May 26, 2008
Some time ago, I had thought about posting a track from the legendary Native Brazilian Music 78rpm box sets which Columbia released in the United States (only) in 1942, but I was so sure they had been reissued on CD that I hadn’t even bothered to think twice about doing so. Recently, I woke up to the fact that not only does there not appear to be any plan to reissue these records on CD - one of the most historic sessions in the history of Brazilian music – but less than half of the songs recorded were even released in ’42. The detailed story of Native Brazilian Music is best told in the Stalking Stokowski article by Daniella Thompson. I will briefly run down the Cliff’s Notes version:
Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski considered himself a Brazilian music aficionado, and had expressed interest to composer Heitor Villa-Lobos that he’d wanted to produce a collection of authentic Brazilian popular music for American audiences. In 1940, Stokowski was to sail (with the All-American Youth Orchestra, whom he founded and conducted) to various ports in Central and South America, including Rio de Janiero, and asked Villa-Lobos to gather the best musicians he could find for a recording session – all expenses paid by Stokowski, of course.
While Stokowski certainly deserves credit for spearheading the session and presumably paying the engineer from Columbia Records who would record nearly 40 tracks in a marathon 24 hour session/party – the real credit goes to Villa-Lobos for gathering a wide variety of top-notch Brazilian musicians. On the two Columbia box sets there are macumbas, sambas, emboladas, corimas, and maracatu music, for example. The sets contained the only vocal recordings by samba pioneer Zé Espinguela, the first recordings by Cartola, Pixinguinha appears on flute, and most of the tracks were accompanied by Donga’s conjunto regional.
There were a few negatives, the most obvious being Stokowski’s insistance that the recordings be made not in Columbia’s local studio in Rio, but onboard the S.S. Uruguay, where Stokowski was staying. According to Thompson’s article, the Columbia engineer was not used to recording in such a place, and as such, I believe the recordings sound more than a little thin. Also, when the box sets came out, they were rife with errors: some performers went uncredited, only 3 had their names spelled correctly, only 6 titles out of 16 were spelled correctly, and the song orders were printed incorrectly on the labels (all of these are corrected in Thompson’s article). Musically, the stiffest moments are the two Amerindian chants sung by four professors at the Orfeão Villa-Lobos – while of historical import, they end the exuberant atmosphere of the previous 14 tracks with a formal austerity.
This track by comedians Jararaca (José Luis Rodrigues Calazans, 1896-1977) and Ratinho (Severino Rangel de Carvalho, 1896-1972) is an example of an embolada, a tongue-twister-like, fast-tempo song from Northeastern Brazil.
If you’d like to hear both box sets, this generous Brazilian blogger offers them in their entirety. They are straight dubs and not cleaned up, but they still sound nice!
ALSO: Many thanks to Matt at Matsuli for hosting my guest post of May 20. Over 100 people were able to download the 26 remastered African jive 78s in less than a day, which is completely fantastic.
Issue Number: C-87, 36506
Matrix Number: CO30155
May 18, 2008
The last French Canadian folk music I posted was six months ago, so I thought I might feature another this week – especially since I found myself humming this song repeatedly. When that happens, I feel I have to go straight to the shelves, grab that piece of music, and remind myself of the innate qualities therein. This I did, and here it is for you, too.
Joseph Ovila LaMadeleine (1880-1973) was a left-handed fiddler based in Montreal, where he owned a music shop. In the late 1920s, when he was already nearly 50, he began his recording career for Starr Records. For the next 15 years on Starr, he recorded 54 records of wonderfully played reels, quadrilles, and waltzes like this track, which was recorded in the winter of 1937. While this tune is not a fiddle showdown like some of his others, I find it beautifully unpretentious, largely due to the vocal by his daughter Jeannette.
Starr Records got its name from the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana. The Starr Piano Company also produced a little label called Gennett, only one of the greatest, most sought-after record labels in jazz, country, and blues history. The Compo Company (run by the son of Emile Berliner) began pressing the Starr and Gennett labels in Canada in 1919, and gradually began recording as well. The Starr label continued into the 40s, long after Starr Piano left the record business, with the Starr label reserved strictly for Canadian recordings.
For more LaMadeleine, there is a track on the Rounder collection Raw Fiddle. You can also visit The Virtual Gramophone and hear quite a few LaMadeleine recordings, albeit at 64kbps. Better than nothing!
Lastly, an announcement for 1960s African music fans: very soon I will be writing a guest post over at the fine Matsuli Music blog. There will be LOTS to download, and it will be very limited, so if you don’t want to miss that, keep checking Matsuli.
Issue Number: 16066
Matrix Number: 7968-1
May 11, 2008
Here is another relic from Southeast Asia in the days before the widespread use of the electric microphone. Voice and music emerge from a deep layer of surface noise. Such is the case with these early recordings: however tweaked and lessened by me, surface noise is inevitably an integral part of the listening experience.
In particularly hot and humid areas – perhaps Siam for instance, where this recording was made ca. 1927 – recording engineers would often have to pack their wax masters in dry ice to protect them from melting. Working without electricity…sometimes recording entire orchestras who played into a large horn…carting boxes of heavy equipment and hundreds of wax masters from place to place, perhaps country to country, for sometimes months at a time…the odds seemed against these expeditions. Yet many hundreds of thousands of records, perhaps even several million, were recorded all over the world before the microphone started appearing in recording studios in the mid-1920s.
Recording minutiae: originally, this selection was recorded by the Beka record label, and then released by Parlophon. Beka and Parlophon were German companies, owned by the larger entity Carl Lindstrom A.G., which was purchased by the British company Columbia in 1926. The smaller German companies under the Lindstrom banner operated independently of their British owners for several years, until Columbia/Lindstrom eventually fell under the banner of EMI, and Parlophon became known as Parlophone.
This is an example of Thai classical music, featuring a singer (Seeranii) and a small “phin-phaat” ensemble (also transliterated as “pii-phaat”), where a dominant instrument is the traditional Thai xylophone (the rānāt). You can also distinguish at least one Thai flute (the khlui), and in the distance (I think!), the classical Thai reed instrument, the pī nai. Thai classical music was originally developed as court music, and many of the instruments used date back 700+ years. The title of the piece translates to “Golden Star.”
Many thanks to Philip Yampolsky for discographical insight, and to Pluethipol Prachumphol of the Antique Phonograph and Gramophone Thai Society for help with the translation. Thanks also to Lawrence Ross for additional information on Thai music and helpful translation.
Issue Number: 212
Matrix Number: 25701
May 4, 2008
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned Robert Crumb’s volume of international 78rpm records titled Hot Women, which features female vocalists. On it, he included Part 2 of an exceptionally wild recording made somewhere in East Africa in the early 1930s. Today’s post is Part 1 of that fascinating record.
Decca Records in the United States began in 1934 (after truly beginning in England in 1929), and kept their maroon label for their international series. A large portion of the music released on that international series was from this hemisphere, but they did release some imported recordings, many of which were taken from German Odeon and Parlophon masters as the label indicates here. Most famously, American Decca found success in repressing Erich von Hornbostel’s influential “Music of the Orient” collection, which contained some recordings from as early as the ‘teens. You can still find a complete set if you’re patient. Much more difficult to track down, however, are examples from Decca’s African series.
Unfortunately, without a trip to a vault somewhere in Europe to dig through ancient paperwork (if it exists), and without a vintage catalog which might contain more information, there’s no way to tell where this record was precisely made. It could have been Kenya, it could have been Tanzania, Rwanda/Burundi, or Zanzibar. My best possible guess, considering the strong Arabic influence in the instrumentation (oud, violin, and percussion), is that it is taarab music from Tanzania or Zanzibar, but that is only a guess and nothing more. Or, might the two letter matrix code – BR - stand for Burundi/Rwanda? I’ve a very similar sounding 78 that is definitively from that particular region. But, who knows.
What I do know is that this vocalist will jolt you upright and rightly so. This is a one of a kind performance – just listen to her straining near the end of the piece.
For more vintage taarab music from the region, definitely check out the beautiful CD Poetry and Languid Charm on Topic.
Label: Decca (from Odeon masters)
Issue Number: 20140
Matrix Number: Br.O.77