May 20 is the birthday of beloved Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, born this day in 1959.
He is most well-known for his incredible rendition of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" (above). Here is a link to an NPR segment describing the amazing story behind the recording of that song in 1988, when Brother Iz talked music producer Milan Bertosa into staying at his studio for fifteen more minutes (it was already three in the morning), and then walked in and recorded in one take, accompanied only by his own ukelele.
Here is a link to a previous blog post entitled "What kind of music gives you chills?" which explores the power of music and the impact it can have. It cites an article that examined songs that have an impact on our "sympathetic nervous system" which concludes, "Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern." The music of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole is certainly capable of "tingling the spine" and contains all of those elements.
The NPR story cited above also hints at another reason that his music is so powerful and strikes such a chord with listeners. It quotes Israel's childhood friend and fellow musician Del Beazley:
In Hawaii, we talk about this thing we call mana. Mana is like an energy that you get. We believe we get ours from the elements first, the Earth, your sky, your ocean, your God, and all that is inside of us. And when we open our mouth to speak, to sing or to play, that's what we let out. But it's that that makes him [Israel] special, because his mana always came out.
Israel often expressed his certainty that the soul continues after the death of the body, and in fact expressed that belief in some of the interview quotations included in that same NPR story. His music also lives on and continues to convey his positive energy to new generations of listeners.
Rest in peace. Respect.