I’m not sure if it’s even possible to accurately describe the effect Israel Kamakawiw’ole’s music had on me during my trip to Hawaii, but I have to try. Not only is his music incredibly soothing, but it’s a headfirst dive into the Hawaiian culture. The first thing the listener will notice when digesting his music is simply his genuine love and appreciation for the land. Perhaps none of his albums display this appreciation as well as his groundbreaking 1993 release, Facing Future. With its blend of traditional Hawaiian folk, and fantastic cover songs such as his groundbreaking version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ it’s not hard to see why it’s the best selling album of all time in Hawaii.
Unfortunately, Israel Kamakawiw’ole would meet his untimely death just a few short years after the release of this album, but his music will always live on and help capture that special feeling one can only get while walking along a white sandy beach in Hawaii. However, the album does much more than create a soundtrack for tropical weather. His lyrics encourage one to dig deeper into the background of Hawaii and its people, making it not only an album, but a journey.
Often referred to as “IZ”, the songs on Facing Future are brought to life by his downright beautiful voice and the gentle sounds of the Ukulele. Many tracks such as ‘Ka Huila Wai’ are upbeat, but simple tunes sung in Hawaiian, while others such as ’White Sandy Beach of Hawaii’ are easier to understand, but are just as effective in creating a relaxed island-like vibe. His cover of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World’ has been used in countless films and is arguably the best version of the song due to his gorgeous vocal performance. There’s just something about his delivery that comes across as effortless, making each song as honest as it is beautiful.
The most important and memorable track on the album, however, is ‘Hawaii ‘78’ which acts as not only the album’s opener but its grand finale as well. Unlike some songs on the album, most of it is sung in English as IZ sings about the problems that continue to threaten their culture. During the ‘Hawaii ‘78’ introduction we hear IZ talk about his family and his background which does a spectacular job of connecting us with the artist, making the music that much more believable. Both versions of the song are great, but overall the song is strengthened by the mini-biography IZ lays down in the opening track.
Maybe one has to be there to experience his music the way it was intended, but there’s nothing quite like taking in the Hawaiian sun and listening to music by Israel Kamakawiw’ole. After hearing Facing Future I instantly gained more respect for the culture, and it even encouraged me to do more research. It’s as if there’s some kind of spirit that lives on throughout his music and I felt it every time I pressed the play button. I can’t guarantee his music will have such an impact on everyone, but for those looking to be transcended into a different world, Facing Future is the perfect place to start.