Hawaii's Brahdah Iz ©2002JCMarion {Above artwork by Ken Charon}

The name Israel Kamakawiwo'ole is certainly a mouthful for those not well versed in the native language of Hawaii. For the rest, the name "Brother Iz", or in local patois "Brahdah" Iz will be sufficient. He was among the greatest performers of Hawaiian music ever, and the most dynamic performer in the last quarter century. He wrote and performed in a wide variety of styles that encompassed the world of the music of his homeland and its people. His early death at the age of 38 cut short a magnificent career and the promise of wider horizons, but we are lucky to be left with a wonderful legacy of the man and his music.

Brahdah Iz was born in May of 1959 on the island of Oahu and grew up in the neighborhood of Kaimuki. In the early 1970s the family moved to Makaha and the musical connection was forged. His parents Henry and Evangeline provided a home atmosphere where music was a big part. In 1974, Iz' older brother Skippy formed a musical group with Iz, Jerry Koko, Moon Kauakahi, and cousin Mel Amina. After throwing around a few names they decided on calling themselves The Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau. The group came about at a time when there was a huge swell of interest in native Hawaiian music and culture, and the Sons became a big part of the picture. Local appearances at high schools, neighborhood clubs, and a well received appearance on TV's Jerry Lewis telethon, led to interest in recordings by the group.

By 1976 the Makaha Sons began to record, and with the release of "No Kristo" they were on their way. "Kahea o Keale", "Keala", and the self titled album followed during the 1970s. In 1981 "Mahalo Ke Akua" was released. Soon after, Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole passed away from a heart attack. He was only 28 years old. Mel Amina left the group then and was replaced by John Koko brother of Jerry. The group carried on after their loss and their place in the history of Hawaiian music soon came to be. The 1984 album release called "Puana Hou Me Ke Aloha" was a critical and commercial success and their efforts were rewarded with the Hoku award (called the Hawaiian Grammy) for best traditional Hawaiian album and group of the year in 1985. Some of the featured songs were "Waipahe'e Falls", "Star Of Gladness", and "Kau U'i O Nalani". In 1986 the album "Ho'ola" scored big and the Hokus for the group again for traditional Hawaiian album and group of the year. "Kaho'olawe", "Kawahiku Kapulani", and "Legend of the Rain" were top songs from the release.

In 1991, "Makaha Bash 3 : Live" again was a success winning Hoku awards for Group of the Year and best engineering. The award for Hawaiian single of the year was a recording by Israel with Roland Cazimero, Cyril Pahinui, and Henry Kapono on the song "Broken Promise". 1993 brought the album "Ho'oluana" in which Iz stepped out as a solo singer on the tune "Nohili E". It was also the last album that Brahdah Iz recorded with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau. The album garnered a number of Hoku awards including Group of the Year, Album of the Year, traditional Hawaiian album of the Year, and best engineering. But after seventeen years with the Makaha Sons, Iz wanted to go in another direction with his music. Mounting problems with his health was also a contributing factor in his decision.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole released his first solo album while he was still with the Makaha Sons. It was called "Ka 'Ano'i" and featured a wide variety of styles such as reggae styled called "Jawaiian", pop music, Latin flavored tunes, and "hapa haole" (half Hawaiian - half English) songs. The album won the Hokus for Album of the Year, and Contemporary Hawaiian Album. Iz then formed a professional partnership with Jon DeMello of Mountain Apple Records which resulted in the formation of the Big Boy label owned by Iz and distributed by Mountain Apple. The first result of this team was the album "Facing Future" in 1993. It included the topical song "Hawaii 78" and won for Iz Entertainer of the Year by the public at the Hoku awards. 1995 brought the album "E Ala E" which featured re-recorded vocals by Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole and an overdub by Iz. At the Hoku Awards Show in 1996, Iz is joined on stage by ex-bandmates from the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau"

{photo by Dennis Oda - Star-Bulletin}

In 1996 Iz released his masterpiece called "n Dis Life" which featured a moving and heartfelt version of "Living In A Sovereign Land", the traditional tune "Hi'ilawe" (so long identified with Gabby Pahinui), "Keyhole Hula" and the (possibly) biographical "Johnny Mahoe" (written by Del Beasley). Awards won by the album included Hokus for Album of the Year, Contemporary album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, best graphics, and Entertainer of the Year by the public. However by now Brahdah Iz was struggling with breathing problems brought on by his tremendous obesity (over 700 pounds) and had to perform with an oxygen tank at his side. He presented himself as free from drugs and committed to a weight loss program, but unfortunately his time had run out. In 1997 at the age of thirty eight Iz passed away. His stature and importance to the people of Hawaii was such that flags throughout the state flew at half staff and his body lay in state at the Hawaiian capitol. He is survived by wife Marlene and a daughter.

In posthumous release has come "Iz, A Man and his Music" on both video and audio, and a well received cd release called "Alone in IZ World". It features a magical version of "Mona Lisa", and songs such as "Kaleohano", "Panini Puakea", and "Henehene Kou'Aka". Jon DeMello produced another gem and it is apparent he learned his craft well from his father Jack, a well known producer of Hawaiian music. The cd won the 2002 Hoku award for best Hawaiian album of the year. Many listeners have also become aware of Iz by way of the wide use of his haunting version of "Over The Rainbow" / "What A Wonderful World" medley that has been featured in the motion pictures "Meet Joe Black" with Brad Pitt, and "Finding Forrester" with Sean Connery. If you have never truly listened to Iz, you owe it to yourself to experience the music of his life, especially the solo cds since 1993. Then you will see why he is such a revered figure in the history of Hawaiian music, and a giant of a man in more ways than one. Brahdah Iz, a most unforgettable music treasure, one for the ages.

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