Saturday, February 26, 2011

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Like books, one You Tube leads to another and this is where I wound up - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a legendary ukelele player from Hawaii. I first became aware of him in 2005, about 8 years after his death. He suffered from morbid obesity his entire life. But his time was not wasted. He regaled his fellow islanders with a beautiful voice and more than an ample knowledge of the ukelele, an instrument native to the islands.

His beautiful, and somewhat prophetic blending of two beautiful songs, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What A Wonderful World" has been re-recorded by many artists since his death in 1997, but none has even come close to matching the beauty of Mr. Kamakawiwo'ole and his rendition of this medley.

There is a higher quality version on You Tube, but it has an annoying 10 second ad which I would rather spare you. At the end of this video, which was compiled after Mr. Kamakawiwo'ole passed away, his fellow islanders can be seen taking his ashes out in an outrigger canoe, and scattering them in the beloved blue waters of his home.

Israel, or "Iz", as he was known, was more than an entertainer, he was a force for change, as seen in this video link from a concert in which he implores the youth of the islands to return to the values of their native culture, and to give up the gangs and drugs in order to embrace the land. Notice the oxygen tubes at his nose; even while performing, with his chronic illness, his voice could not be silenced.

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