Local Boy Makes Good

November 28, 2007

A big thanks to Susanna Bolle of Rare Frequency and her sweet write-up on the blog in this week’s Boston Phoenix. Welcome to anyone who has found their way to Excavated Shellac from back East.

gender_wajang.jpgHere’s a nice treat for the week: original Balinese gamelan music recorded by the Odeon company on their very first trip to Bali in 1928. In fact, the very first Balinese recording session, ever. These records were historic in many ways – they influenced numerous composers of the time, such as Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten.  In turn, further Balinese recordings influenced minimalists and avant-garde composers such as Harry Partch.

Also, during the 1930s, a few examples from these sessions made their way to a famous 78rpm box set called “Music of the Orient.” This box set – kind of a Secret Museum of Mankind of its day – seemed to have a long shelf life. It was originally produced by Odeon, then reproduced by Parlophone and also by Decca in the United States. Every once in a while, you’ll still see a copy, or at least a few errant examples from the set. Today’s recording, however, was not included in that set, and hasn’t been released since 1928 as far as I can tell.

Gendér Wayang is a type of gamelan music that usually accompanies ritual shadow plays (wayang kulit), both in the day and at night. McPhee called it “perhaps the highest, and certainly the most sensitive form of musical expression existing in Bali.” It is played by a quartet (or sometimes a duo) of musicians playing four separate gendér, the Balinese bronze metallophones with bamboo resonators. The players strike the gendér with their mallets while simultaneously dampening the notes with the heels of their hands. This piece, the Pemungkah, is an overture to a shadow play.

Gendér Wayang of Kuta – Pemungkah

For more of these sessions, check out The Roots of Gamelan CD.

Much information was gathered from Nick Gray’s article “”Sulendra”: An Example of Petegak in the Balinese Gendér Wayang Repertory,” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 1, 1992.

ALSO: Please check out friend of the site and fellow fanatic 78rpm collector Ian Nagoski’s fantastic Black Mirror CD, just released by the fine people at Dust-to-Digital.  His choices are excellent and intriguing, and it’s a true labor of love. What else could be better?

Technical Notes
Label: Odeon
Issue Number: A204764
Matrix Number: Jab 555

baida.jpgFor me, classical Arabic music from the first two decades of the 20th century is poetic and beautiful, besides being probably as close a chance we’re going to get to hearing what music may have sounded like in the Middle East in the 19th century. Powerful voices and performances abound, although this is coming from an untrained ear, mind you! I just go by what moves me. There’s a lot out there.

Diehard collectors are all too familar with this, but listening might sometimes be a challenge for some when it comes to early international recordings, the main reason being that the music (up until 1925 for most labels) was recorded before the invention of electric microphone recording. Considerable surface noise was par for the course, no matter how perfect the record. Voices sound like they were recorded far away, through a tin can you might say – the result of singing into a recording horn. A few plays on a period phonograph player with a bad needle could cause instant distortion on an otherwise perfect playing surface. It made the fragile discs all the more ephemeral. Yet the musical (and historical) value of these early recordings far exceeds technology’s shortcomings.

Munira al-Mahdiyya (1884-1965) is among the earliest female recording artists of Egypt. She was a celebrity during her day and appeared in films, much like Umm Kulthum who, shortly after she began recording, eclipsed nearly all artists in Egypt in terms of popularity. I believe this recording was made ca. 1914. On violin and kanun are two accompanists, one of whom (I assume) joins Munira in singing the last third of the song. The title of the piece translates literally to “adversities tore me apart.” I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to take a little more liberty and say that it could also be “hard times tore me apart,” which sounds a lot like countless blues songs.

The Baidaphon label was an early independent label out of Beirut, Lebanon. Started before 1912 by several members of the Bayda family (including singer Farjallah Bayda, also a Baidaphon talent), the label recorded throughout the Middle East and North Africa, sending their masters to Germany to be manufactured. I’ve been lucky to find Baidaphons from Morocco to Central Asia. The label pictured here is their 1920s design. However, I believe the song is from an early session of al-Mahdiyya’s, so in effect this very well may be a 1920s re-release. Baidaphon, like Odeon and a few other companies, seemed to like the 10.5″ record, of which this is an example.

Munira al-Mahdiyya – Aldahre Kataâ Awsali

Thanks to Karim for help with translation!

Technical Notes
Label: Baidaphon
Issue Number: 23045
Matrix Number: 2345

machin.jpgAntonio Machín (1903-1977) was born in Sagua la Grande on the north side of Cuba, and was an important figure in early Cuban recording, particularly in the 1930s, when he released loads of wonderful 78s. He had numerous bands (Cuarteto Machín, Sexteto Machín, and the septet featured here), and eventually moved to Europe.

This was recorded in New York on October 31, 1935, just before Machín had relocated. One of the interesting things about this release is that it’s on HMV’s “GV” series of Latin American, Caribbean, and South American music, which was started in 1933. The “GV” series was exported to, and marketed specifically for, the diverse population of West Africa. The music on the series was a major influence on the development of Afro-Cuban music througout the continent, as the records reached far beyond the West. The rhumba movement in the Congo has been directly linked to the dissemination of the “GV” series, for instance.

But even without its history, it’s fine music nontheless. The title of the track translates to “The Party,” although the lyrics seem quite sorrowful (perhaps someone could save me from some embarrassing translations here). It is a guajira son, which is a guajira sung in the rhythm of a son, a style that was first made famous in the late 1920s.

Septeto Machín – El Guateque

There are several fine collections of early Cuban music on the market, including several that feature Machin.

Technical Notes
Label: HMV
Issue Number: G.V. 70
Matrix Number: OA98003

laloo.jpgI’m returning to India for a track by Master Laloo, a singer from Gujarat, presumably. Collecting Indian music has always been daunting to me – I love it, but there are so many excellent artists out there, I’m overwhelmed. That said, I enjoy what I have, and what I continue to pick up. Hell, it’s all a giant experiment, for the most part, and that’s what continues to make it fun.

While Laloo doesn’t perform some of the same vocal gymnastics as other masters of Indian classical music, there’s something very appealing to me about the combination of voice, harmonium, and tabla. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I enjoy listening to this record, which is what it’s all about. It was recorded in Mumbai by Gramophone Company engineer Arthur James Twine, ca. 1928.

I could find nothing on the Master in question. According to a listener from India who wrote in, the translated Gujurati title means “The way you do Karmas, you get fruits for it immediately.”

Master Laloo

On a side note, R. and I went to a concert of Central Asian music in Los Angeles the other night. I always feel nervous beforehand that a concert like that will be too faux world-y for me, but it was very good, and one artist stood out: the Kazakh singer and dombra player Ulzhan Baibussynova. Although she performed only three songs, they were riveting. She appears on the recent Smithsonian Folkways release Bardic Divas.

Technical Notes
Label: HMV
Issue Number: N. 2569
Matrix Number: BX. 4884

cd-front-small.jpgA lot of music has been posted on this site, and all of it is still available. If you cull everything from the very start of the blog, April 14, 2007, up through September 12th’s entry, you have about 75 minutes of lost music.

I decided to put together simple, downloadable artwork for the Excavated Shellac Sampler CD, Volume 1, for those interested in doing something with this music other than a) keeping it on your hard drive, or b) putting it on an iPod. Which may cd-back-small.jpgbe, in fact, nobody, but what the hell.

So, here are the high-res covers: front and back. These will work for any regular sized CD case. Then, number your tracks – I went ahead and created a track list to follow, which appears on the back cover template, so you can copy that – or make your own if you like to agonize over such stuff, as I obviously do. Print!

Transfer your mp3s to .wav files and burn the CD – I use a program called Switch to transfer, but there’s lots of software that does this. You know all this already, I know. Sigh…

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