Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Ka ‘Ano’i
A mainstream record from one of Hawaii's most beloved musicians.
For the last few years before his tragically early death at age 38 in 1997, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (or "Iz" to his numerous fans) was Hawaii's best-selling musician. His legend lives on through the use of his music for countless ad campaigns and TV series as well as several posthumous releases, but this was his first solo album, released in 1990 after a decade and a half of success with the traditional group Mākaha Sons of Ni'ihau.
Despite its title, Ka'Ano'i only features two songs in Hawaiian, and has a more mainstream sound than his previous work, featuring an early, reggae-flavored version of his biggest hit, the medley "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World." Those looking for the more folkloric side of Hawaiian music won't find any mele chants, or even slack key guitar, here.
"You Don't Know Me" sounds more like something you'd hear in a Honolulu karaoke bar, and the vibraphone-backed ballad "Kainoa" borders on Hula show hokum. "Coney Island Washboard Woman" is the strangest item, with its New Orleans skiffle flavor, while "Margarita," "Men Who Ride Mountains" and "Sea of Love" all find Iz in a Hawaiian reggae comfort zone.
The 1993 follow-up Facing Future would take him in a more rootsy direction and become his biggest hit, but Ka'Ano'i has a strong sense of place and it's a brief but engaging snapshot of an artist on the cusp of greatness. Iz sings every word like he means it in his gentle, laidback croon and he has an almost child-like glee at making music comes across clearly. Plus, the man plays a mean ukulele to boot.