Hulu Lindsey heads new female falsetto contest
Carmen Hulu Lindsey was 8 years old and living with her grandparents in Waimea, Hawaii island, when she heard Genoa Keawe sing at their neighborhood church.
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Carmen Hulu Lindsey was 8 years old and living with her grandparents in Waimea, Hawaii island, when she heard Genoa Keawe sing at their neighborhood church. Keawe was in her early 80s and recognized as one of the greatest female Hawaiian falsetto singers in the islands.
In Keawe’s voice Lindsey found an inspiration.
“I would just idolize her,” Lindsey recalled. “I actually mimicked her style of singing as I was growing up, so I got the style actually from her, and it just stuck with me. It’s the kind of music I do.”
Lindsey developed her own falsetto voice, and as years passed she enjoyed success as a recording artist. Her final album, “A He Leo Wale No E,” won her the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for best female vocalist in 2014. She recorded “Ka Wai ‘o Eleile” for the “Lei Nahonoapi‘ilani” compilation album of songs about West Maui last fall.
Lindsey’s “day job” as an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee keeps her busy enough — “It’s a job and a half plus two,” she said — and she is also a longtime member of the ‘Ahahui Ka‘ahumanu society and the Central Maui Hawaiian Civic Club. However, when the organizers of the annual Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua asked her to help them in developing a female Hawaiian falsetto singing contest, Lindsey made herself available.
“I’m probably one of the oldest haihai (falsetto) singers on Maui, so they asked me,” she said modestly. “I’m honored that they asked me to be a part of it.”
Once everything was in place, the organizers named the new contest in her honor. The first-ever Carmen Hulu Lindsey Leo Ha‘iha‘i Falsetto Contest — open to women only — will be held April 10 as the opening event of this year’s two-day Celebration of the Arts.
Lindsey’s new namesake falsetto contest is something new for Hawaii. Hawaiian falsetto singing has traditionally been a male activity for the simple reason that more men sang in public places than women. Some men claimed that women couldn’t sing falsetto or that when women sang what sounded like falsetto, it was actually something else.
Machismo aside, a falsetto singer sings in both a lower-register “chest voice” and a higher-register “head voice.” A singer who does this is a “falsetto singer” regardless of whether they are male or female. Where the Hawaiian falsetto tradition differs most from the falsetto traditions heard elsewhere is that Hawaiian singers emphasize the break (in Hawaiian, hai) between their lower and upper registers.
Next to Keawe, Lindsey credits Lena Machado and Leina‘ala Haili as women who influenced and inspired her falsetto singing style. Younger female Hawaiian falsetto singers include Amy Hanaiali‘i Gilliom, Pomaika‘i Keawe Lyman and Raiatea Helm.
An older name for Hawaiian falsetto singing is leo kiekie, which can be translated as “high voice (singing).” The word “hai” is not gender-specific, but Lindsey suggested the planning committee chose the alternate term “leo haihai” as a way of differentiating her namesake contest from the usual males-only competition.
“I do define hai as a (singing) technique,” she clarified. “The hai style of falsetto singing is the Hawaiian style. The name of the contest tells applicants the style of music that the judges expect to hear.”
In brief, contestants must be amateurs who have not been signed to a record label, have not released an album as a solo artist and have not won another falsetto contest.
Contestants will be judged on the vocal performance including their use of hai, their accuracy and narrative ability in sharing the history of the song and the songwriter, their command of the Hawaiian language when singing in Hawaiian, and their overall stage presence.
Contestants are encouraged to provide their own instrumental accompaniment; a maximum of three backing musicians is allowed, but recorded music tracks are prohibited. The contest registration deadline is March 15.
The grand prize is recording a professional-quality, four-song EP sponsored by Lindsey’s daughter, Hoku Award winner Napua Grieg (Pihana Productions), Michael Casil (I-Vibe Productions) and Wailau Ryder. First place earns $600, second place takes home $400 and third place gets $300. There will be a special prize for pronunciation and overall fluency in Hawaiian.
Lindsey and members of her family will perform at intermission.
Whether men and women should compete against each other is a fair question given that the recording industry puts male and female vocalists in separate categories.
Hawaii’s biggest Hawaiian falsetto singing contest of the last 25 years was the Frank B. Shaner Hawaiian Falsetto Contest presented by the Aloha Festivals for more than 10 years on Oahu, which was strictly men-only. The Clyde “Kindy” Sproat Falsetto and Storytelling Contest on the Big Island was open to both sexes.
Lindsey hopes the new contest will inspire women of all ages who sing at home to share their talent in public.
“I want to encourage all these singers — from students to ladies who have sung all their lives but have never come out on a stage. This is a platform for them to share what they have,” she said.