The Curious Case of Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole

     The human voice creates at times a special kind of beauty that transcends the visual expectation.    Perfect pitch, perfect phrasing, and perfect expression are often attached to artists that do not meet our desire to focus the visual and the aural senses as a singular expression of beauty.  Recently talent show winners such as Paul Potts and Susan Boyle have defied our expectations  and have produced  moments of sonic beauty that surprise the listener who expects that commonplace individuals can not produce uncommon lyric expressions. 

     A special case is a native hawaiian singer and musician by the name of Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole, known as IZ.  Born in Honolulu in 1959,  IZ had achieved a local noteriety as an interpretor of native Hawaiian folk music, but reached world wide acclaim just before his death for a rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”,  a Harold Arlen / E.Y. Harburg song from the Wizard of Oz movie, made famous by Judy Garland.  IZ created a unique Hawaiian folk inflection to  the song that was re-inforced by his classic and extremely nimble ukulele technique that elevated the song into an unforgettable projection of the Hawaiian paradise.  His talent was far more than one song, however.  He brought a serene tenor voice to both original and classic songs as well as Hawaiian folk music that evoked visual images of meditative beauty that few fans will soon forget.  He was a proud native Hawaiian who never stopped promoting Hawaiian language and culture in a respectful way that had often previously been reduced to somewhat superficial and cartoonish expressions by earlier Hawaiian performers such as Don Ho.

     Iz Kamakawiwo’ole was limited in his artistic achievement ultimately by his one personal fatal flaw – an inability to control his own weight.  By his adult performance years, he grew to a eventual weight of 757 lbs that eventually killed him at the young age of 38 secondary to weight related respiratory ailments. His physical girth created a strange juxtaposition – the subtle,beautiful  tenor instrument that was his voice eminating from such a large physical creature. It brings a special kind of tragedy to his gift that makes it more special for its impermanace.   It makes us ever more aware the God given gift of human talent comes in all kinds of packages and and unexpected directions, and is ever more special when we are caught unawares.

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