Ode to the “Istwanat”
January 28, 2008
If 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.