“KA ‘ANO‘I,” released in 1990, was the first solo album by Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. At the time Israel was the lead singer and a charter member of the Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. The Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau was one of Hawai‘i’s most popular groups with many award-winning albums to their credit. By 1993, the year Israel departed to pursue a solo career, the Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau had recorded a total of nine albums.
Israel was to record four more albums as a solo artist. All his solo works have been widely praised and have topped both national and Hawaiian music charts. His songs were featured in movies and used extensively in national advertising campaigns. His albums have garnered numerous awards including the Nä Hökü Hanohano awards for Male Vocalist, Contemporary Hawaiian, and Album of the Year. The Nä Hökü Hanohano Awards are the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy Awards. Israel was twice named the Favorite Entertainer of the Year at the Nä Hökü Hanohano Award ceremonies over the years. “KA ‘ANO‘I” was named the best Contemporary Hawaiian Album in 1991, and won the Male Vocalist of the Year award for Israel.
His music struck a chord with Hawaiians and Hawaiians-at-heart everywhere. It captured the passion he felt on issues of Hawaiian culture and his love for his family and friends. His music invoked his kolohe (rascal) nature and the carefree spirit for which he was renown. As an advocate for young Hawaiians, Israel counseled against drug use, encouraged pride in things Hawaiian, and was the inspiration for many young musicians. He seemed larger than life, yet in 1997 at the age of 38 Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole died from complications of obesity.
But his humor and his humanity are preserved in his music. We need only to turn to his solo records and recordings with the Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau to remember Hawai‘i’s favorite son, the big man who touched so many hearts.
With Israel, there has always been music. “The kid with the ‘ukulele” moved along from attracting an audience in high school corridors to a smoky little stage at Hank’s Place in Kaimukï where his lead vocals and roguish good humor quickly became the trademark of the young Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. Then and there, a sound was fashioned that was to become the measure of four-part harmony for future island groups.
On any given weekend you might see him at the beach sporting the ever present dark glasses and cap and listening to reggae or plucking out the melody of a Country and Western tune. These are as much a part of his multicolored world as the traditional Hawaiian he performs so effectively.
“The kid with the ‘ukulele” is defining himself as both a master musician and a superb entertainer. His brand of top form showmanship couples crisp, fresh ‘ukulele stylings with a voice as rich as his deep Hawaiian heritage. Refusing to take the world too seriously, he is both irrepressible and irreplaceable, a real treasure not only to the people of these islands, but to all who appreciates fine artistry.
Betty Stickney, 1990