Q+A Jon De Mello

I heard there was an interesting story behind the recording of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s
“Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

A: We had a standing offer. I told Israel,
whenever you want to record, just call, and we’ll set it up, bang. Anytime, day,
night, weekends, holidays, we don’t care. One night, he was having trouble sleeping.
He was on oxygen and couldn’t sleep well. So about 2 o’clock in the morning, he
calls me up and says, “I want to record.” I told him, “Twenty minutes, see you
there.” Now, he had done that song before, on another album, but he had never
done it simple, with just his ‘ukulele. That night, he did four or five songs.
First takes. He’d sit down and start playing, and if you weren’t ready, you missed
it. But we were ready. A couple of the songs he did that night haven’t been released

Do you think of yourself as primarily a businessman or an artist?

A: My
father was a little of both. I think I inherited that from him. I have to say
that a lot of times I would rather just work on music or art. But I do enjoy the
card game a little bit, and I’m very active in the business side of Mountain Apple.
I don’t think I could remove myself completely from that. I’m under contract with
people, to make sure they’re paid, which makes me a cop every now and then.

How has technology changed the music business here in Hawai’i?

A: Technology
has changed music all over the planet Earth. First of all, one of the coolest
inventions was MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), around 1985. It led
to the protocol for keyboards and guitars and everything to talk to the computer.
Along with that came drum machines. I believe it’s led to the “boom-boom” culture,
as I call it now, the thump music. It helped form this genre called Jawaiian,
the fusion of Hawaiian and reggae. They took two societies and merged them together
and made nothing, in my opinion.

Q: Why do you think Hawaiian music
has never quite caught on on the Mainland?

A: I think a lot of it was just
the practicalities of commerce. We were just too disconnected. In those days,
it was $4 a minute to talk to the Mainland. The planet is shrinking now, and I
think Hawaiian music has the potential to flourish, big time, especially over
the Internet. People are downloading songs, legally and illegally, where normally
they wouldn’t hear Hawaiian music. I get letters from Italy saying, “I discovered
this music,” in Italian. “Magnifico!” I think there’s a great adventure for Hawaiian
music to be had right now.