September 30, 2007
Recently, I’ve been transferring some of my best 78s of flamenco and cante jondo music of Spain for a project I’m working on. It’s been really rewarding to delve into it so deeply. I figured I’d share one of my favorites.
Where to begin with flamenco? Despite it being the most well-known folk music of Spain, its origins seem to be constantly debated by experts. Unquestionably it is the music of the Gitanos (gypsies), Europe’s outcasts for centuries, who despite years of persecution, found a home in Andalusia. Over time, as persecuted Jews and Moors joined their communities, their ballads changed. Some maintain that flamenco singing most likely developed as a response to anguish, injustice, and oppression. Despite years of flamenco recording - with the earliest records being considered the closest to “true” flamenco – the music remains essentially a live experience; music and expression meant for an intimate juerga. However, some records by masterful players and singers certainly captured some of the power of a live flamenco experience, in my opinion.
The cantaor and tocaor, the flamenco singer and guitarist, are only part of a larger equation. Equally as important in flamenco performance and the focus of today’s post is the bailaora (or bailaor, as the case may be), her dance, the clapping (palmas), and the castanets. The presence of castanets in flamenco is a hotly contested topic – for me, the best part of this 78 is the footwork.
The vast majority of early flamenco 78s are simply guitar and voice. This was probably due to primitive recording technology – both the singer and guitarist had to stand right in front of a massive recording horn (or microphone). Flamenco 78s that just feature baile flamenco are particularly special, like this one, recorded in Barcelona in mid-1948 by Ms. Calvo and Mr. Maravilla. Despite the late date, the performances here are stellar – the interplay between Maravilla’s compás and Calvo’s feet is wonderful, and it builds to a thunderous, powerful crescendo. Just as powerful as any singer might achieve, I think (though I freely admit that I’m no expert, and some might consider this far from authentic). Perhaps this is because Calvo and Maravilla (born 1914) were husband and wife.
There are loads of books, magazines, and online resources on flamenco. There are numerous collections of vintage flamenco on CD as well, though I cannot vouch for their transfers. However, one name you can trust is Arhoolie, and they have a nice CD available here.
Label: HMV (La Voz de su Amo)
Issue Number: GY 762
Matrix Number: OKA 1279
(Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for discographical information.)
September 17, 2007
Most of the best examples of Polish folkloric music of the early 20th century were recorded by Victor and Columbia Records in Chicago and New York City – not in Poland proper. By the mid-1920s, both companies were actively recording folk music by recent immigrants from across the globe, for sale in their adopted stateside communities. Sales of these records were miniscule compared to, say, a hit by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, which could sell up to a million copies. A good seller for a Polish record by Victor was probably one or two thousand, I’m guessing. But, that didn’t stop these companies from striving to develop emerging markets during this period, and recording costs were comparatively low. It’s staggering the variety, volume, and musical quality they captured.
This week, I really wanted to showcase a fine example of Polish wiejska, or “village music.” At first, I remastered a classic by the Makowska Orkiestra Działowego titled “Zbójcy W Karcmie” or, “Outlaws in the Road House.” But, I quickly realized that it had already been compiled on the excellent Arhoolie release Polish Village Music. Then, I decided to use Władyslaw Polak’s “Dzieci W Krateczki” or, “Children In Squares.” After which, I discovered that Polak’s tune was used on the compilation Stranded In the USA. I want to keep this blog strictly for 78s that have NOT been compiled anywhere since the shellac was released.
Then I remembered my records by the great violin player Franciszek Dukla and his group, who, with his band, was the very first to record Polish village music on 78 (and was frequently credited as “Fr. Dukli” as you can see by this release). This track, a mazurka, whose English title is “Nobody Can,” was recorded in Chicago on November 13, 1927.
Village music is exactly what it might sound like from its name – oldtime, Polish country music from the village. A typical village music band consists of a lead fiddle, two harmony fiddles, a bowed bass or cello, and a clarinet. In the great reference text Ethnic Recordings In America, Richard Spottswood interviews a Polish record store owner named Alvin Sajewski, who sold records in his family’s Chicago store throughout the 20s and long after. He also helped to locate, discover, and promote Polish musicians during that time. They discussed Dukla’s records:
Q: Frank Dukla’s music sounds older than other music that was on records at that point.
A: Well, yes, it was. After all, they were all old musicians, and they all played by ear. None of ‘em played from music. Maybe some of them did, but they didn’t have arrangements or anything…Dukla had a kind of bass that really came out beautifully on [early electric phonographs].
Issue Number: 18-80589
Matrix Number: 40861
September 12, 2007
In the late 1920s, the Victor company decided to begin producing recordings of music geared specifically to Slovakian immigrants in the United States. It was a short-lived effort, yet it yielded some fascinating music, most of which was performed by a cache of immigrants (quite probably coal miners) from western Pennsylvania. I’ve heard other Slovenian/Slovakian 78s, but nothing matches the wild, almost primitive energy of these Victor recordings, which don’t turn up too often.
The Pachač a Juskanič Slovenská Orkestra recorded this, Part One of their “harvest” čardáš, on December 6, 1929, in New York – the same date they recorded the bulk of their entire output (the group would later record a few more releases in that dark year for the American recording industry, 1932). The čardáš is a closed-circle folk dance in 2/4 time which originated in Hungary, but has close gypsy connections according to Richard Spottswood, in the notes to his excellent CD Slovak Csardas: Dance Tunes from the Pennsylvania Coal Mines. In his opinion, the Slovakian music on Victor from this period may be a peek into what music from the area may have sounded like in the nineteenth century.
There are several tracks by the Pachač a Juskanič Slovenská Orkestra on Mr. Spottswood’s CD, but this track remains unreleased. Listen close for the whistling!
Issue Number: V-22038
Matrix Number: n/a
September 1, 2007
This track, a steel guitar solo by Mr. Zafra accompanied by Mauro Baradi on a standard acoustic guitar, puts me in the strange position of not exactly knowing how to react when listening to it. It sounds awkward enough to be the first time the musicians have played the number…or, that could be my own cultural ignorance and the piece is meant to slowly lumber along. Probably the latter, as the flip side is a more standard, uptempo folk melody. Either way, I’ve always liked this, and have never found anything quite like it. Being from the Philippines, you can definitely hear the influence of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule.
This was released on Columbia’s “X” (for “export”) series, and recorded in November of 1929, in New York City.
Issue Number: 3910-X
Matrix Number: 111286