turunasThere’s nothing quite like early Brazilian string band music – hot, exciting, well-played, and often extremely rare. Quite a number of groups featuring the Brazilian bandolim, cavaquinho, Brazilian acoustic guitar (the violão), banjo, and even fiddle, were recorded, but a perfect storm of factors have kept many of these discs a bit more hidden: a) very little distribution outside of Brazil, and b) a tropical climate, which can wreak havoc on 78 rpm records, drastically upping their attrition rate, making them sometimes extremely tough to dig up, even in Brazil. If you find an early Brazilian 78 – and companies began recording in the country in the first decade of the 20th century – it could be close to unplayable, or an example of the most popular style of music, large-band style samba. Or both! This is not to say that samba is in any way bad, mind you – its enduring qualities are deserved and well-documented. It just became the most popular of all styles.

“String band music” is probably too generic a term. There were several different types of Brazilian musics performed mainly on string instruments. Some of the most complex and virtuoso performances were saved for recordings of choro music, with its tight syncopation and dizzying, ragtime-like runs. Later, in the late 1920s, guitar duos from rural areas began appearing on record, performing early examples of música serteneja (literally, music from the back country). There were also string bands that had samba singers as members, such as the Bando de Tangarás, who boasted as members the greats Noel Rosa and João de Barro. Some string groups occasionally recorded Afro-Brazilian styles, such as “batuque” songs. It was a fascinating mix in the early days, especially when electric recording began in Brazil, which was around late 1927.

The Turunas de Mauricéa (also spelled as “Turunas de Mauricéia”) group was a wealth of talent, active only from 1927-1929. They were from the north.The Miranda brothers, Luperce, Romualdo, and João, were from Recife, as was the blind Manoel de Lima. Their vocalist, Augusto Calheiros, was from Maceió. Together, they became the first group to travel to Rio and record songs from the north, such as emboladas and cocos. The group’s name is a reference to Recife itself, as it was once known as Mauricéa under the Dutch rule of Maurice of Nassau. Their recordings, 18 discs in total, rare as they are today, were very influential. In fact, the flip side to this track, “Piniao,” was a hit during Carnival in 1928. This piece, with its hard picked strings and harsh, loud singing, was one of Odeon’s earliest electric recordings in Brazil – and those early electric recordings are very poor. It seems to have taken some months for the company, long active in Brazil, to improve their quality and learn how to record with new microphone technology.

This piece translates to “broken pandeiro” (the Brazilian tambourine-like drum), and was recorded in November of 1927. Luperce Miranda, the indisputable early master of the bandolim and co-author of several of the group’s songs, likely does not appear on this track and perhaps not on any of the Turunas’ recordings. He did, however, go on to have a lengthy career in music. His brother João, not as exacting and imaginative a player as Luperce yet still a terrific musician, went on as the leader of the Desafiadores do Norte, and as a songwriter for Parlophon and Brunswick. Romualdo cut one solo disc on the guitar and seems to have stopped recording after around 1930. Augusto Calheiros’ voice smoothed out as the years went on and recording technology got better, also singing his way into the 1950s.


(image courtesy of onordeste.com)

Turunas de Mauricéa – Pandeiro Furado

Label: Odeon (Brazil)
Issue Number: 10067
Matrix Number: 1337

For several more Brazilian string band tracks, dig up “Portuguese String Music” on Heritage for a few early examples, and the Brazilian collections on Fremeaux also contain a few excellent tracks, albeit in various levels of sound quality (including “not so hot”).

lameyEntire books have been written on the rich history of fiddle playing and tunes from Cape Breton Island, and its tradition still continues with robust strength today. Type “Cape Breton fiddling” into YouTube and you’ll get everything from early recordings, to private performances at house parties, from professional contemporary players like Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, to local youths performing, to festival performances, to this 1971 documentary, “The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler.” It may have been vanishing in 1971, but by outward appearances it appears it’s being vigorously kept alive, along with accompanying stepdancing. Today, Cape Breton is often considered the international stronghold of true, traditional Scottish fiddling.

Because of this, there’s little reason for didactic platitudes on this subject – except to state the very basics: the tradition stems from the Scottish Highlands. Highland immigrants began settling in Cape Breton in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly between 1817 and 1838 (relating to the mass emigration brought on by the dissolution of the “clan system” in Scotland, known as the Highland Clearances). With them, of course, came music for dancing – and Cape Breton’s traditional tunes have been well documented in various songbooks for the past century or more. As you’ll hear in this example, its style is forceful, often intense. One of the noticeable differences between Cape Breton fiddling and other traditional styles is the strong “up driven bow,” particularly on strathspeys, and what’s been described as a strong “whip” in each stroke, along with an extensive use of fast triplets. (Admittedly, I’m writing as a novice here – guided by ears.)

Folk music from Cape Breton was recorded erratically and only occasionally during the 78 rpm era, until Bernie MacIsaac bought a music store in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and re-named it the “Celtic Music Store” in 1935. At about the same time, he started an independent record label, also naming it “Celtic,” and got some of the very best fiddlers in the region to record for his local label, namely, Angus Chisholm (who had already recorded for the Decca label), Hugh A. MacDonald, Winston Fitzgerald, Angus Allan Gillis, Dan J. Campbell, and today’s featured fiddle player, William Hugh “Bill” Lamey. The Celtic label is legendary, despite their limited amount of releases, having done a marvelous job doing just what it should have done: serving a relatively small population with well-recorded, excellent performances of local folk music. They helped to preserve the tradition, which later was taken up to a degree by the Rodeo 78 rpm label.

Lamey was born on Cape Breton Island in 1914 and first had his own fiddle at the age of 18. While in Sydney, he continued learning from local players and eventually got his own radio show. He recorded at least six 78s beginning around the early 1940s, though his career continued for many years. This side features his long time piano accompanist, Margaret Jessie MacDonald. In 1953, he moved to Boston, and in 1966, perhaps one could say that he helped to usher in a renewed interest in Cape Breton fiddling when he became the first fiddler from the region to perform at the Gaelic Mòd in Inverness, Scotland, where he apparently devastated the crowd with his performance, earning standing ovations.

Unfortunately, very few of these classic performances have made it to the CD era. In the late 1970s, Richard Nevins of Shanachie/Yazoo issued two pivotal collections of Lamey’s and Angus Chisholm’s early sides, but they remain long out of print. Hopefully that will change. This piece features a strathspey and reel, and a wonderful end note by pianist MacDonald. Sometimes you don’t know when to stop…

W.H. (Bill) Lamey – Highland Watch’s Farewell to Ireland; Glenlivet

Label: Celtic
Issue Number: 028
Matrix Number: CT 7320

For more, check out this site on Lamey, with information on his releases, as well as Michael Robertson’s Celtic record uploads on YouTube.

43742-A1Alright, well, it’s been a while. It’s no secret that I sometimes take extended breaks. That doesn’t mean the collecting stops. Over the past few months I’ve had all manner of guests make a pit stop at Excavated Shellac headquarters to share sounds, from super-collectors to researchers to designers to dear friends. Amanda Petrusich’s book was released, in which I play a really small part, but was surprisingly quoted (almost at my most sarcastic – hey, I was on a roll) in the Wall Street Journal and LA Times. And I’ve also done a lot of work on projects that should see the light of day in the next year if I can swing it. My point is, sometimes it’s good for me to just take a break, take stock of why the hell I’m doing this, collect without that obsessive “need” and without impending, unwieldy projects looming overhead (real or imagined), and just listen to music for a while.

Well, it was fun while it lasted!

I’d realized it’s been about five years since I’d posted music from China. This disc, recorded ca. mid- to late 1928, is an unusual example as it does not feature a type of Chinese opera or popular music, probably the most overwhelmingly common types of music recorded in China at the time. Instead, it’s a recording that features chanting from a Buddhist sutra – specifically from the Vimalakirti Sutra.

I make no claims to scholarship in Buddhism. It seems to be well-documented, however, that the Vimalakirti Sutra has a lengthy history of reverence and popularity in China, having first been translated into Chinese from Sanskrit in 188 CE. In a 2014 paper on the Vimalakirti by Professor Jonathan A. Silk, he quotes Sinologist Erik Zürcher in his book The Buddhist Conquest of China as stating that “this scripture may be regarded…as a real compendium of Mahayana doctrine,” and “one of the most venerated and influential works of the Buddhist canon in the Far East.”

In the sutra, a goddess visits the room of the layperson Vimalakirti and proceeds to scatter flowers over both enlightened bodhisattvas and disciples, all gathered in the room. The flowers immediately fall off the bodhisattvas, yet they stick to the disciples. The goddess explains (quoting one easily obtainable English translation): “It is only because the latent influences [of your afflictions] are not yet exhausted that the flowers stick to your bodies. For those in whom the latent influences are exhausted, the flowers do not stick.” This seems to be the precise reference in the title to this piece, the “mantra” sung by three “householders” (laypersons, or “retired scholars” per Prof. Silk).

The Victor Talking Machine Company was one of the most prominent companies recording in parts of China in the early part of the 20th century, although all major labels were quite active. Their first one-sided recordings of Chinese music, on their Monarch label, were made ca. 1902, likely in San Francisco, and are quite rare and in demand. They eventually began recording onsite in China in 1905. In the meantime, they continued their trading arrangement with their “sister” company in Great Britain, the Gramophone Company, who had recorded in China before Victor, in 1903, by repressing some of those earliest recordings on their own Victor label. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Victor was recording Chinese music in all manner of dialects and styles including Amoy, Mandarin, Fuzhou, Shantou, Teochew, and especially Cantonese. Victor recorded thousands of Chinese discs before World War II. I’ve broadly and extensively documented Victor’s activity in a paper that will soon be published online, which I will eventually provide a link to.

I’ve included both sides of this record. For help with all our “latent influences.” Enjoy.

Householders Shen Yunsheng, Tan Rongguang, Lin Zhongfu and group – Sanskrit Mantra of Scattering Flowers, Pts 1 & 2

Label: Victor
Issue Numbers: 42742 A1/B2
Matrix Numbers: n/a

Thank you to Sun and the research of Du Jun Min.



Otaniyozov-lblTime for a classic performance from Uzbekistan, on a very late 78 rpm recording from ca. 1961.

Komiljon Otaniyozov (1917, Shovot – 1975, Tashkent) was from the northwest of Uzbekistan, in Khorezm, known for its ruins of ancient fortresses and monuments. A tar player and singer, Otaniyozov is regarded as one of the finest Khorezmian “bastakors” – almost the equivalent of a singer-songwriter, although technically they are responsible for the all-important melody, which is most often coupled with classic poetry. He had a lengthy career as a musician, speaker, and actor, and was associated with various local conservatories and ensembles. You can watch a few videos of him performing on YouTube, as well. I could find little more on Otaniyozov (also spelled Ataniyozov) that wasn’t in Uzbek, alas, and nothing on his accompanist on the doira frame drum, I. Abdullaev.


The history of the recording industry in Russia and the Soviet Union is complex, but a few details are worth repeating. Before the Russian Revolution, there was quite a lot of international recording activity in Russia and its territories, including Uzbekistan. By 1912, there were approximately 20,000 individual recordings issued, in 40 different languages. Most of these pre-Revolution recordings are quite rare (or virtually nonexistent in some cases), particularly those recorded in the territories. Between 1919 and 1933, there were some labels that re-pressed some of this older material, some newer material was recorded on various labels (Muzpred and Mustrust, for example), and the Gramophone Company’s equipment was moved to Aprelevka, outside of Moscow.

In 1933, the state-run, catch-all record company in the Soviet Union referred to as “Gramplasttrest” (Gramophone Record Trust) started operations. They began to produce a non-stop array of music beginning that year, ranging from a dizzying amount of classical music and nationalist/communist anthems and operas, to true regional music from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Tajikistan, among other territories. I’ve written about this a little in the past: this state-run company had many associated labels, with the majority of them named after the location of their record production plants, such as Aprelevka, Riga, Leningrad, Noginsk, and Tashkent, among others. They were not the only recording company active during the Soviet era – some indies appeared in the 1950s – though they were by far the largest. This example would be approximately, judging by their numbering system, Gramplasttest’s 18,444th release in less than 30 years.

However, it appears that it took some time for a substantial amount of music of the Soviet territories to appear again. Some Uzbek material appeared in the 1930s on the Noginsk factory label, but it seems that the appearance of the Tashkent factory label (Tashkentski Zavod) in 1941 really opened things up. For the next 20 years on 78, the Tashkent label and the Soviet industry in general issued a host of traditional music from all the Russian territories, including Mongolia and Afghanistan. They, too, turn up rarely if ever.

Komiljon Otaniyozov with I. Abdullaev – Yashi

Label: Tashkentski Zavod
Issue Number: 36888
Matrix Number: 36888/1-1

Thanks to Reto. Information tallied from P. Gronow, the excellent russian-records.com, and other sources. And you can’t go wrong with the Topic CD Before the Revolution: A 1909 Recording Expedition in the Caucasus & Central Asia by the Gramophone Company.

salimIn Tanzania in the late 1950s-early 1960s, there was a wonderful group called the “Cuban Marimba Band” – wonderful, in part, because they weren’t Cuban and there was no marimba on their records, whatsoever! Already, they’d have had my attention. But they were, in fact, one of the best popular groups in the region with a varied sound, led by an important musician, appearing on one of the most interesting East African labels. That’s saying a lot for an area that was bursting with musical styles and independent 78 rpm labels – at least 50 of them – immediately after World War II. I was first introduced to the group by erudite collector and friend Mike Kieffer, and from John Storm Roberts’ important LP Africa Dances – the groundbreaking collection of 1960s African pop.

Salim Abdulla was apparently from Morogoro, in the southern highlands of Tanzania. His first group was called “La Paloma,” and I can find no proof that they recorded anything on disc (though they certainly could have). However, at least one source claims that he also formed the Morogoro Jazz Band, who had a lengthy career after Abdulla had presumably left the group, recording for various independent labels on 78s. At the time in East Africa, there were many dance bands, some which played different types of syncretic, orchestrated African jazz, and others which played taarab music with strong influences from the Middle East, as well as music influenced by Indian and Bollywood orchestras. Morogoro Jazz was just one of many – there was the Coast Social Orchestra, the Dar Es Salaam Jazz Band, the Atomic Jazz Band, and countless others.

The Cuban Marimba Band fits right into this lineage, although they were clearly one of the best at muziki wa dansi – straight up dance music. They recorded for the Mzuri label, which began around 1955 in Mombasa, Kenya. The Mzuri label…well, you know, for years collecting African 78s, I’d never seen a Mzuri 78. I’d never even known they’d existed, except on 45s. But, yes, exist they did – and they are testament to two things: 1) they prove that they were a successful company, issuing over 500 78s alone, before and during the gradual shift over to 45 rpm, and b) they had some of the very best talent, and issued some of the most interesting East African music during that time. One person’s opinion, but I believe their output is extremely special. They are also tough as nails to find.

Anyway – Mzuri was started in the mid-50s by Indian businessman M.J. Shah, who had been active recording East African music since 1939. Shah was convinced that the other East African labels had no real recording skill, and didn’t know how to properly capture a group sound. According to historian Werner Graebner, Shah recorded just with one microphone and a Ferrograph tape recorder. He would record bands in his warehouse in Mombasa, as well as travel to record groups in Dar es Salaam. Although I basically agree, Mzuri was far ahead of the pack in terms of quality, it shouldn’t be compared to western standards – there are plenty of Mzuri discs with tape flutter, edits, mistakes, and all kinds of weirdness. It was still the wild west in terms of recording, and records were made in all manner of conditions. Some Mzuris were pressed in Nairobi, some Germany, some Uganda…whomever offered the best deal, probably.

Salim Abdulla continued recording both with his Cuban Marimba Band and as a solo artist, until his death in 1965 from a car accident. John Storm Roberts credits Abdulla and his band as groundbreaking, creatively mixing local taarab “harsh, sad” vocal styles with the Cuban influence that had swept Africa from the Congo, eastward. This track, “Sina Wangu,” translates to something akin to “I have nothing” and was recorded in the early 1960s. It has not been compiled either by Roberts, or on the long out of print Dizim CD Salum Abdallah and Cuban Marimba: Ngoma Iko Hoku. The well of African music is always far deeper than us in the West imagine.

Salim Abdulla and the Cuban Marimba Band – Sina Wangu

Label: Mzuri
Issue Number: AM 520
Matrix Number: AB 1040

Thanks to MK. Much info from works by Werner Graebner.



squadraAfter Alan Lomax returned from his famed 1954-1955 recording sojourn through Italy, he saved some of the highest praise for a particular type of singing from the coastal region of Liguria and the port city of Genoa: trallalero. Anyone who has heard Lomax’s recordings will understand why, as they are a standout in his entire vast catalog. In the notes to the essential, expanded edition of Lomax’s trallalero recordings on CD, Italian Treasury: The Trallaleri of Genoa on Rounder (sadly out of print), Lomax is quoted as saying: I was literally blown away. [...] I have discovered that this Ligurian style is probably one phase of music that is literally as old as human time. Yet, it was certainly recorded, decades earlier, on gramophone records.

Without running down the already excellent notes by Edward Neill, Goffredo Plastino, and Lomax, I’ll humbly attempt a brief description of the music for the uninitiated. Trallalero is a type of polyphonic vocal music that dates back centuries, though according to Mauro Balma in his notes to the two-volume Trallalero Genovese CD set of contemporary trallalero recordings, there has been little scholarly work on its history (at least, it seems, in English). Some claim it is related to the barzelletta, a type of music related to the frottola, a predecessor of the madrigal. By the early 20th century, the music was sung by various “squadre” or “teams” named after their respective neighborhoods, the members of which were often unionized longshoremen. Lomax’s CD, for example, contains recordings made at a “longshoremen’s inn.”

Traditionally, trallalero is sung by nine men, with five vocal parts, though there can be anywhere from 7-15 members in some groups, and more recent trallalero groups employ women. In the nine-man version, five of the voices are bass, or the bassi, which give a drone-like quality to the chorus. A tenor leads the group, followed by the most startling aspect of the trallalero sound, the sharp, high falsetto, sometimes known as “la donna” (the woman), according to Lomax. After the falsetto, there is the “chitarra” singer, who imitates the sound of a guitar, often singing into the backs of his fingers, for lack of a better description. Finally, there is a baritone. The name of the music is based on the syllables “tra-la-la,” which is often used in trallalero songs during vocal improvisations. The nine men stand in a circle. This is certainly for the purpose of eye contact, but again according to Balma, may have its origins with drinking songs sung around tables. It adds a visual element that cannot be captured by recordings alone. In fact, early recordings cannot possibly capture the magic of live trallalero singing, unfortunately. Massive bass drones sung by longshoremen, a piercing falsetto, men singing into their hands, standing in a circle, all singing counterpoint-heavy music with each other…it practically sounds fictional.

According to Balma and Edward Neill, the first trallalero recordings were made as late as 1928. That year, the Gramophone Company (and perhaps Pathé) recorded discs by the Squadra di Bel Canto Genova Quarto. In 1930, GramCo also recorded 6 discs by the Squadra di Canto Popolare Isola del Cantone. Meanwhile, Italian’s Odeon branch recorded the Squadra di Canto Popolare Genova Molassana. Some of these groups recorded for other labels, such as Excelsius. Apparently there were around 100 trallalero recordings made during the 78 rpm era. They are almost all incredibly difficult to find – I’ve seen about 6 in my life. Complicating things a little, not all of these tracks by these “squadre” were traditional trallalero tunes. Some of the groups recorded comic songs and tangos, and some songs had modern lyrics, even nationalist ones. Some tracks contained modern stanzas arranged in the old, folkloric style (even Lomax’s recordings contained a version of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”).

This situation muddies the waters and likely makes ethnomusicologists shake their heads. At any rate, this track, while it is not in perfect condition, I hope retains the original trallalero sound. It was recorded ca. December 1930 in Milan by the Squadra Nuova Sturla, who apparently formed in 1926. This recording was made under the auspices, it seems, of a man named Costanzo Carbone (1884-1955). Carbone was a journalist, playwright, and a lover of Genoan tradition. Several books about him exist, including one co-written by the aforementioned ethnomusicologist and trallalero expert Mauro Balma.

Squadra Nuova Sturla – E Scibben Che N’Emmo Ninte

If you’ve made it this far and have NOT heard the first track from Lomax’s trallalero collection, let me introduce you to a work of brilliance here. And for a terrific, fly-on-the-wall performance by a contemporary trallalero group that I like, click here. The only other early trallalero performance on an available CD that I know of is – of course – on the Secret Museum series, Volume 3, Track 4.


Label: Columbia
Issue Number: CQ 460
Matrix Number: WB 2840

Thanks to Mike Kieffer and Bill Dean-Myatt.

mamboOn the Opika Pende set, I included what I think is an excellent example of praise singing from Western Kenya featuring the nyatiti. This important instrument of the Luo people is an 8-stringed lyre that’s plucked like a lute, using quick repetitive phrases. The resonator is sometimes held against the player’s chest, sometimes not, but generally the player has small metallic rings attached to his foot, which are tapped against the body of the nyatiti. The short melodic phases (known as puch) and hard tapping make for a pulsing, driving musical experience, accompanied by loud and intense praise poetry. It’s a music for all significant occasions in Luo culture, and traditionally the musicians were itinerant. To hear a sample of the Opika Pende song on iTunes, click here. For a dynamic video of a present-day Luo praise poet, click here.

Today’s track is a musical development – an attempt to bring the nyatiti into the electric age via electric guitars (a lead, and a bass). It must have seemed a natural switch, to attempt to transform and update Luo praise singing with a non-traditional instrument. This certainly has happened all across Africa (and elsewhere), with often really interesting results. Sure, in some cases if a modern or more western instrument took hold, it transformed the older musical type into something that would often soon cease to exist. Varying opinions exist on that, but I am not a purist. Yet, in any case, I’m not sure if this switch to electric guitar ever really took hold – this is the only example I’ve come across. Even if it’s more common than I know, it’s something different to my ears and hopefully yours. While many link the sound of “benga” music back to the nyatiti, this is more of a precise interpretation of nyatiti praise music, just on electric instruments. It’s pretty killer.

The Mambo label was one of the first labels run by the important music entrepreneur and producer Arvindkumar P. Chandaran, who based his company and music store in town of Kericho, west of the Great Rift Valley. Chandaran’s name dots many East African 45 rpm labels (Hundhwe, Saba Saba, Stranger, Pwani, and Wachezaji, just to name a few), and as a producer he apparently was a driving force in popularizing benga, both with his slew of labels and his well-known Chandaran music store. While the 45 era in East Africa was staggering in terms of volume (as evidenced by the excellent Kentanza Vinyl site), the 78-era in East Africa was also incredible – dozens of small, privately owned labels were competing and releasing discs in varying amounts (often small amounts I bet). Most all are very difficult to find on 78 (though 45s were also issued by many of these labels): Mzuri, Rafiki, Robina, Tom Tom, Tejura, Festival, Twist, Equator Sound, Africa, Kenyans, African Voice, AGS, Nyota, CMS, Jogoo, Jambo…it goes on. I would say this 78 was recorded and pressed sometime during the early to mid-1960s.

Mambo Sweet Voice!

Akech Oyoshi with Odongo Elly – Oyoshi Kitegi Timne (Nyatiti)

NotesLabel: Mambo
Issue Number: MV 58
Matrix Number: APC 118 2H 1 670

Visual Iconography, Pt. 4

February 9, 2014


abreuAs I brought up in a previous post, there are very few existing early recordings of music from the islands in the Atlantic Ocean that have a history with Portugal or the Portuguese Empire: the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde. Maderia and the Azores are present-day autonomous regions of Portugal. No 78 rpm recordings of true Madeiran music were made. As for the Azores, the raw performances made by the Sears family in California on their own label appear to be some of the earliest existing recordings of Azorean folk music. Interestingly, the music of Cape Verde, a former colony, fared slightly better – but not much.

Cape Verde is geographically, historically, and at times throughout its history, politically connected with Africa. Once uninhabited, isolated islands, the forces behind the Portuguese Empire turned Cape Verde into a thriving pit stop for the Atlantic Ocean slave trade, as well as for trade in general. From the 15th century on, the transaction of thousands of West African slaves for goods from Europe occurred on Cape Verde. Though the practice continued until the late 1800s, it weakened as the islands instead became an important port and fuel re-supply station for transatlantic vessels. I briefly mention these points because Cape Verde, due to its geographical position and troubling history under colonialism, has a uniquely African-European, mixed “crioulo” population.

It also has a large diaspora. A substantial amount of Cape Verdean immigrants also ended up in New England, much like immigrants from the Azores. Like most, they carried their music with them. While many today associate Cape Verdean music with the incomparable and elegant Cesaria Evora, there is also strong string band tradition as well, featuring waltzes, mazurkas, marches, mornas, and polkas, played by fiddle-led bands.

From 1931-1933, two Cape Verdean string bands from New England were brought into Columbia Records’ studios in New York to make a total of 12 records. One band was Johnny Perry’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio (also credited as Johnny Perry’s Capeverdean Serenaders), who made a total of 8 records from early 1932 to late 1933 – a terrible time for the global record industry. The other was Augustus Abreu’s band, credited as Abrew’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio, who cut a lonely 4 discs in February of 1931. These records, featuring Abreu on fiddle, and uncredited musicians on guitars and sometimes cavaquinho, are now very rare, and uniquely present the earliest Cape Verdean music on disc.

Augustus Freitas Abreu, Sr., was born in 1897 on the Cape Verdean island of Fogo – essentially a large volcano. He immigrated to Massachusetts in 1920, joining his sister Candida and his brother Luiz, already living in the state. Augustus married Edna May Walker sometime before 1930, and they had 7 children. The Abreus moved between several towns in Massachusetts: New Bedford, Wareham, and Harwich on Cape Cod. Eventually, the family moved to California, where Augustus died in 1958. He and his wife, who passed away in 1978, are both buried in Sacramento.

As far as I can tell, there was no additional recording of any Cape Verdean music until the 1950s, when Cape Verdean mornas and other tunes likely recorded in Europe were issued on a Portuguese series on the Parlophone label. As nice as they are, the discs that I’ve heard, while led by fiddle, just don’t have the same character and sincerity as these early recordings.

Abrew’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio – Marcha do Golfo

Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 1127-X
Matrix Number: 112792

Thankfully, three additional Abrew’s tracks have made it to CD. Two are on the out-of-print Portuguese String Music, 1908-1931 CD/LP on Heritage (which also contains a fantastic track by Johnny Perry’s band). One of those same tracks is used on Marshall Wyatt’s in-print Old Hat CD, Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow. A third track is available on Rounder’s Raw Fiddle CD collection. Both that and the Heritage release are curated by Richard Spottswood. For more recent Cape Verdean fiddle music, you could hardly go wrong by checking out the recordings made by the late Travadinha.

Thanks to Russ Shor, Joao Gandar, and thanks to Amanda Raneo Chilaka’s book, “Early Cape Verdean and Portuguese Geneology of Harwich, MA.”

Rapioen – Tandjoeng Sani

January 4, 2014

Rapion Poepoet - Tandjoeng SaniI’m starting off 2014 with what I believe is a pretty exceptional rarity. Certainly it’s one of the earliest commercial recordings of regional music from the highlands of Western Sumatra made by the Minangkabau people, known as Urang Minang in the local language. With most of the local recording industry at the time based in Java and Singapore, we are lucky that music of the Minang, a matrilineal, Islamic culture primarily based in the Minangkabau Highlands, was set to shellac. But more on that in a moment.

Traditional music practiced by the Minangkabau, or the “People of the Plains,” is varied – there are classical songs for the bamboo flute (salung or saluang), gong and drum ensembles (talempong) and numerous other types, and the music varies from the highlands to the coast. This track features the one-stringed rebab fiddle, the salung flute, and the puput or pupuik, a rice-stalk reed instrument. There are three main styles of Sumatran rebab music: rebab pasisie, rebab piaman, and rebab darek. The first two are music of the coast, and the latter is inland rebab music. While I’m not certain which style this is, it’s a lovely example of a kind of insistent and droning nature of Minangkabau music, with ornamented playing by the salung and puput (one of which is very much in the distance), augmenting the string.

For the sake of documentation, I retained the original spelling on the label, though the Indonesian alphabet’s spelling system was changed in 1947, following independence. The female singer, “Rapioen,” would today be spelled “Rapiun.” The title of the piece “Tandjoeng Sani” would be spelled “Tanjung Sani,” which refers to a small village of the same name in Western Sumatra. The label also lists “Boekit Tinggi,” which is the archaic spelling of the small city of Bukittinggi, formerly known as Fort de Kock, and where the musicians hailed from. “Djirek” in parentheses is the name of the 3-instrument ensemble – “Jirek” in today’s spelling.

This piece was recorded in May 1939 by the Tjap Angsa (meaning “Swan Brand”) label – it was recorded during their second recording session. According to the research by ethnomusicologist Philip Yampolsky, Tjap Angsa recorded most or all of their material in the city of Medan on the northern Sumatran coast, where they were partially based (their other headquarters was Bukittinggi). The label began in 1938 and issued several hundred discs, repressing some of them into the late 1940s. This disc was pressed in China, by the Chinese branch of EMI, who also supplied the engineers for the recording session.

While it would make sense for a Sumatran-based 78 label to record local musics such as those by the Minangkabau, other multinational labels did as well, for local distribution, including HMV, Columbia, and Odeon. Today, the Minang are a thriving culture of over 6 million with a very popular music scene (pop Minang is the name of the current genre). I don’t want readers to exoticize this music to the point that they think the musicians must live in mud huts. That said, Minangkabau music constituted a definitively minor percentage of 78rpm releases when compared to the thousands of krontjong discs released, as well as other popular and traditional styles from the region. Today, in fact most all 78s from Southeast Asia are scarce, no matter what style you’re talking about – even the full-fledged Western-style pop. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon – the tropics substantially increase the 78rpm attrition rate.

And this seems like the perfect time to bring up the recent release Longing For the Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia, compiled and edited by my friend David Murray and recently issued on Dust-to-Digital. I’ve only mentioned it on the ES Facebook page, but I should state that it’s one of the best looking and best sounding archival releases ever produced. I am biased – I provided some of my favorite rare Southeast Asian discs from my collection and did the transfers – but Dave, D-2-D and crew put an extraordinary amount of effort in that release. If you are interested in Southeast Asian music, you will truly appreciate it.

Rapioen – Tandjoeng Sani

Label: Tjap Angsa
Issue Number: AM 28
Matrix Number: A6808

This post would just be a handful of sentences were it not for the published research of, and my correspondence with, Philip Yampolsky, as well as correspondence with Indonesian music historian Alfred Ticoalu.


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