Happy Birthday IZ
Sixty one years ago today Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was born in the territory of Hawai’i. He was raised in Kaimuki until moving to Makaha with his family as a young man. Raised with musicians in his family and all around him, he grew up exposed to the influences of some of the finest Hawaiian musicians. He formed a band that began performing at house parties and graduations, but it wasn’t long before people noticed his unparalleled and singular voice. The years of praise for his vocal instrument and steady powerful presence are not news to anyone who’s lived long in Hawai’i.
My first introduction to IZ was in senior year of high school. This was when people still listened to compact discs and made mix tapes (cassette tapes) for each other around graduation times or just to try to impress someone you liked. My friend Rich played me the famous “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” arrangement by IZ. At the time in 1996, this song was hardly known well. Facing Future, one of the finest albums anyone can own, was released in 1993 and the tune didn’t yet have the exposure of play on national advertising campaigns or in Disney/Pixar films it would one day have.
But I remember the couches and how they were arranged in Rich’s sunroom. I remember what I was drinking (sorry, Mom and Dad). And I remember stopping what I was doing when Rich said something like, “Hey, listen to this.” It was like the focus of the entire room tightened to the speakers of his stereo. I was motionless for the short duration of the song. I tried to pronounce the name of the artist, I recall. And Rich shared that he mostly goes by IZ.
It was only a year later that IZ died. Anybody who was living anywhere on Oahu in July of 1997 probably remembers the 10,000 people at the funeral. They probably remember the car horns that honked along Hawaiian highways that day. They probably remember the paddle out and the scattering of IZ’s remains in the Pacific Ocean. But most of the world only met IZ after he died. His most famous song only approached the fame—and now the ubiquity—it did years after IZ was remembered so passionately and so beautifully in the nation of his birth.
This morning the Google/YouTube animation on the Google homepage is a very beautiful and touching animated movie about IZ. So many of the scenes themselves focus on place, on land: Diamond Head sunrise, Makaha beach, the black sands of Kalapana, the Wai’anae coast, and more are all there in the short video. I encourage you to watch it below. The final scene in which we see IZ takes place on the island of Hawai’i, where we see new land created where lava meets the ocean as he gazes to the stars. And a quarter century later, a child of a land thousands of miles away, comes to the land that made that voice, if only to say, “Happy Birthday, IZ. And mahalo.”
Many blessings of love today, my friends.
Rev. T. J.