mean this is what I grew up thinking Hawaiian music was all about:
But Israel Kamakawiwo'ole is something VERY different from the tiny bubbles of Don Ho. He is the real deal and is so much more amazing. Here is a song I hated until the movie Whispers of the Heart made me fall in love with it...so I was primed to love Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version:
If I may just add the Whisper of the Heart versions (Japanese/Nihongo first then English/Eigo):
Country Roads from 4815162342 on Vimeo.
(In the movie, which I HIGHLY recommend, the scene is a perfect illustration of a teenager discovering her worth, and it is perfectly done in all its awkward beauty)
And for those who REALLY know the history behind Whispers of the Heart and of West Tokyo where it takes place, preservation of Totoro's Forest should mean something to you. It is far from Hawaii...but it is an important preservation effort.
Who could imagine that the relatively insipid John Denver could spark such a cross-cultural connection and link to the loss and/or preservation of the last natural areas near West Tokyo? But I now love the song thanks not to John Denver himself, but thanks to what Japanese and Hawaiians have done with his song.
But even more than Iz's cover of a Judy Garland song, I love his real Hawaiian songs
The sound flows so smoothly...and I don't normally go for smooth, preferring Tom Waits' gravelly sound or a hard punk sound. But Israel Kamakawiwo'ole catches me in a way that most smooth singers can't. Again, I think it is the genuine nature of his sound. It doesn't sound contrived or popularized, and it touches on the roots of a Native culture that Don Ho kind of trivialized, in my view.
And almost his last concert, he speaks directly to the Hawaiian culture in their language...telling them to Wake Up...and it is clear from his appearance that he was not long for the world, and yet his dedication to his fans and his culture are clear: