There are approximately 286 different languages spoken in Cameroon. It’s impossible to guess what percentage of those languages have been represented on vintage 78rpm records. Most of the Cameroonian 78s I’ve found have been in Duala language. Today’s post features some vintage African pop in the Basaa (or Bassa) language, which is actually spoken in greater numbers than Duala.

The label Opika was based in the Belgian Congo, and is equally as important as the Congolese labels Ngoma and Loningisa, and just as rewarding to track down. Amazing African pop, guitar, rumba, and ethnographic recordings from both Congo and Cameroon (as well as high-life in Ghana) were released on Opika. This small label was started ca. 1949 by two brothers from the Greek island of Rhodes, Gabriel Moussa Benetar and Joseph Benetar. The name “Opika” came from “opika pende” in Lingala, a phrase meaning “stand firm.”

It’s not clear from my research how long Opika lasted as a company, but probably not much further than the mid- to late 1950s. However, in a very brief period of time, they and their competitor labels left one of the most amazing musical legacies of Africa. These were small labels run by immigrants who truly enjoyed the region’s music. They wanted to fill a void, they wanted to record the best of a variety of local talent, and they succeeded (although it remains to be seen how much the artists were paid for their work). According to a quote from Rumba on the River, Gary Stewart’s fantastic history of Congolese popular music, 600,000 discs a year were being sold in the region in the early 1950s.

I could find zero information on Njembe Gwet Paulemond (or Gwet Paulemond Njembe, if you westernize the name), but the aforementioned Rumba on the River contains the best history written so far about those early years in Brazzaville/Kinshasha.

Njembe Gwet Paulemond – Paulemond a Ye Nsinga Ndinga

Technical Notes
Label: Opika
Issue Number: 1949
Matrix Number: Part 25978 (M3 164630)

I think unaccompanied choirs are often ignored in non-classical 78rpm record collecting – they lack solo instrumental virtuosity, they tend not to be “raw,” and instead appear to be, at least on the surface, overly influenced by religion and/or western harmonic concepts. Even the choir records I have from Africa are probably less desirable, simply because they display the formality of a choir. Perhaps they are avoided for the same reason one might avoid records of British folk songs sung by a Folk Song Society.

While all these reasons are valid and make me ruminate far more intensely than I should, I actually enjoy a lot of choir music. It’s still folk music, and I just can’t seem to get rid of it, as I find unaccompanied folk singing to be sort of a wonderful act. Recently, a friend graciously gave me a stack of early Lithuanian records. I ended up discarding nearly all of the 30 or so records – except for the folk song choirs! Which were all recorded poorly on Columbia Records in the 19-teens. Totally unsaleable records! He must have pegged me as an easy mark.

I think of Ian Nagoski’s choice of including a recording of a Handel piece on piano smashed between 78s from Vietnam and Greece on his Black Mirror CD. Such seemingly radical sequencing suits me just fine – I believe there should be more of it, but maybe that’s the academic anti-academic taking hold. However, interconnectivity exists wherever you seek to find it. And maybe you’ll find something, as I did, in this Lithuanian Folk Song, recorded acoustically (and distantly) by Columbia in New York City ca. 1917, and performed by Brooklyn’s own Įdainavo Karalienes Aniolu Parapijos Choras. I had some difficulty translating the title, but I believe it’s something to the effect of “Dogs Barking on the Farm.”

Įdainavo Karalienes Aniolu Parapijos Choras – Loja Šunes Ant Kiemo

And if you enjoyed my December post on son huasteco music, Chimatli has a wonderful, media-filled post on the music. Check it out here!

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: E3290
Matrix Number: 44619

There are two posts today (one musical, one visual), this being Excavated Shellac’s one year anniversary, for what it’s worth. Many more people have stopped by over the past year than I would have expected, and I appreciate that.

This post features another favorite type of music of mine: early Algerian raï. Raï is a major force in North African music today (I just combed through 5-10 current raï compilations at Amoeba Records this weekend), although musically it’s a shadow of what it used to be, nearly unrecognizable in comparison. Take a listen to the track samples on the Rough Guide to Raï, for instance, and for the most part you’ll hear what may sound ostensibly to Western ears like current North African pop music. Lyrically current raï departs from standard pop, but musically it’s undergone a renaissance. With one notable exception on the CD by the great Cheikha Remitti (1923-2006) who up until her death still sang the original raï, you will barely hear a glimpse of the hypnotizing rosewood flutes and older, raw voices found in early raï – which, as you can probably surmise, is barely represented on CD.

Raï means “opinion” or “advice” in Arabic – although I’ve read that it can sort of mean “Right on!” when exclaimed. The origins of the music converge in the 1920s-1930s in the seaside port of Oran, where rural bedouins and migrants brought their music into the city. Generally a male or female singer sang accompanied by only one or two gasba, the aforementioned desert rosewood flute, and a guellal, the Algerian hand drum. And raï’s vocals are intense: a driving, repetative lyrical force that sometimes lingers around a very narrow range of notes, which gives it the effect of a chant. What gave raï its reputation however was the way in which women, the Cheikhas, eventually popularized the genre in the mid-20th century, and the controversial subjects that they sang about. In much the same way that Greek rebetika music is known as the music of the Greek underworld, early raï is referred to as the music of Orani brothels and taverns.

Which is probably a narrow view, unfortunately. Raï music was obviously a far cry from classical Arabic music, and many singers sang about social issues, poverty, and the police – but there are raï songs about love, too. This piece, by Cheikha Djerba, recorded in 1954 (!), is one of them. The title, “Rah Alia Rah” translates to “He’s Gone.” I quickly played this for a friend who is a native colloquial Algerian Arabic speaker and he was able to discern that it was sung by a woman who yearns for her husband, who has traveled overseas to find work.

Here are both sides of this record. Pathé gave us this recording a bit muffled for some reason (it’s not digital distortion), but it hardly distracts.

Cheikha Djerba – Rah Alia Rah

For more early raï, there are wonderful pieces by Cheikha Relizania on both R. Crumb’s “Hot Women” CD, and the Secret Museum’s North Africa volume. There were also several volumes made in France of a series titled “Anthologie du Raï” in the 1990s which seem completely unavailable – if you have any of these, please get in touch!

Also a great surprise, this fellow on YouTube plays a batch of classic raï from 45s, right on his record player for your eyes and ears.

Thanks to Karim B. for the translation!

Technical Notes
Label: Pathé
Issue Number: PV 477
Matrix Number: CPT 11644 (21) – M3-164009

Broke Down and Busted

April 14, 2008

This is a gallery of photos featuring the broken records I have received over the past two years – a small percentage of the music that has arrived safe and sound. But still. Some aren’t that rare, some are quite possibly irreplaceable. There’s no point ranting about it again. The winner this year: the record that turned up in the mailbox wrapped once with a paper towel. This visual display should suffice in lieu of outward rage:

 

First row (l-r):
1. Auvergne cabrette solo, ca. early 1930s, hairline crack
2. Early West African high life, ca. mid-1930s, split in half
3. Spanish folk song from Navarro, ca. 1940s, cracked in half

Second row (l-r):
1. Asturian folk with gaita, ca. early 1930s, shattered
2. Several Brazilian folk records, ca. late 1940s, in pieces
3. Moroccan music, ca. mid-1940s, broken in half

Third row (l-r):
1. Lidya Mendoza record, ca. late 1930s, hairline crack
2. Cousin Emmy country record, late 40s, shattered
3. Canary Islands folk song, ca. 1940s, multiple cracks

Fourth row (l-r):
1. Nyanja music from Malawi, ca. 1940s, hairline crack
2. Flamenco by La Nina, ca. 1915-1920, cracked in half
3. Turkish female song, ca. 1928, hairline crack

Fifth row (l-r):
1. North Iranian/Central Asian music, ca. 1930s, in pieces
2. Galician bagpipe record, 1900s, multiple cracks
3. Tahitian music on Mareva label ca. 1940s, hairline crack

And last:
1. Galician bagpipe music, ca. 1910s, multiple cracks

There are numerous types of Martiniquan music, but one form that proved quite popular in early recording, even becoming something of a craze, is known as biguine, an orchestrated popular music vaguely similar to calypso or a rhumba, and where the clarinet and trombone have a strong presence. Typically, the clarinet is played with, for lack of a better word, a weepy sound – which you might find similar to the late-1930s Boateng record I posted a while back…an example of direct, cross-Atlantic influence.

Most, if not all, early Martiniquan bands recorded in Paris, beginning from about 1930, when the great Alexandre Stellio began recording for Odeon. Sam Castandet appeared on the scene not soon after, and had a recording career that lasted at least until the 1950s. This track has the typical orchestration for a biguine tune, but is meant to be danced as a mazurka – it was recorded ca. 1940.

Sam Castandet et son Orchestra Antillais – La Rue Zabyme

There are a few nice CDs of early music from the “French Antilles.” Au Bal Antillais on Arhoolie, and Music of Martinique on Flyright are two examples. Another that looks like it may be harder to find is Biguine, Valse Et Mazurka Creoles 1929-1940, released on Fremeaux & Associes.

Technical Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: DF 3358
Matrix Number: CL 8841-1P

conjunto_medrano.jpgBack to South America.

In the years before WWII, Victor Records in the U.S. was, for the most part, the largest presence in South America when it came to the distribution and recording of music, as a result of an agreement made with its sister company HMV in England (HMV would essentially have the other continents to record). They also had a pressing plant in Argentina, which was a large market for Victor. That’s not to say there wasn’t competition – Odeon, for example, recorded countless records across the continent, many under the moniker Disco Nacional, and there were a smattering of independents – but Victor had the lock. However, after WWII, independents cropped up where only majors had dared to tread (and barely in many cases). One instance would be the Mendez label in Bolivia, featured in an earlier entry. Another would be Peru’s Sono Radio label, where today’s post hails from.

I’m not sure when Sono Radio began production (it lasted at least until the 70s), but I’m betting this record stems from ca. 1948-1950 or so. According to reader Efrain Rozas, the phrase “Muliza con fuga de Huayno” means that the song begins as a muliza, then ends in the typical Indian huayno style of Peru, with a fuga, a fast section, in the middle. The muliza as a song form was, according to various sources, brought to Peru by Argentine mule drivers (the name muliza comes from mulero, for mule) during the late colonial period (ca. 1760-1810). The Indian huayno sound was incorporated into the music in the mid-20th century and gave the muliza an indigenous quality that it lacked up until then. Another example of older folkloric musical styles being appropriated, adapted, and transformed.

While I could find no information on this fine ensemble (violins, woodwinds, brass, and guitar), I was really taken by the strings. Particulary the break at about 1:20 in the piece.

Conjunto Medrano – Angel Mio

Early recorded music from Andean regions seems to have been largely ignored by contemporary record companies. However, Arhoolie has the fine Huayno Music of Peru, Volume 1, which contains several earlier recordings. There is also this nice site! I would also recommend Fiona Wilson’s article “Indians and Mestizos: Identity and Urban Popular Culture in Andean Peru,” from the Journal of Southern African Studies 26/2 (2000): 239-253.

Technical Notes
Label: Sono Radio
Issue Number: 1046
Matrix Number: ISR-89

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