HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was just 17 years old in 1976 when he became part of the original Makaha Sons of Niihau.
He was playing with his older brother Skippy, Jerome Koko, and Moon Kauakahi. Over the years, the band changed. Group members left and new ones joined.
And while the hits for the Makaha Sons just kept coming, IZ was looking for something more.
He wanted to strike out on his own.
And when he did, it was a significant step in Hawaiian music history, one that is all the more clear 25 years after the release of Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Facing Future” album in November 1993, the most successful Hawaii release of all time.
And it all started at an unusual place — the Queen’s Medical Center — in the summer of 1993.
Kamakawiwoʻole was at the hospital, like he’d been several times before. Sometimes the visits were for his health. Sometimes, they were for a break from everything around him.
It was during one of those stays that Mountain Apple CEO Jon de Mello got a call from IZ.
“Can you come up and talk to me?” IZ asked de Mello.
De Mello could. In fact, he was there in about 20 minutes.
When de Mello arrived on the third floor, IZ’s room was surrounded by friends, fans, even patients in wheelchairs — all straining to see and hear the man playing ukulele inside.
Nurses, seeing de Mello, cleared the area. It would be the beginning of a five-hour discussion.
For two hours, de Mello recalls trying to make sure that IZ actually wanted to quit the Makaha Sons.
"Itʻs just time, you know?' de Mello recalls IZ saying. “I need to do this.”
The artist wanted to have more control over the creative process and the finances so he could provide a better life for his wife and daughter.
In the coming days, IZ and de Mello would have several more long meetings, mapping out a solo project.
De Mello gave IZ a notepad, pens and pencils, and told him to write everything down.
Every song he’d ever heard, loved, thought about.
If the mind wanders, write about that. A sentence. A word. From nursery rhymes to American standards to European music to folk songs in Hawaiian.
IZ complied, writing a lot.
And once he had a line-up, he started looking around for a band.
He tapped Mel Amina, his cousin and an original member of the Makaha Sons, and Roland “Bozo” Cazimero.
They went to Queen’s to practice with IZ, and out of their practices in those hospital halls came the birth of songs like:
After one week playing with Cazimero and Amina, Kamakawiwoʻole was ready to check out of Queen’s.
And he already had a plan.
The group was going to be first one featured on a new program called “Hot Hawaiian Nights,” and their first stop after leaving the hospital was KHNL.
That performance landed IZ in the homes of people across the state as they got to see and hear the man who was on his way to becoming one of Hawaii’s most-beloved musicians.
Also in this series: