So Iʻm riding around with nephew Nate (aka Mahealani) the bass player, while also thinking about the syllabus for the course “Musical Cultures: Hawaiʻi” that Iʻll be teaching in the fall semester at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. I ask Nate the following: what three songs by three different singers would you pick, to introduce Hawaiian falsetto singing to someone who is totally unfamiliar with Hawaiian music?
Our ensuing discussion was fascinating, because it ranged over what the selection criteria would be. Was the intent to showcase falsetto songs? Or to showcase falsetto singers? And why three different songs? Why not give listeners a range of stylings by listing one song performed by three different singers?
Then he asked “what makes a song a falsetto song?” At this point it was simplest to start naming songs that both of us agreed were unquestionable examples of excellence when sung by falsetto singers. So we launched into our list, and got this far when we got to our destination in Kaimuki.
I Ali‘i No ‘Oe
Ku‘u Lei Hōkū
Ku‘u Ipo Pua Rose
“any Lena Machado song” — but in particular, Ho‘onanea, Holo Wa‘apā, None Hula
Green Lantern Hula
Aloha ‘Ia ‘o Wai‘anae
Puna Ku‘u Aloha
and of course, practically any Bill Lincoln song:
Pua Be Still
Moku o Keawe
and practically any of the winners of the Aloha Festivals Falsett Contest featured on the eight CDs to date from Hula Records.
Out of this exercise, here are my initial recommendations:
1. “I Kona”
Ledward Ka‘apana’s signature song, which he first recorded in 1991 on the album Nahenahe with the “new” Ikona, and again on his first Live CD on the Dancing Cat label in 1994. Correction, thanks to Aunty Maria: Ledʻs first recording of “I Kona” was on the 1978 LP Na Leo Kani o Punahele.
Dennis Pavao also recorded this on the posthumously issued CD The Golden Voice of Hawai‘i Vol. 1.
Also of note: a recording by Kai Ho‘opi‘i on Vol. 6 of the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Content CDs. He is the son of National Heritage Fellow Richard Ho‘opi‘i.
2. “He U‘i” — by Danny Kua‘ana, 1946.
My goodness, an all-star roster to draw from!
Joe Keawe & His Harmony Hawaiians on 49th State 95, and again on Hawai‘i’s Falsetto Returns released in the mid- to late 1970s.
Kekua Fernandes on the LP Straight from Hawaii To You (1977)
Iokepa de Santos fronting the group Ke‘alohi, on their CD Ke‘alohi (1992)
Kamaka Fernandez, an Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest winner presented on Vol. 5 of the contest CDs (2004)
Now for the $64 million dollar question: would I put these tracks on my course syllabus as an assignment? Stay tuned!!