Richard & Solomon Ho'opi'i from Maui
Photo by Tibor Franyo

Hawaiian falsetto singing

"Noho Paipai (Rocking Chair Hula)," a love song for hula 'auwana, performed by the Ho'opi'i brothers.
Third verse, 112 kB .AU
Third and fourth verse, 275 kB .AU

Malihini `oe, malihini au,
Ma ka ihu kâua kama`âina.

Ina `o you me a`u,
Kau pono i ka noho paipai

3. You are a stranger, I am a stranger too,
But when we kiss each other, we are friends.

4. If you were here with me,
We would rock together on a rocking chair.

Clyde "Kindy" Sproat, another falsetto singer (audio, video, bio)

Hawaiian music emphasizes the voice. Many Hawaiian songs feature falsetto, called leo ki'eki'e, a term coined in Hawaiian in 1973. Falsetto singing, most often used by men, extends the singer's range to notes above their ordinary vocal range. The voice makes a characteristic break during the transition from the ordinary vocal register to the falsetto register.

In Western falsetto singing, the singer tries to make the transition between registers as smooth as possible. In Hawaiian-style falsetto, the singer emphasizes the break between registers. Sometimes the singer exaggerates the break through repetition, as a yodel.

As with other aspects of Hawaiian music, it is probable that falsetto developed from a combination of sources, including pre-European Hawaiian chanting and early Christian hymn singing. Falsetto may have been a natural and comfortable vocal technique for early Hawaiians, since a similar break between registers called ha'iha'i, is used as an ornament in some traditional chanting styles.

"Noho Paipai (Rocking Chair Hula)," composed by John K. Almeida. Performers: Richard and Solomon Ho'opi'i, vocals and ukelele. Recorded October 21, 1990 at "Folklife Hawai'i: A Festival," sponsored by the SFCA Folk Arts Program and held at Magic Island, Honolulu, O'ahu. Recorded by Rhema Systems.


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28 February 1996