March 23, 2008
I became completely obsessed with Turkish psychedelic music several years ago and began searching out and accumulating Turkish 45s at a rapid clip. Since then, “Anadolu pop” has been discovered so to speak, with excellent reissues on the market by labels like Finders Keepers and Shadoks.
One of the first Turkish psych tracks that knocked me out was the Lambaya Püf De single by the great Bariş Manço (you can hear it here, archived on WFMU courtesy of DJ Trouble – or on the stellar Andy Votel compilation Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word).
I noticed at the time that Manço’s song was credited to one Osman Pehlivan. Not long after, I found another version of Lambaya Püf De – a harder-edged cover by Urfali Babi, this time with a song credit to Merhum Osman Pehlivandan. Who was this person? I gradually pieced it together.
This melody, in Turkey, is historic. Today’s post, long overdue and unavailable in any form as far as I can tell, is the original performance by tanbur soloist Osman Pehlivan (1847-1942), from which all of these blistering Turkish psych versions are based. Pehlivan’s wonderful solo was recorded in Istanbul by engineer Edward Fowler ca. July 1928, and still pretty much rocks. The title, loosely translated, means “Anatolian spoon song” which refers to a folk song which would be traditionally accompanied by wooden spoons, which are held in each hand and played a little like castanets. Pehlivan would have been 81 when this was recorded.
It’s still commonly performed today. For visual accompaniment, take a look at this performance of the kaşık havası here. Or here. And here are two terrific kaşık players. Even just a few weeks ago, I heard Arif Sag’s version of the song, which is actually titled Osman Pehlivan, and has since been reissued on the new compilation Obsession (and can be heard here, archived by Brian Turner, also on WFMU). The melody will certainly live on.
UPDATE: An intrepid reader pointed out to me that a version of this song performed by Pehlivan is available, under a slightly different title, on the Folkways collection “Folk and Traditional Music of Turkey” on an out of print LP, or custom made CD. However, if you listen to the sound clip, one can immediately tell that the Folkways recording is a completely different version than this one, which was no doubt recorded much earlier.
Coupling Number: AX 853
Face Number: 7-219429
Matrix Number: BF 2129
March 16, 2008
Sometimes I catch myself being overly swayed by certain music because of its rawness, or because it seems on its surface completely alien to me, as I close my eyes and ignore that I live in 21st century California. This is not a terrible thing to be swayed by (and perhaps is what keeps me alert), but I am often flung out of that narrow listening mode by music that I might have otherwise passed over that isn’t ostensibly “raw.” Today’s post is one of those recordings.
I had found this record years ago and played it once, quickly forgetting about it. Recently, I spun it again and was captivated. Recorded in December of 1927 in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia), Steva Nikolič’s brilliant violin playing and the murky, sonorous backup accompaniment are haunting in a way that other “gypsy orchestra” records are not, in my listening experience. “Gypsy” music – music of the persecuted Roma people – is varied. This piece sounds similar to Hungarian Roma/gypsy music from the same period, but is a far cry from the music of the Roma in Spain, flamenco.
The title “Arnautka” is, according to the label, an “Arnaut National Dance.” Arnaut is the Turkish word for Albanian, so this may have roots there as well. Perhaps someone can help us out. Also of interest, this track was recorded in Belgrade by HMV engineer George Dillnutt, who, 25 years before he recorded this track, accompanied Fred Gaisberg on the very first recording expedition to the Near and Far East.
Label: Victor (from HMV master)
Coupling Number: V-3049
Matrix Number: BK2636
March 9, 2008
Journalist Eddie Dean, in “Desperate Man Blues,” says some wise words about rural American musicians recording in the 1920s:
“They had three minutes of immortality…You hear, like, not a wasted note.”
He speaks the truth. Most early recordings were done in one single take, or perhaps two. In the U.S., for the most part only the best selling artists, generally pop or jazz artists, were allowed multiple takes. Lesser-known or rural musicians and singers had to be prepared to bring their best to the session.
Perhaps this is a more salient factor to ponder in terms of global musicians in cities or rural villages, most of whom were never in a million years given more than one chance to record their songs. And Dean was speaking of the U.S. niche country and blues markets of the 1920s. What about the super-niche markets of, say, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, or Tunisia during the first decade of the 20th century? One would imagine that those musicians had even less room for error, if that’s at all possible.
Then again, ten to twenty years before U.S. companies were recording their own country’s rural or regional musics, their sister companies in Europe had been traveling much of the world in search of these niche markets and recording thousands of records. Sure, most likely the European engineers had no idea what they were recording and disliked the music, but they were captured, nontheless.
Today’s post is an example of the thriving market in the Middle East. Over 100 years old, it is a genuine artifact. Even in beautiful shape, the surface noise that is normal from recordings of this vintage is unavoidable. A tangent: if you are interested at all in old recordings of any stripe, you must learn to love surface noise. It has, in a way, become part of the music itself. I’m speaking of the inherent sound of needle on shellac groove, not necessarily damage to the record itself. (If you’re not already familiar, there’s a whole arcane language that has evolved around 78rpm damage: tics, pops, lams, hairlines, stressed grooves, edge chips…sigh.) Remastered CDs that remove all semblance of surface noise inevitably end up removing much of the music itself, and a crucial part of the listening experience.
Mohamed Effendi El-Achek was from Damascus, and recorded this and numerous other songs ca. January of 1908, in Beirut, which was a center of Middle Eastern recording. He sings over a subtle accompaniment of kanun and violin – the musicians shouting encouragement throughout! (Both sides are included here.) The title translates to “Be Happy, My Heart,” and it is a love song. A total of seven minutes of true immortality.
Label: Gramophone Concert Record
Issue Number: G.C. 5-12433
Matrix Number: 8106o/8107o
March 2, 2008
It’s one of those balmy, breezy days that occasionally crop up during a Southern California winter…the old French doors are open and the sun is shining in. A tease to make you yearn for summer, which I do quite often – it doesn’t take much.
To counter this yearning, I thought I’d offer up some balmy, breezy, and very early highlife from Ghana. Boateng and his guitar-less group with his piano (possibly one of the first highlife groups to ever include a piano in their band?), sax, and fiddle, recorded this and several other songs in Accra, ca. October 1937 for HMV. It’s got a swoony quality that I like. These are not common.
Under its sister label Zonophone, HMV had recorded over 500 records of West African music in the late-1920s. However, financial collapse within the recording industry during the Depression caused a 6 year gap in West African recording by HMV. They returned with gusto in 1937 however, with a whole variety of number series’ (including this one, the JZ series) for export to West Africa.
Geek talk: despite that my copy of this record is in “New” condition, there’s the issue of the 1930s HMV pressing, which can often be hideous. This is a prime example. I did my best to clean it up, which was not easy with my humble utilities, but I think it ultimately holds up.
If you’re interested in more 1930s music from West Africa, definitely check out the fine work that Craig Taylor is doing over at Savannahphone.
Issue Number: J.Z. 220
Matrix Number: OAB.413
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for details!