Israel “IZ” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole

In 1988 Milan Bertosa was finishing up a long day at his recording studio in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

“And the phone rings. It was a client of mine,” Bertosa remembers. The client said “I have Israel Kananananananananaoi here and he needs to come in and use the studio”. Bertosa said he was shutting down, call tomorrow. But the client insisted on putting Israel on the phone. “And he’s this really sweet man, well-mannered, kind. ‘Please, can I come in? I have an idea,’ ” Bertosa remembers Israel saying.

Bertosa finally accepted because Israel was such a friendly soul on the phone, and gave Israel 15 minutes to get there. Soon, there was a knock at the door.

“And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life. Israel was probably like 500 pounds. And the first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on.” The building security found Israel a big steel chair. “Then I put up some microphones, do a quick sound check, roll tape, and the first thing he does is ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ He played and sang, one take, and it was over.”


The next day, Bertosa made a copy for Israel and filed the original recording away in his studio collection. Over the next few years Bertosa played it occasionally for family and friends. “It was that special,” he says. “Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment.”

During the recording of IZ’s first CD “Facing Future”, Bertosa suggested tossing Israel’s rendition of Over the Rainbow upon the record.  That decision made IZ famous.  Unfortunately IZ never got the chance to really enjoy his success.  He spent much of his time in and out of hospitals due to his weight problem and in 1997 passed away.  The State of Hawai’i came together and honored IZ .  The Hawaiʻi State Flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole’s funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be accorded this honor, and the only one who was not a government official. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997

Why did I decide to write an article on Israel?  When I hear his music I am instantly transported to another world; A wonderful world known as Hawai’i.  Israel Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole who went by Israel or “IZ” was a musician who became a hero to many and whose music still graces our ears today and will continue long after we are gone.  The first time I heard IZ’s famous rendition of “Over the Rainbow” I was at work.  To loosen things up a bit we had introduced theme songs for each of the employees.  One of our employees had requested “Over the Rainbow” by IZ.  So each day I would play this song for her upon her arrival at the work place.  Over time I fell in love with the simplistic rhythmic strumming of the Ukulele blanketed by IZ’s soft yet warm voice which wraps around you like his great arms embracing you.  When IZ sings I feel that he is urging us to understand his life, culture, people, and islands without our American pre-conceptions.

I went on to listen to all of his recorded material and found that my favorite song performed by “IZ” is Hawai’i 78.

Ua mau, ke ea o ka ‘aina, i ka pono, o Hawai’i
Ua mau, ke ea o ka ‘aina, i ka pono, o Hawai’i

If just for a day our king and queen
would visit all these islands and saw everything
How would they ’bout the changing of our land
Could you just imagine if they were around
and saw highways on their sacred grounds
How would they feel if they ’bout this modern city life

Tears would come from each others eyes as
they would stop to realize
that our people are in great, great danger now

How would they feel
would their smiles be content
rather then cry
cry for the gods, cry for the people
cry for the lands that were taken away
and in it you’ll find Hawaii

Could you just imagine if they came back
and saw traffic lights and railroad tracks
How would they feel about this modern city life
Tears would come from each others eyes as
they would stop to realize
that our land is in great, great danger now

All of the fighting that the king had done
to conquer all these islands
now there’s condominiums
How would he feel if saw Hawaii now

How would he feel
would his smiles be content
rather then cry
cry for the gods, cry for the people
cry for the lands that were taken away
and in it you’ll find Hawaii

Israel sings the words “Ua mau, ke ea o ka ;aina, i ka pono, o Hawai’i” which roughly translated means “the constant, wet Rain Gives Life to the land and brings goodness/change to Hawai’i, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono” translates to “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

This has been a motto of Hawai’i for over 160 years.  It is generally claimed that it became the motto of the Kingdom of Hawai’i when King Kamehameha III spoke the words on July 31, 1843.  This was the day that sovereignty was restored to Hawai’i by proclamation of Queen Victoria following a 5 month rogue British occupation.

On May 1, 1959, Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono was adopted as the official motto of the State of Hawaii by Joint Resolution No. 4 of the 30th Territorial Legislature following a rogue United States of America occupation established in 1893 with the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani.

Through IZ’s song we are asked to consider the entire fabric of life in Hawaii, the biopolitical production of sustainable human society in harmony with the environment and how that heritage and knowledge have been corrupted by what passes for civilization.

To the world the song “Over the Rainbow” made IZ a legend, to me the song Hawai’i 78 made IZ a real person who wanted us to listen to his message- to let his people live and die with the freedom they deserve and the respect that was taken from them.

[Via NPR News, WillieNelsonPRI.com, Wikipedia]

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.