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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 12, 2010

Iz phenom catching fire worldwide

By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Israel Kamakawiwoole, who died in 1997 at the age of 38, was a founding member of The Mäkaha Sons of Niihau.

Advertiser library photo

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Dan Kois' "Facing Future" book (Continuum, $10.95), is a tidy companion to the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole legacy — it scopes the best-selling Hawai'i-produced CD ever, retelling the phenom that is Bruddah Iz, rehashing all the milestones and missteps taken by the late Hawaiian Sup'pa Man.

The book is part of a 33° series — the numbers referring to long-playing discs of the distant past — and magnifies achievements and marvels from an array of artists ranging from ABBA to The Byrds, from Bob Dylan to The Beatles. And now, Iz.

It's meant primarily for folks who discovered Iz through movie, TV or advertising exposure. It's a thorough, precise recap, with interviews from folks who actually knew and worked with Iz, reconstructing moments and manners of Bruddah Iz, and others in the music community who admired him from afar.

Jon de Mello, Iz's mentor who turns over licensing revenues to the singer's family, is mischaracterized – dubbed a hack, in fact — in a chapter on Bruddahood, a mini-thesis on who is truly in with Iz and that laid-back lifestyle, who isn't.

No matter; Without de Mello, there would be no "Over the Rainbow" — he's the keeper of the Iz flame, period.

— Wayne Harada, Special to The Advertiser

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Iz is facing a viral future, with the launch of a new Web site.

At www.izhawaii.com, you can find old news and new news — all focusing on the phenom that is Israel Kamakawiwoole, thanks to his "Over the Rainbow" sensation.

The site also shares the riches of the debut of the IZ Rainbow 'Ohana; when you join, you share Iz insights and become part of a growing community of IZraelites.

A recent posting features actress Angelina Jolie as a child, in a tribute to her late mother, with — of course — the strains of Bruddah Iz's "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" providing the veil of sentiment and gentleness.

The site is the new official headquarters of Iz, and the footage from Jolie and her brother Jamie (their father is actor Jon Voight), is a precise sample of how the Iz legacy has touched souls and continues to flourish.

Here, Jolie and Jamie pay homage to their late mom, Marcheline Bertrand, who is seen frolicking and hula-ing near undisclosed shores and cavorting in a hotel room (appears to be the Ilikai) because Bertrand loved the Islands. Everyone's wearing lei, enjoying the visit, and the homey bit of remembrance was originally posted on http://www.TMZ.com then surfaced on YouTube, eliciting a query from New York magazine about how the Iz tune emerged as the choice to accompany the tribute.

And so goes the legacy.

"It's been fun," said Jon de Mello, CEO of The Mountain Apple Co. and the guru behind Iz's post-death popularity across the globe, about working on the Iz destination. De Mello, who's been Kamakawiwoole's producer since 1993, was a fan, friend, confidante, soft shoulder and a lifelong mentor who is overseeing the launch of the Web site as a place where "Facing Future" and other Iz moments and music live anew — a mere keystroke away for fans hither and yon.

"It's like watching a flower grow," said the inventive de Mello, who keeps repositioning his client way beyond the confines of a CD artist and well beyond the shores. "Iz's personality was so funny, so fast, so witty. Some people are still finding out now that he died. All the stuff I have on Iz, collected over the years, I'll post," he said.

De Mello's out-of-the-box style suits Iz's unconventional and impromptu nature. Whenever Iz was in the studio, de Mello would simply roll the digital tape and let him sing, talk, share jokes, sermonize, hum, moan, whatever.

So in his possession are hours of chatter and sound bites, morsels de Mello has started to categorize and shape into fodder for the Web site — many funny, some inspiring, all characteristically and genuinely Iz — which de Mello expects to share in the weeks and months ahead.

Quietly launched Dec. 9, the site is now going full throttle.

And with de Mello on Iz watch, he's reacting somewhat like a proud pop: "It's like a kid; you feed it every day, you go through the burps, you change the diapers. The kid won't be ready for college for the first few weeks, so we're watching it grow, feeding it, and now we're ready to get the word out nationally and internationally," de Mello said.

Hits have come from 48 countries, including a few unimaginable locales, like South America and Russia, and Eastern Europe, where "Rainbow" continues to be a periodic choice to push a product or service.

"The average hit (on the site) is six or seven minutes," he said. "This is going around the planet; viral marketing works, and we're making babies out there."

And why not?

"Facing Future" remains the top-selling Hawaiian music album in the world, becoming the first Island CD certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2002, then deemed platinum for sales of more than 1 million in 2005. It now is approaching double-platinum levels, which means it likely will surpass 2 million in a year.

The disc's popularity also has prompted a book, Dan Kois' "Facing Future," part of a 33 1/3 series (see sidebar review) that probes select CD titles for mini book-length-type liner notes.

"We almost got a Super Bowl commercial," said de Mello of a planned spot with an Iz pop, "but they (the clients) changed their mind."

It all spells fun and fuels Iz as he faces his viral future.

Reach Wayne Harada at 266-0926 or wayneharada@gmail.com. Read his Show Biz column Sundays in Island Life and showandtellhawaii.honadvblogs.com.