Star-Bulletin file photos
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, second from left, with
the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau (in the early 1980s), including
brother Skippy, center, Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, third from
right, and Mel Amina, second from right. Inset: Israel in 1996.

‘n Dis Life’ Israel
touched many

His legacy continues
through the message of his music

By Catherine Kekoa Enomoto
and Tim Ryan

"Israel will always be Iz. He will never be was."

Thus, a caller to KINE Radio FM spontaneously expressed what isle residents feel about Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the award-winning singer/musician/recording artist who passed away yesterday in Queen's Medical Center.

"That's what Israel does; he leaves a long-lasting effect on 'em," said entertainer Moe Keale, a maternal uncle of Kamakawiwo'ole.

While music lovers and the Hawaiian community mourned the passing of the man known fondly as "Iz," he was also being remembered for the message his music carried to his fans.

Gaylord Holomalia, who co-produced Kamakawiwo'ole's latest album "n Dis Life," said Iz "never did a song that didn't have a meaning to it."

"Sometimes when he played songs in concerts he would end it with tears in his eyes. He never just played music. He lived it and the message."

Keale was present when Kamakawiwo'ole died. "I went up there yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon and for once I got to spend some time with him alone," Keale recalled. "He and I sat down and talked. He would fall asleep, then wake up and say, 'Oh hi, Uncle, I'm OK.' I kinda saw the end coming when he talked about his mom and dad and (deceased brother) Skippy.

"On the other side, they got people waiting for him," Keale laughed. "After he had passed on, I was looking at him and I started laughing. 'Sorry,' I said because everybody was looking at me. But I could picture Skippy looking at Iz and just cracking up."

"There was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears," Keale said. "We all know how he was, and how he is now, and how he feels -- he's comfortable. He doesn't have to breath through hoses anymore. I saw it in his face: He's at rest, he's sleeping, he looked so good."

Sam Gray of Hilo, a best friend and original member of Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau, agreed. "He's floating around, free and happy and kolohe (rascal). And he's definitely watching over those who feel a big impact from his loss -- us, close family and everybody from the old era, his private friends."

Kamakawiwo'ole's sister, Lydia Kauakahi, wife of Louis "Moon" Kauakahi of the Makaha Sons, who are performing in Las Vegas, said of her brother, "His main goal was to get all the young ones focused on what is right and not the wrong. He spoke so much about how teen-agers, parents and families have to bond; we are so family oriented. He was my baby brother and I scolded him like a big sister. But he's at peace now."

Jon de Mello, Kamakawiwo'ole's manager through the Mountain Apple Co., was in New York yesterday when Kamakawiwo'ole died and did not learn of the death until late in the day.

In a written statement, de Mello said, "Israel's death is a tremendous loss to the world at a time when the world was just discovering the Hawaiian culture and its music.

"(Israel) somehow understood everything that is in our hearts, the love and deep compassion for life, which he exuded. His voice was music, and his music was his voice. There is no one who can replace him.

"But he will live on in our hearts forever...Israel would have wanted us not to shed tears for him, but instead to -- e ala e -- stand up and be strong, and carry on the culture."

Holomalia, who last saw the entertainer on Tuesday at the hospital, said he remembers well the private Kamakawiwo'ole who loved children.

"He was so great with my kids. Every time I brought them to the hospital he would just light up. Two weeks ago they put on a show for him at the hospital. My daughter danced the hula. That day he had gotten a camcorder for his birthday and he photographed them."

Hawaii promoter Tom Moffatt remembered Iz not only as a "true professional" but "a man who was very genuine, and always positive."

"His whole life was music, and love for the people of Hawaii," said Moffatt who promoted numerous Kamakawiwo'ole concerts. "Sure he may have been feeling sick at some performances and had to use his oxygen but he always performed well and never made any excuses."

He recalled Kamakawiwo'ole's fondness for seeing mega-concerts passing through Hawaii.

"Iz wasn't able to sit in the seats at either the Blaisdell Arena or Aloha Stadium so I would explain to the superstar acts performing just how important Iz was to Hawaii so they would allow (for special arrangements) to accommodate him back stage," Moffatt said. "At Aloha Stadium for the Michael Jackson concert, the last concert he was able to attend, Iz had his truck parked back stage and watched and listened to the entire show.

"It sounds corny, but Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's music will live on for a very, very long time."

Echoing that statement was entertainer Henry Kapono, who performed with Kamakawiwo'ole on the single "The New Nation" from the "Broken Promise" album.

"Iz may be gone but his music will live forever in Hawaii, whether or not you're Hawaiian," Kapono said.

Part of the appeal of his music, Kapono said, was "the spirit he brought to it. His quest was to do great music but also to deliver the message that as Hawaiians we must recognize ourselves and maintain our identity. Iz was passionate about this."

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, after numerous requests, announced yesterday that Hawaii flags will fly at half staff the day of his funeral, which has yet to be determined.

Kamakawiwo'ole's cousin, Mel Amina, yesterday expressed gratitude on behalf of the entertainer's family: "Thank you so much for the prayers that were needed and that were sent for Israel and for the family."

And, Iz always Iz.

In an interview with the Star-Bulletin last year, Israel Ka'ano'i Kamakawiwo'le spoke of his late mother, Evangeline Leinani Keale Kamakawiwo'ole of Ni'ihau, and his late father, Henry Naniwa Kaleialoha Kamakawiwo'ole Jr. of Kuliouou.

"Wherever you go (he whistled softly here), God be with you.

"And if at anytime I can be a role model for anybody, then so be it. 'Cause my role model was my parents -- my maddah and faddah. And for the kids out there, if I'm one role model for you guys for do the right thing, so be it."

Then, he whistled again.

Programs honoring Iz

"Iz," 8 to 9 p.m. today, KFVE/UPN

Honolulu Symphony and Na Leo Pilimehana and Friends concert, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Waikiki Shell

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