By Wayne Harada
So how did Sarah Brightman, who originated the role of Christine in both the London and Broadway productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” discover and proceed to record “Hawaii ’78,” a popular track by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole?
“Sarah found the song and listened to it all the time,” said Jon de Mello, producer of many Bruddah Iz albums, who conversed with her handlers and musical producers about securing rights to do it as a Brightman-Iz duet. Simply put, she wanted to do a duet, with Iz, and she knew he was gone.
“I jumped, thinking she was thinking of ‘Over the Rainbow,’ but no it was ‘Hawaii ’78,” said de Mello.
She wanted to do it on her next album, “Dreamchaser,” being released to coincide with her global and American tour.
“Obviously, I was honored and thrilled; she knew the song a year ago, and she wanted to sing it with Israel.”
The British producers sought tracks where the instrumentations were separated, said de Mello.
“But it was problematic; I told them I didn’t have the instruments separate; the ukulele and guitar got married along the way, and they needed separate tracks.”
Figuring he could tweak and isolate the instruments, de Mello attempted to clean up the vintage tracks.
“But before I got back to them, they called — they had a cool engineer, and they did it (separate the tracks).”
The duet, available as a bonus track on the Brightman classical album only available at Target stores (it was released in Hawaii on April 16). It is a peculiar but natural melding of two souls; Iz is the carefree bruddah with spontaneity and charm, with a depth of emotion not readily revealing; Brightman, the lyrical and individual spirit, has a golden voice with unexpected range and a common dream-like posture reflective of her think-outside-the-box style.
“She wanted to sing with Israel,” said de Mello, “and I never got to question why.”
His interpretation: She connected with the melody and Mickey Ioane lyrics, and “she’s a very bright lady. It’s an educated guess, but all I can think of is that she related to her (British) monarchy, as we were to ours. ‘How would they feel about the changes of our land.’ ...”
Brightman is rolling out the release of the CD in progression with her touring show. In the U.S., the disc should be out to coincide with her concerts in June and July. The classical genre may be off-putting to those who still buy records, but since she adores the Iz hook-up, she may someday place the song in her concert list — a feat that would create some visual challenges, since there is no crisp video of him singing “Hawaii ’78.”
De Mello is generous with compliments of the success of the duet. “She pulled it off,” he said. “Technically, they reduced Israel’s voice, phasing him out so she could take a verse, then she’s behind him.”
He thinks the duet could trigger growing interest elsewhere in “Hawaii ‘78” and its hypnotic chorus, despite the “Ue mau ke ea o ka ‘aina, i ka pono o Hawaii” Hawaiian lyrics — which Brightman handles with aplomb.
His review in two words: “Very cool.”
Brightman, former wife of composer Lloyd Webber, is a noted classical crossover artist know across the globe. She often is described as the world’s best-selling soprano, with a couple of notable duets, including a 1996 encounter with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on “Time To Say Goodbye,” which topped European charts and remains the fastest-selling single ever in Germany.
Her creation of the Christine character in “Phantom” galvanized her popularity and to date, Brightman has amassed more than 180 gold and platinum sales laurels in 38 countries. In 2010, she was the fifth most influential and best-selling classical artist on Billboard’s charts.