Split from Makaha Sons gave birth to new success for ... IZ
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

The bulk of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's solo work came after his split with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau in 1993. He formed a creative partnership with Mountain Apple Co.'s Jon de Mello that proved fruitful on several levels. It reached its zenith with "n Dis Life" last year.

De Mello started with Iz's basic attributes -- a beautiful voice, instrumental virtuosity and quick wit -- then added the principles of orchestral bigness handed down to him by his father, composer/producer Jack de Mello. Adding cutting-edge techniques and studio technology, de Mello's creative embellishments created a sense of Iz as the larger-than-life locus of Hawaii past and present, of tradition and change that will live on even though Iz passed away June 26.

De Mello emphasized that concept visually with his album covers. Where the cover of the "Ka 'Ano'i" cassette had been a low-budget drawing, his covers were striking, sometimes jarring, but extremely effective. He used Iz's EKG as art on "E Ala E" and the footprint from Iz' birth certificate on "n Dis Life."

The albums with de Mello were also notable in reuniting Iz with his cousin Mel Amina, who had quit the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau simultaneously with the death of Iz's brother Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole in 1982.

Song lyrics and translations were conspicuously missing from de Mello's creations. It seemed Iz was addressing himself primarily to the minority that spoke fluent Hawaiian. He explained in the fragmentary liner notes of his final album, "Dis music is feelings dat goin' last fo'eva and dat all generationz to come can fall back on." Few singaz, er, singers, to come are likely to sing them with as much feeling as he did.

A posthumous "live in concert" album is scheduled for release later this summer. Until then, we can still hear Iz's legacy on his following solo albums:

"Ka 'Ano'i" (Discos Tropical) cassette (1990)

This album presents a mixed plate of material the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau would probably have never done. (The group expanded its hapa-haole and pop repertoire after Iz left, but it is hard to imagine Moon Kauakahi, John Koko and Jerome Koko dabbling in anything close to pseudo-reggae.)

This collection includes hapa-haole and traditional Hawaiian-language selections as well as bits and pieces of Latin, Tahitian, light rock, pop and vaudeville music.

"Margarita" and "Men Who Ride Mountains" capture his vitality and zest when working with a live audience. A remake of "Sea of Love" displayed his ability to explore Jawaiian rhythms without imitating reggae artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or Jimmy Cliff.

This album earned Iz Male Vocalist of the Year and Contemporary Hawaiian Album of the Year Hokus.

"Facing Future" (Big Boy Records) (1993)

This musical portrait illuminates the breadth of Iz's talent and the force of his personality. The contents ranges from traditional Hawaiian standards to original Jawaiian to pop chart remakes. A beautifully produced arrangement of "Hawaii '78" offered a candid look at Iz's feelings about his life and spiritual links to his deceased parents and brother Skippy. It established the interrelated themes of cultural pride and Hawaiian nationalism that resurfaced in other songs and continued through his later albums.

The roar of approval that followed the announcement that Iz had been voted Favorite Entertainer of the Year over Hapa at the 1994 Hoku Awards said it all. Iz was Da Man.

Hokus: Favorite Entertainer of the Year (by public vote)

"E Ala E" (Big Boy BBCD 5902) (1995)

De Mello hewed close to the successful format of "Facing Future" in 1995. The elaborately produced title track opened the album with a spiritual narrative that reaffirmed the core themes of ohana, cultural identity and Hawaiian nationalism.

"E Ala E" was followed by a mix of Hawaiian standards, hapa-haole, American pop chart remakes, Jawaiian cover tunes and live performances that could easily have come from the same sessions that produced "Facing Future."

"n Dis Life" (Big Boy) (1996)

This album differs from his last two in that it didn't open or close with a emotional-laden narrative. Otherwise, this third expansive smorgasbord ranges from an inspired revision of "Living in A Sovereign Land" to a formula Jawaiian rehash of Mel & Tim's 1972 hit, "Starting All Over Again."

Iz's tranquil take on "Hi'ilawe" and a "live" performance of "Na Ka Pueo/Keyhole Hula" are among the brightest moments. His treatment of Del Beazley's catchy warning to local gangsta-wannabes, "Johnny Mahoe," is also memorable.

"Lover Of Mine," by Malani Bilyeu and Gaylord Holomalia, showed his strength as a pop balladeer. "The Fly" added a bit of toilet humor from his "hanabata days."

Hokus: Album of the Year (to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Gaylord Holomalia, producers), Male Vocalist, Island Contemporary Album, Graphics (to Jon de Mello and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole), Favorite Entertainer of the Year (by public vote)

Kamakawiwo'ole services

Israel Ka'ano'i Kamakawiwo'ole, who died June 26, will lie in state in the courtyard of the state Capitol from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday.

A short ceremony will be held beginning at 5 p.m., followed by another service at 7:30 p..m. Friends may call from 9 a.m.to 2 p.m. Thursday at Borthwick Mortuary. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m.

Kamakawiwo'ole's ashes will be scattered at Makua Beach on the Waianae Coast where he was raised between noon and 2 p.m. July 12.

The address for those wishing to send condolences by mail is P.O. Box 308, Aiea, HI, 96701.

Kamakawiwo'ole, 38, is survived by his wife Marlene; daughter, Ceslieanne; sister, Lydia Kauakahi; hanai brothers Glenn Kapahu and Ronnie Ching; hanai son Johnny Boy Gomes; and nieces and nephews.

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