April 30, 2007
Much has been written about the Portuguese “song of fate” and there is little chance that I could add anything new to the subject. However, some brief notes for those interested: the origins of the fado are muddy – some say it originated from Portuguese sailors and their songs of longing for home (there are theories that the rhythm of the fado evolved from the lurching, rolling waves at sea). Others claim that the roots of the fado came from Brazil, and made their way to Portugal in the 19th century. Some claim it came from the Moors, although other musical styles from the same general area, such as flamenco, seem more obviously connected to North Africa.
Several qualities are evident: a true fado is performed accompanied by a guitarra and a viola da franca. The viola da franca or violão is another name for the Spanish guitar. The guitarra is the name for a lute with a rounded sideboard and six double strings of wire. Perhaps most importantly, the fado is always accompanied by the inexpressible feeling of saudade. As folklorist and ethnographer Rodney Gallop put it in 1933*:
The true fado is always sad. Usually in the minor, it retains even in the major the melancholy character associated with the minor. It may be wild, finely exultant in its sadness, seeming to revel in tragedy; or, more often, striking a note of pathetic and almost languid resignation. Its sophisticated cadences breathe a spirit of theatrical self-pity combined with genuine sincerity. It is emotional, passionate, erotic, sensuous, one might say meretricious, and yet, like some rustic courtesan, fundamentally simple and unpretentious.
This fado, uncollected on any CD, was recorded ca. 1929, in Lisbon by the German Polydor company. I could find little written about Maria Alice, a genuine fadista if there ever was one. (She is NOT to be confused with a Cape Verdean singer of the same name.) I’ve been able to find imported recordings of fados by Alice that were released in the late 1920s in the United States on the Brunswick label. Unsurprisingly, little of her work has seen the light of day since. One track can be found here, although I cannot vouch for the transfers.
Issue Number: P 44233
Matrix Number: 2758 BK
*Gallop, Rodney. “The Fado (The Portugese Song of Fate).” The Musical Quarterly 19/2 (1933): 199-213.
April 23, 2007
At first, this baile vasco starts off with a typically enjoyable folkdance melody featuring the pandareta, the Basque tambourine, and the regional diatonic accordion, the triki-trixa.
But it’s the beautifully jolting vocal performance by Ms. Narbaiza that’s the real stunner. Whether Columbia’s engineer, who recorded these musicians from Eibar in what seems to me to be the early 1930s, had the microphone up a little too close, or whether Ms. Narbaiza’s energy simply couldn’t be contained is something we’ll never know. The music obviously speaks for itself.
Issue Number: A 5181
Matrix Number: C 8156-2
April 17, 2007
The Zonophone label was the first to begin large-scale recording of records by and for Africans, with their classic EZ series which began in 1929, and featured primarily West African artists (they had tiptoed into these waters some years earlier with a “Zonophone Native Records” series). HMV started not soon after, beginning a massive spate of recording on the continent until the end of the 78 era. By the 1940s and 1950s, there were at least two dozen other labels producing 78s for the African populace. Thousands of historic, beautiful recordings were made in nearly every single existing country and region. The history of African music on 78rpm, as well as – of course – the music itself, is rich and fascinating. It’s some of my favorite music in my collection. Needless to say, African 78s are very difficult to find today.
This track by Kwaku Addae is sung in the Twi language, and was recorded in Nsawam, Ghana, ca. 1954-1955. It features lovely vocal harmonies, and some classic West African guitar picking.
For more information on the early history of recording in Africa, I recommend the excellent article by Paul Vernon, Savannaphone.
And if you’re interested in more early guitar music from West Africa, this CD from Heritage is also top notch, and thankfully still in print.
Issue Number: JLK.1069
Matrix Number: OAB 4203-1
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt!
April 14, 2007
This is a brief, ethnographic recording from French Guinea (known by the French at that time as “Soudan”). It’s origins are unknown, except that it seems to be a 1930s French test pressing, with handwritten notes on the label. This would seem to be either a true field recording, or a dub of one – I know next to nothing about the “Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire”…
Despite being stunningly low-fi and tinny it’s still a unique document.
Label: Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire
Catalog Number: n/a
Matrix Number: n/a
April 14, 2007
It’s been my philosophy that good music is best when it is shared. Of course, nothing beats that feeling, say, when you alone break open that box from Turkey or Indonesia, place the fragile platter on the turntable, only to feel your hair stand on end when the music begins. The feeling that you’ve never heard anything like this in your life; it transports you to a place where words are irrelevant. But part of that feeling is thinking how you’d want to share that with others, to have them feel exactly the same way.
Record collectors are eccentric people. I don’t even like the term “record collector.” They’ve been parodied far too many times. Accurately, I might add. But I could not live with myself as a “collector” without at least one person I could share sounds with. So, this blog is for my friends, and for you, stranger.
For the first installment, we have a beautiful oud solo which was recorded most likely in Syria, by the Lebanese oud player Saadé ca. 1926 or so. It appears on a 10.5” record, which a number of companies preferred during the acoustic era. I’m not sure when that format/size ended for Odeon, but I doubt it was any later than the early 30s. According to reader “pm,’ this is a recording of the “kurdilihicazkar saz semai of the late 19th century Istanbul Armenian composer Tatyos Efendi.”
For over a year, I believed this recording was made in Iran, due to the matrix number (etched into the ‘dead wax’) on the record, which was indicated in a major source as being used only in Iran. However, after digging through sources in the French language, I was able to determine that this player was indeed Lebanese, and made at least one recording for Polyphon around the same time. Syria, where the recording was most likely made, was a major recording hub – musicians from across the region would travel to record there.
Issue Number: X35285
Matrix Number: xES 381