Recently I've been listening to a lot of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's music, and I'm entranced.
"Braddah IZ" (as he was known) was a Hawai'ian native, a singer and ukelele player who died in 1997 of respiratory failure at the young age of 38. At the time of his death he weighed about 700 lbs. His coffin sat in state in the Hawai'ian capital, where thousands came by to pay their respects to the "gentle giant."
He had a fine tenor, tender and smooth as cream. IZ's lyrics
ranged from Hawai'ian liberation and restoration of the monarchy, through covers of popular tunes like "Over the Rainbow" and "Wind Beneath My Wings," original material, to traditional Hawai'ian songs. He was firm and committed without being shrill or preachy.
I love this photograph, from his biography IZ: Voice of the People
by Rick Carroll and IZ's widow Marlene. It's probably his wife's hand, brushing or stroking his hair. Looking at it, you're reminded how rare it is to see a sensual, affectionate photograph of a fat man being loved.
He also had a sensual side. In "Ahi Wela" (from Alone in IZ World
), the translation offered here
goes like this:
Ahi wela mai nei loko (Fire (is) hot hither here inside)
I ka hana a ke aloha (In the act of love)
E lalawe nei ku'u kino (Overwhelms here my body)
Konikoni lua i ka pu'uwai (Throbbing doubly much in the heart)
Or take "Kamalani," from the album E Ale E
roughly means "princess," and the translator tells us that literally, pûkani nui
means a "large sounding horn," but figuratively signifies "large fine soft sleeping mats made of fine white leaves in the center of a cluster of pandanus leaves." In other words, on one level it means perhaps a love call, one beloved calling to another, and on another level it means the soft bed in which the lovers nestle.
Where is my love, Kamalani?
Please answer me, Kamalani
Pûkani Nui, Pûkani Nui.
Oh here I am, Kamalani,
Here in this paradise
Is this the fullness of heaven,
Here in this paradise?
He wrote an almost-wistful song called "Thunder of Heaven" (on the E Ale E
album), honoring the Hawaiian sumitori
who attained fame in Japan, Hawai'ian men whose size was not seen as a disability, but as a source of strength and pride.
Later, while re-reading James Michener's Hawai'i
, I learned that traditionally to die was to set one's foot on the rainbow. It makes this image even more poignant, as well as his signature cover of "Over the Rainbow." IZ - husband, father, lover, man with a mountainous heart.