In fact, the characteristic vocal vibrato prevalent in Hawaiian singing is partially what led to thpopularity of the steel guitar (as mentioned in my last posting) in Hawaii.
Falsetto singing is a vocal style that can occur when a normally natural tenor, baritone, or bass sings “falsetto” (Italian diminutive of falso, "false") in the alto range. Technically, the vocal chords vibrate at a shorter length than with their ordinary voice. When sung by men it is that top part of the voice which takes on a lighter, more feminine quality (think: BeeGees).
Ancient Hawaiian chanters were known to use a technique of a characteristic break for the transition from a normal voice to a falsetto voice. This was referred to as kauna, which may have been the Hawaiian word for counter, as in countertenor. A countertenor is a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano, or (less frequently) a soprano, usually through use of falsetto, or far more rarely the normal or modal voice.
In the 1830’s, the Mexican vaqueros were brought to the Island of Hawaii to teach Hawaii’s paniolo to become cowboys. As discussed in an earlier posting the tuning of their guitars became the origin of the Hawaiian Slack Key guitar style. Mexican singers were also known to use falsetto and yodeling, and it is common knowledge that a predominance of early Hawaiian falsetto singers came from the Big Island. http://digital.thinkindie.com/search/release.php?release_id=27247
Additional influences such as missionary hymns, and the music of the Spanish, and Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii blended together for 100 years to produce this unique singing style, or as it is known in Hawaiian, leo ki'eki'e (high voice). http://www.hawaiianmusichistory.com/falsetto/history.htm
Some female singers use falsetto techniques, such as veteran Auntie Genoa Keawe and young stars Amy Hanaialii Gilliom and Raiatea Helm, but it is usually associated with male singers like Mahi Beamer, Dennis Pavao and the Hoopii Brothers. http://www.mauiislandpress.com/Sample_Island_Life_101.html
Check out the Hoopii Brothers doing some beautiful Hawaiian falsetto singing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlRugBW-_6I.
This posting then completes my summary of the essentials elements of Hawaiian music. That is, the slack key guitar, the ukulele, the steel guitar and lastly, falsetto singing. There are many more elements to the unique sound of Hawaiian music, so this is just a start. I’ll leave a more thorough discussion to the artists out there actually making this wonderful music.