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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2001

Iz's friends still celebrate his music

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a larger-than-life musical figure. Musician friends still get teary playing his tunes.

Advertiser library photos

Iz Fest

5 p.m. Sunday; gates open 4 p.m.

Aloun Farms in Kapolei

$17.50 ($15 advance); keiki 10 and under free


Featuring: Marlene Kamakawiwo'ole, Gaylord Holomalia, Mel Amina, Del Beazley, Teresa Bright, Raymond Kane, Mike Muldoon, Willie K, Fiji, Three Plus, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Barry Flanagan, Kapena, Ernie Cruz, Baba B, Keahiwai, Vaihi, Maunalua, Ken Makuakane, Pandanus Club, Anelaikalani, Leina'ala Haili, Leialoha Amina, Moke Boy, Tino and the Rhythm Klub, DisGuyz, and the hula halau of Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Aloha Dalire, Sonny Ching and Blaine Kia

A-Maze-In at Aloun Farms

in Kapolei

A walk-through maze, with cornfield shaped with the image of Iz 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 28

$8 for 12 and older, $5 for ages 6 through 11, free for children 5 and under

cornfieldmaze.com or 677-9412

Musician Mel Amina, who has roots in the careers of the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau, the spinoff Makaha Sons and the solo Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, still gets teary-eyed when he hears the old music.

Particularly Bruddah Iz's melodies.

"I miss him," said Amina, 46, who is a first cousin of Iz and Iz's older brother, Skippy Kamakawiwo'ole.

Both died young — Skippy at 28, in 1982, of an apparent heart attack; Iz at 38, in 1997, of respiratory failure.

"I hear the music now, and I know Iz is around. I can feel him. Especially the last CD, with the talk," said Amina. "Gives me goose bumps."

Guitarist Amina will be in the house band, along with musical mate Analu A'ina, when the "Iz Fest" is held Sunday at Aloun Farms in Kapolei, where a cornfield maze, depicting Iz's likeness, has been attracting fans. A huge musical component will be part of the Iz Fest.

Some of Bruddah Iz's music will be performed, said Amina. "We're still working it out, not sure of the format," he said several days ago. Plans to install a video aspect at the open-air showcase had to be scrapped; the intent was to have musicians performing along with an Iz video. Instead, there will some form of communal singing — with a still photo of Iz displayed.

Del Beazley and Teresa Bright will figure in the Iz segment, said Amina. "I know Del will do songs like 'Hawaiian Supa-man' (which he wrote and Iz recorded), and we're looking for things Teresa might do."

Performing Iz's music "still is pretty hard to do because we get emotional," said Amina. "Even Analu."

Amina and Iz called each other "Cuz," because of their blood ties.

"His dad and my mom are brother and sister," said Amina, who is married to Skippy's widow, Leialoha, further extending the link with the Kamakawiwo'ole clan.

"From the beginning, we used to play music in the back yard," he said of pre-Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau days. "When Skippy and Iz moved to Makaha, they held jam sessions on the porch. Next thing I knew, we were doing lu'au shows. I was living in Wai'anae; they were living in Makaha. Then the group was formed."

Iz and Skippy were direct opposites, said Amina.

"Skippy would think before doing anything; he also sat down and sorted things out. Iz, in comparison, would stand up, speak out and move forward, even if it got him in trouble. He was a mover. But in his own way, he was right on; you always knew what was on Iz's mind because he would always come out and say it."

Amina placed himself between the brothers, not choosing sides. "I wasn't closer to one more than the other," he said. "I was in the middle; when Iz was in trouble, Skippy would call me to get Iz out of trouble. I had good times with both of them."

Both brothers had a huge impact on the public, Amina said, which is why both the Makaha Sons, sans the Kamakawiwo'ole brothers, and Iz, the soloist, still are revered by fans.

"It's the music," said Amina. "Since the '70s, the music still touches the people. I met this haole man recently, and he asked if I knew of this Hawaiian musician whose songs he heard on the airplane. He had moved to a condo, and had the CD playing. I told him yes, I knew Iz, that I played in his band, and he started crying. He was really touched. He went back to his room to get the CDs for me to sign."

When Iz went solo, Amina bought a 12-string guitar to use in his back-up, largely to approximate the Makaha Sons sound. "He told me, 'Cuz, no need, you can play six-string,'" said Amina. "He just wanted to do his own thing. But he was really scared, leaving the Makaha Sons. He used to tell me and Roland Cazimero, 'You think I can make it?' We both told him, of course he could."

Amina said Iz's music and even the Makaha Sons' has lasting appeal because of its soulfulness. "I think it's got healing power," he said. "It calms you down, and when you look at what's happening around the world, it has that spirit of aloha."

From left, Analu A'ina, Mike Muldoon, Mel Amina and Gaylord Holomalia with Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.
Amina said Iz really was a kid at heart. "He really liked kids and had a way with children," said Amina. "I remember, before he died, he met up with some kids, 6, 7 or 8 years old. He would take them on his lap, talk to them at their level. They would leave, calling him 'Uncle Iz.' Some parents went crazy, because their kids usually don't talk much. He knew how to move at different levels, different ages; he could talk up to people at different conventions, it was mind-boggling; he knew how to connect. But he captivated the kids the most, because he felt like one."

Amina plays solo from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Mai Tai Bar of The Royal Hawaiian hotel and does special gigs with Moe Keale, such as the Na Mele concert coming up Nov. 24 at the Bishop Museum

On one of the many times Iz was hospitalized, he told Amina he needed to set goals to get better and live longer. "He wanted to take care of himself, so he could live to see his daughter grow up and graduate and see his grandchildren," said Amina.

He died before he could do either.

"That set me thinking about my own situation, my own health," said Amina. "As musicians, we have bad habits. We hate to eat before gigs, so we eat after, with a few beers, then sleep — and that's the worst thing you can do. We had to hide from Iz so that he wouldn't take that same route."

Amina has five children, ages 8 to 25. "I have the same goals as Iz — I want to live to see my grandkids, too," he said.