stapleton.jpgTwo posts today.

I received an e-mail request asking to post some early American country music. Since early country music was what originally led me to collecting traditional music from outside the U.S., I thought: great idea! However, like the rest of the material on Excavated Shellac, I wanted to stick to music that had not already been collected on CD. This was a difficult task. Sure, all my 78s by essential artists like Uncle Dave Macon and the Carter Family were on CD. But, so were slightly more obscure and harder-to-find country records. The three records by the Binkley Brothers Dixie Clodhoppers? On CD. “Texas Quickstep” by The Red Headed fiddlers? On CD. Cousin Emmy? On CD.

Then I started combing through the records that I simply had an attachment to…”Methodist Pie” by Bradley Kincaid? On CD, too. “Gonna Swing on the Golden Gate” by Fiddlin’ John Carson? On CD. On and on…

Then I remembered this record – the quaint yet lovely “Call of the Whip-Poor-Will” by the Stapleton brothers, recorded by Mitchell and Mason Stapleton in Atlanta, Georgia on April 19, 1928. Not on CD, at least as far as I can tell. It’s always been a favorite of mine for those inexplicable reasons one has for liking a particular song.

Stapleton Brothers – Call of the Whip-Poor-Will

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 15284-D
Matrix Number: 146140 (1B-2)

Ode to the “Istwanat”

January 28, 2008

sleeve.jpgIf you’ve encountered 78 rpm records from across North Africa including Egypt, you’ve probably run across the phenomena of the spoken introduction. A voice – not the voice of the performer, generally – states the name of the record company and the artist, and then the music begins. The announcement always begins with the Arabic word for Gramophone record, or disc, which I have seen transliterated in CDs as “istwanat” (or “astwanat,” and also “estwanat” depending on the accent), which is then followed by the name of the record company. These brief, sonically beautiful little announcements appear on many – but not all – 78s from the region, and even on mid-century Arab-American 78 recordings on labels such as Alamphon.

Why? Most likely because of the strong oral tradition in North African and Arab culture. I’ve edited a very brief collage of them for download, where you’ll hear announcements for Pathé, Polyphon, Pacific, and others. Loop this, and listen to it repeatedly before sleeping, like The Conet Project. Like voices from outer space, they have traveled long distances especially for your ears.

Istwanat

thomasa.jpgTo the person who spoke another language the phonograph assumed a more important role. In a country with strange customs and values, where other people spoke an unfamiliar language, a phonograph could and did provide a means of emotional retreat to one’s homeland. Records of familiar songs reinforced traditional values and an immigrant’s sense of self-worth…It meant that at least one American business was soliciting his patronage by recognizing, respectfully, who he was. — Richard K. Spottswood, “Commercial Ethnic Recordings in the United States,” in Ethnic Recordings in America. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1982.

Earlier in the blog I posted some Polish-American village music, so today I’m offering up a nice example of Ukrainian-American village music, complete with strong fiddle playing by Michal Thomas, recorded in New York City in March of 1931. Thomas, on the lead fiddle, is accompanied by a second fiddle, piano, tuba (I believe) and percussion in the form of bells.

The Kolomyjka (or kolomyika) is a well-known, traditional folk dance from the western Ukraine, getting its name from the Carpathian city of Kolomyia. Like many folk dances, it can be danced in a circle, and is usually performed on special occasions, such as weddings.

Columbia ruled the Ukrainian-American market in the late 1920s and early 1930s, recording approximately 430 Ukrainian records beginning in 1925. Interestingly, very few recordings were made by the major labels’ counterparts in Europe during the 1920s, making Columbia’s series especially important, musically and historically.

Ukrainska Orchestra Michala Thomasa – Kolomyjka Buczaćka

For more Michal Thomas, you can find a track on Arhoolie’s Ukrainian Village Music CD, and a track on the out-of-print LP on New World, Song of the Shepherd: Songs of the Slavic Americans.

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 27296-F
Matrix Number: 112873 (1A-1)

guennec.jpgToday’s feature: the Breton bagpipe.

If you haven’t heard Brittany bagpipe music, you’re in for a treat. It’s different from others simply because the older, small-in-scale Breton pipes, known as the binioù (or the binioù kozh), are tuned very high – the lowest note on the binioù is equal to the highest note on the typical Scottish bagpipe, for instance. As with this piece, a gavotte meant for folk dancing, the pipes are typically accompanied by a bombarde, an oboe-like reed instrument tuned an octave below the binioù. The two play together in the traditional style, overlapping musical lines.

This track appears to have been recorded by two Gramophone engineers, Edward Fowler and Douglas Larter, in January of 1927. The title refers to the small village of Guémené-sur-Scorff. And, I should mention that the flip side of this record, equally as nice, is featured on the Ace & Deuce of Pipering CD released by Heritage…which looks to be out of print now, so best to search the usual avenues for that one.

Mm Le Guennec et Le Bouc – La Gavotte de Guémené-sur-Scorff

This week’s mail brought me the latest Dust-to-Digital 2-CD release Victrola Favorites, which is just a beautiful work of art. I highly recommend this as well as the other D-to-D releases that I’ve previously raved about (Black Mirror, and there’s also Melodii Tuvi). Friend of the site Rob Millis put this together with his partner Jeffrey Taylor and the accompanying 100+ page book is museum quality.

Technical Notes
Label: HMV
Coupling Number: K-5127
Face Number: 237702-R
Matrix Number: 2L-BFR 294

mbanjwa.jpgIn a way, the person we have to thank for this record is probably Eric Gallo. In 1926, Gallo was a 21-year old budding entrepreneur in Johannesberg, S.A., and owner of a small gramophone shop. Around 1930, after noticing that companies such as Columbia and HMV had begun to send engineers to South Africa to record local music, he decided to record local musicians on his own and attempt to start a business, with records being pressed in England and sold out of his own shop. Success followed. By 1932, he had set up the very first sub-Saharan recording studio. In 1949, he built a record pressing plant.

At first, his label was named Singer, then later Singer-Gallotone, then, by the early 1940s, simply Gallotone. It was a major challenge to all the foreign labels attempting to do business in the country – certainly the most important South African label in history. Gallo branched far from South Africa to reach other markets, contracting ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey to travel as far as Uganda to record local musics. This was foresight on Gallo’s part, as the bulk of the income generated by Gallotone came from sales of Afrikaans records.

This piece by Beatrice Mbanjwa and her group, accompanied by piano and strummed banjo, was probably recorded around 1939 or 1940 when Gallo’s label was still named Singer. I could find little information on Ms Mbanjwa, except that she did take part in Johannesberg’s massive 1936-1937 “Empire Exhibition” as a performer, along with the Darktown Strutters, and many other musicians.

Beatrica Mbanjwa & Company – Silai Lai

Technical Notes
Label: Singer
Issue Number: G.E. 859
Matrix Number: ABC.254

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