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Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

To continue with our kia‘i throughout history, we wanted to highlight some facts about one of the most world-renowned kanaka musicians in history – “Bruddah Iz” – Israel Kamakawio‘ole.

1. Kamakawiwo‘ole Traced His Roots to Ni‘ihau

Israel Ka‘ano‘i Kamakawiwo‘ole was born in Honolulu on May 20th, 1959. His parents were Henry ‘Tiny’ Kaleialoha Naniwa Kamakawiwo‘ole of O‘ahu and Evangeline Keale Kamakawiwo‘ole of Ni‘ihau. Neither of his parents was professional musicians, but he spent time at the Waikiki bar where they worked and many of Hawai‘i’s great musicians from the era performed.

2. Being Known as the ‘Ukulele Boy Growing up led to him Forming the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau

Israel picked up his first instrument at age 6 and was seen with an ‘ukulele by age 10. By the time he was a teenager, he, his brother, and three friends formed the Makaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. The group would go on to win many Na Hoku Hanohano Awards over the course of 15 albums. He launched a solo career in 1993 and his fresh and groundbreaking style helped bring Hawaiian sound back to the mainstream and away from the tourist-pandering songs of his childhood.

3. He Recorded Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a Single Take

Kamakawiwo‘ole’s famous version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was created in a single take in 1988. The song became a worldwide phenomenon. His bio explains, “His recordings are featured in commercials throughout the world, which remain in rotation because of Israel’s unique ability to connect. For reasons that cannot be adequately explained or understood, people feel good when they hear his voice, they feel safe and they feel happy.”

4. Kamakawiwo’ole was an Activist Through his Music and Through his Direct Words to his Audiences

Israel was a clear advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty in any number of ways as described by Dan Koiz of Honolulu Civil Beat: “He recorded mele kūʻē, songs of protest, like ‘Hawai’i ’78’ and “Living in a Sovereign Land.” He gave the Hawaiian flag pride of place on the cover of his 1995 album E Ala E. He spoke with bitterness about the displacement of Native Hawaiians in interviews, drawing an explicit connection between Hawaiians’ dispossession of their native land and his own emotional health.

In the last years of his, life Israel’s between-song messages to his audiences mixed generic bootstraps talk with more specific support for Native Hawaiian causes and crusaders, including Bumpy Kanahele, whose occupation of Makapu‘u beach received the Israel seal of approval in a 1994 show. ‘Haoles, it’s nice to have you here,’ Israel said at that concert. ‘But when pau with vacation, don’t forget: Go home!’”

5. Kamakawiwo‘ole Died in 1997 but said he Wasn’t Afraid of Dying

Tragically, Kamakawiwo‘ole passed away after succumbing to respiratory failure and other ongoing illnesses. He was 6 feet and 2 inches tall and weighed over a thousand pounds when he died. However, he predicted an early death and was content with it. “I’m not scared for myself for dying,” he once said, “Because we Hawaiians, we live in both worlds. When our time comes, don’t cry for me.”

The following online sources were referenced for the content of this article:

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