Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A house carrying a ukulele

I'm indebted to the Guardian for tipping me off about Israel Kamakawiwoʻole - who for obvious reasons will be referred to as "Iz" in the rest of this piece.

It's an amazing story - told best here at the Honolulu Advertiser - of a recording engineering in Honolulu being called at 02:30 by a polite traditional Hawaiian musician with a burning desire to do some recording that night.

Iz turns up with his ukulele - the recording engineer gets him a chair strong enough to support his massive frame - and in an half a hour he has laid down a set of songs, including a version of "Over the Rainbow" that will make you wonder whether Judy Garland really knew what she was doing.

That's "Over the Rainbow" ! Voted song of the 20th century by everyone who matters - it's the defining soundtrack for infinitely painful longing to be in a better place you can almost taste at a time of suffering. I'm sure at any given moment since 1939,  someone somewhere on Earth was singing that song. And yet this giant decided that he had something new to add that couldn't wait for morning.

It's a far from polished performance, with liberties taken with the tune and pronunciation, but what extraordinary intensity! Hear it here  - it could be the highlight of your week.

Unfortunately Iz died from weight-related respiratory problems at a tragically young age so we're robbed of getting to know him better. I'm convinced that it's impossible to sing like that and not be a totally wonderful person. It would be a twisted world if you could fake that degree of humanity.

Oh, and it's been number one in Germany since October - wouldn't it be a better Christmas Number One here in Britain instead of the usual plastic R'n'B X-Factor android? Hint, hint.

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