Around the Big Island September 6, 2015

Hawaiian music, fun and games, help celebrate Queen Lili’s birthday

This weekend the 15th annual Liliʻuokalani Festival in Hilo celebrated the Queen’s birthday.  There were food, crafts, cultural demonstrations, hula, and plenty of music featuring Hawaiian falsetto.  In this 5:13 minute video (courtesy, the band Komakakino entertains the crowd, with excellent examples of Hawaiian falsetto, including the yodel-like haʻi vocal breaks.

They say falsetto originated long ago, during the time women did not sing in public.  Men singing in the soprano range, an octave above their own range, produced flute-like sometimes ringing sounds.  This is falsetto.

How did Hawaiian falsetto originate?

When the vaqueros were brought over to manage the King’s cattle on Hawaiʻi Island, they brought their guitars.  Sitting around campfires, European and Hawaiian cowboys shared their music.  Some say Hawaiian falsetto evolved from ancient Hawaiian chants and the music of other immigrants to Hawaiʻi, who also introduced new harmonies.  Women can sing falsetto, but since they are natural sopranos, Hawaiian falsetto is sung by men.  As an aside, around those same 19th century campfires, the Hawaiians loosened the guitar strings and slack key was born.

What is haʻi?

When singers move between lower and upper registers, the voice wants to break.  European and Americans are trained to smooth over that break.  Hawaiian falsetto singers use the break to emphasize emotion.  Many cultures embrace the same yodel-like technique, including American country music.  A good example is LeeAnne Rimes singing “Blues.”

Hawaii Island Festival – 30 Days of Aloha

Each year Hawaiian culture is celebrated during September.  On Hawaii Island, home to the Hawaiian cowboy, slack key guitar, and Hawaiian falsetto, there are activities planned for the second and third weekends.  This coming Saturday, September 12, is the Kindy Sproat Falsetto Contest, 5:30 pm at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.  Paʻu riders and their mounts (pictured below), are a popular part of the parades on every island.Pa'u riders

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