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Israel 'Iz' Kamakawiwo'ole - "Facing Future"

Artist: Israel 'Iz' Kamakawiwo'ole - Facing Future
Genre: Ethnic
Manufacturer: 1993 Big Boy Record Company - BBCD 5901
Approx.cost: $ 15 USD
Reviewer: Scott Faller - TNT USA
Published: July, 2004

[Facing Future]

Trivial Bits

A couple of years ago I stopped at one our local audio salons to to see a friend of mine Tim, who works there. I hadn't been there in a while and I wanted to see what's been going on. It just so happened that he had just gotten in the (then) new Cary Rocket 88. Tim decided to mate it with a nice sounding pair of B&M's and an ARC tubed CD player.

We walked into the High End 2 Channel room where Tim had set up the comfy chair in the sweet spot. Tim said 'have a listen' and handed me the remote control. Ooou, Lord and Master I was, I had the remote. We spun through several disc's. As a customer came in, Tim went to attend to them I got up and started playing with the speaker placement to better suit my listening tastes. I sat back down and started listening intently. Hmm, 'Sounds kinda nice.' I thought to myself. Then Tim came back in the room.

He had a CD in tow and said you have to hear this. He pulled it out of the case and popped it in, fast forwarded to track fourteen and pushed the play button. Out of the speakers came this resounding voice with a little too much reverb that said “OK, This ones for Gabby.” and then someone strumming a ukulele starts playing. A gentle, high-pitched male vocal blends in effortlessly to compliment the pitch of the tune. I think, “hmm….this is nice”. Little did I know, the singer was getting ready to perform his magic on Somewhere Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz. Then in the middle of the song he makes a seamless transition to What a Wonderful World. This was way too cool. Absolutely lovely vocals by what was obviously a gifted individual. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole


Israel is a native Hawai'ian. As you can see from is picture on the album cover, Iz is a big boy. In turn, that's exactly what he named his record company, Big Boy Record Company.

Iz was born in 1959 and began playing music when he was 11. Iz and his brahdah Skippy would play for the tourists visiting their island paradise. In his early teens, Iz and Skippy formed a band called Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau with some other local musicians, Louis Kauakahi, Sam Gray and Jerome Koko. In 1982, Iz and his ohana (family) lost Skippy to a heart attack at age 28.

The band went on. It took a few years and albums but in 1985 the Makaha Sons began winning Hoku awards for their music. The Hoku Awards are an island award that honors the best of Hawai'i's native sons and daughters. From their 1984 release Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha, began to get major recognitions with every release. Then in 1993 after a tift with the bands agent, Iz decided to have a go on his own.

Iz had already released a solo album in 1990 called Ka'ano'i but releasing Facing Future would bring him into the world spotlight. The melody that I mentioned earlier made it into several movie soundtracks. Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Wonderful World got played in Meet Joe Black (Brad Pitt) and Finding Forrester (Sean Connery).

A Brief History and Culture Lesson Seems Appropriate About Now

As it was (and sometimes still is) in the history of the world, the Hawai'ian Islands were conquered by the white man trying to bring his own form of savagery to a perfectly happy, healthy and prosperous indigenous people. When Captain James Cook landed in the Polynesian islands in 1778, they were under the rule of King Kamehameha. At the time, this ancient Polynesian culture was filled with many Gods. If a person were to break a natural law, they would be punished by those same deities. Well, when the islanders saw the white man breaking the laws of the kapu system and not being punished by the ancient Gods, the ruling system soon crumbled.

Within a short lifetime, what ensued was nothing less than criminal. Mahele, the great land division where the white man (in the name of the Crown) helped himself to a huge chunk of the Polynesian lands. Lain in waste was the Hawai'ian people. Lost were their culture, their lands and their ohana (family). Estimates on the low side, had the count of Hawai'ians at 200,000 when Cook first appeared in the Islands. In 1920 the true Hawai'ian people had diminished to about 23,000. Today their numbers are barely 20% of that. All in the names of God, the Crown and Progress.

Why do I bring up all this unpleasantness in the middle of a music review? To let you have a little insight to some of what Iz sings about. Not to worry, all of his songs aren't about the loss of Hawai'ian sovereignty. He also sings about the simple beauties and pleasures of life like flowers and fishing.

The Beautiful Music

This release begins with a hauntingly beautiful song called Hawai'i 78. The song starts with a distant chant and Iz on the down tempo ukulele. An island drum slowly joins the musical procession and finally Iz joins providing a soaring vocal in his native tongue. Then something interesting, after his opening vocals, Iz has mixed in a conversation where he's talking about his mother and father. Laid over the top are strings to set the mood all the while Iz's ukulele and a down tempo bass plays in the background. The chorus finds Iz singing his heart out for his heritage in both English and his native tongue. The song is absolutely mesmerizing.

[Iz and his ohana]

As political as Hawai'i 78 is, the next few songs are traditional ballads. Iz is accompanied by his ever-present ukulele, an upright bass and the occasional guitar. The renditions are simple and raw with some reverb to add presence to his voice and the recording.

In the middle of this mix of songs, Iz throws in an arrangement of John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads. This one has an island twist. Iz sings not of the Rocky Mountains but of the beaches, brown skinned women and ancient spirits.

What follows are more traditional Hawai'ian songs that continue to show off Iz's greatest talent, his voice. Mixed into several of the songs, you occasionally hear Iz talking to the recording technician or somebody back in the booth. And if your system is really resolute, you can actually hear Iz breathing in the background.

Then to finish this 15 track album, Iz concludes with the melody I mentioned before, Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful Life and a different rendition of Hawai'i 78.

This version of Hawai'i 78 is slightly different. Now rather than Iz speaking about his ohana, he sings a heart wrenching song of sorrow. He sings asking the question how his ancient king and queen would feel now about 'the modern city life. Again, just as with the opening Hawai'i 78 Introduction, it is a beautiful song. It makes you search your soul and ask tough questions about the price of progress.

When you listen to this album, you soon become enamored with Iz's vocal stylings. He possessed a tremendous vocal range. Yes, I wrote that passed tense. On June 26th, 1997 Israel Kamakawiwo'ole died of respiratory and other medical problems.

A team of nearly 50 people came together, family and friends, to build a special casket made of koa. Iz's memorial service was held in the courtyard at the State Capitol. Only Iz and two other people have ever been bestowed that honor. The other two are a Senator and Governor for Hawai'i. A giant 50 foot State flag hung above this coffin of a gentle man. The State police estimated the crowd that had come to pay their final respects at 10,000.

Iz was a favored son of Hawai'i. If you truly enjoy music of all types, you will definitely enjoy exploring the musical works that Iz left all of us. Although I haven't dug into his other albums yet, they are just a few clicks away at Amazon.com.

Do yourself a favor and surf on over and give a listen to a few cuts from his albums. He was an extremely talented singer that continues to bring joy to so many, me included. I really think you will enjoy him.

Mahalo nui loa Iz. Aloha

Reference Equipment Used

  • Turntable – Systemdek 2x2, Rega RB 250, Expressimo Mods, Rega Super Elys
  • CD Player – AH! Tjoeb Upsampled
  • PreAmp - Korato KVP-10, Dual Mono, Tubed Line Stage
  • Phono Pre - Graham Slee Projects - Jazz Club
  • Amplification - Bi-Amped
    - Full Range Amp (100Hz and up) – Handmade Electronics Deluxe Classic 2A3 SET
    - Subwoofer Amps – Antique Sound Labs Wave 8's - 8 WPC
  • Active Crossover – Audio Research EC-3, Tubed, 2 or 3 way (discrete)
  • Speakers
    - Full Range - Lowther PM2A's, 15 ohm coil in the Medallion II Cabinets
    - Subwoofers - Lafayette Goodmans SK-111's, 15" Dual Concentric in bass reflex cabinets
  • Interconnects and Cables,
    - DIY, silver plated copper with teflon insulation,

© Copyright 2004 Scott Faller - www.tnt-audio.com

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