In 2018, I had the great honor to help compose this piano arrangement with my friend Izik for his otherworldly song, Watch Me From Above. It was a humbling gift performing this together as the last of three songs of an acoustic encore set at Izik’s show, The Empty Birdcage, at the wonderful Doris Duke Theatre in the Honolulu Museum of Art. This particular song, however, holds a special place in my heart.
I remember the first time Izik played the completed record shortly before the release of his first studio album in 2016, Obsidian. We sat in my living room, monitors full up to bathe us in the album’s sonic glory, front to back. Watch Me From Above is the very last song, opened by delicate, sweet birdsong that dances with guitar throughout. It’s preceded by a powerful spoken word poem, Strong & Beautiful, performed with his sister, Sabrina.
The album version is deceivingly upbeat with a slight mist of lament belied only in the hilt of wavering 7th chords that open each phrase. But I will never forget how tears started instantly streaming down my face by the end of the first stanza. Those lyrics. I was overcome remembering a dear friend lost at just 20 years old in the Iraq war, just about 11 years before to the day. When the song ended, I was relieved to find it wasn’t just me whose face had been covered by passing rain showers.
I’d only heard this song once years before, in Izik’s car after a particularly delicious dinner. That version was the original, just him and his guitar on his phone, and I silently cried then, too. (Don’t think he saw that one.) He maintains that he didn’t write this song, and that it was a gift that wrote itself in his grief after his grandmother passed from this life.
What a gift it is.
Thankfully, we (mostly) managed to not break down on stage. We worked Strong & Beautiful into the center of the song, all the while a montage of home videos honoring his grandmother’s life—herself an accomplished Hawaiian musician on upright bass—played on analog televisions for the audience.
Accompanying Izik on piano for this song is one of my life’s greatest memories, and in my humble opinion, this is his most beguiling and poignant vocal performance of this wondrous song.
Note: The little derivative of “Butterfly” at the end was a requested surprise gift for a special audience member, and our own little nod to one of our shared musical inspirations, Mariah Carey.