June 29, 2008
By far, the most popular posts on Excavated Shellac feature African music. In honor of that, I’ve decided to post something from East Africa this week, as a give-the-people-what-they-want goodwill thank you gesture. However, if you’ve come here only looking for African music, please take a look around and try another piece out. You never know what might grab you – perhaps a Bulgarian harmonium track, or a Turkish taxim. One of the main thrusts of this blog is variety of palette, after all.
This week’s sonic diversion comes from Uganda, performed by members of the Nyoro/Haya culture. A group of singers accompanied by drum (ngoma) and the Nyoro/Haya rattle (nyimba). It stems from around the mid-1950s on the beautiful Jambo label.
Jambo’s story is very interesting. It was the first independent East African record label, established in Nairobi, Kenya by two British gentlemen, in 1947, under the umbrella of East African Sound Studios, Ltd. They sent tapes to England and had their records pressed by Decca, which were then shipped by air freight back to Nairobi (a three-day flight distance at that time). By 1950, the company had fallen on hard times and there was a management shake-up, after releasing slightly over 200 records. The studio was closed down. East African Sound Studios, Ltd. was taken over by the African Ground Cotton Company. Otto Larsen, a Dane, was asked to help set up and manage a record pressing plant in a new building in Nairobi, and Jambo resumed in the early 50s, continuing to repress the best selling of their 200 or so records. Thus, the birth of the new East African Records, Ltd.
Amazingly, Larsen and crew continued to repress those same 200 records until 1955, when Larsen took it upon himself to start a recording studio in a Nissen hut on the property, which was formerly used to make cardboard pots for planting (a side venture of East African Records, Ltd., as was the sale of jukeboxes). Larsen began to travel in the region (Dar Es Salaam, Kampala), making further recordings for Jambo, and recorded much local talent in Kenya, many of whom traveled to audition in Nairobi. Taarab music was recorded, African acoustic guitar, accordion-based pop, Hawaiian waltzes from the Seychelles, and rural Ugandan music, such as we have here – pressed and packaged by Kenyan hands.
By 1955, other independent labels were active in the region: Capitol Music Stores, Mzuri, AGS, Rubina and Rafiki, and Munange, to name a few. The majors were active as well: HMV, Columbia, and Gallotone and their subsidiary, Trek. Jambo continued pressing 78s (and 45s) until 1961, when it became Equator Sound Studio. They had released a total of about 1,000 records.
Much of the information on Jambo came from Flemming Harrev’s informative article “Jambo Records and the Promotion of Popular Music in East Africa: The Story of Otto Larsen and East African Records Ltd. 1952-1963.” In Perspectives on African Music, Bayreuth African Studies Series 9, edited by Wolfgang Bender, 103-137. Bayreuth, Germany: Eckhard Breitinger, 1989.
Issue Number: EA. 507
Matrix Number: J.R. 1042
June 22, 2008
Born, raised, and trained in Uruguay, Julio Martínez Oyanguren (1901-1973) was one of the great South American classical guitarists. Like some of his contemporaries, Agustín Barrios of Paraguay and Guillermo Gomez of Spain/Mexico for example, Oyanguren played his own arrangements and guitar transcriptions of works by classical composers, as well as his own compositions. When it comes to classical guitarists, the folk idioms inherent in their original compositions are what move me the most.
Oyanguren began recording for Victor in Argentina in the early 1930s, which is when his “Jota” was recorded. His career lasted decades (he also recorded a number of 78s for Columbia records around the same time), he toured internationally, was respected and well-known, and released many LPs. This original piece, however, does not appear to have made it to CD. Numerous other performances by Oyanguren (and many other excellent artists) can be found at Fine Fretted.
This track was a tough one to remaster (I had it sitting on my computer for months), despite the fact that it’s a shiny, beautiful copy. Victor Records in Argentina gave us an exceptionally “low” recording of this song and an iffy pressing – the more quiet the music, the more loud the classic, grainy Victor surface noise. I gave it my best shot.
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 37072
Matrix Number: n/a
June 9, 2008
In geeky fashion I’m sure, I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the Columbia label’s green “F” series of the late 1920s in previous posts. While a large amount of the Columbias on this series featured music recorded by immigrants in the United States, they also released some incredible imported recordings, perhaps to test U.S. markets out.
Columbia seems to have preferred this method with at least some of the wonderful music of Bulgaria. They released a mere 39 Bulgarian records in the United States (compared to the 500+ Irish recordings they released during the same period). This is one of them, from ca. 1928.
Parush Parushev (credited as “P. Parusheff” here) was a street singer from Plovdiv, who accompanies himself on harmonium on this track. Street singers with harmoniums were apparently a common sight in Bulgarian cities until late in the 20th century. I’ve listened to this record many times, and it still delights me.
For more Parushev and incredible Bulgarian music, check out Song of the Crooked Dance on Yazoo (where I gleaned the existing info on Parushev).
Also, I’m going on a much needed break for two weeks, one that will hopefully be devoid of most electronic media. I will be back, however, on the 22nd with more 78s, more special guest posts, and more of what you’ve come to expect.
Issue Number: 29004-F
Matrix Number: H1146 (1-B-4)
Over the next several months, you will see a few guests here at Excavated Shellac. I’ve asked a number of like-minded friends, whose collections are varied and excellent, to drop by and give us an example of a favorite piece of music of theirs that revolves at that fast speed. They have provided the words, image, and music. (I have provided the audio cleanup and mix, unless otherwise noted.)
Generally regarded as one of the 20th century’s most important Hindustani classical singers, Abdul Karim Khan was born in 1872 into a family of musicians in the village of Kirana in Hayrana state in north-central India. The kirana gharana (school) of singing extends to his ancestors but it is most commonly associated with his style because of his (relatively) prolific teaching, performing and recording in the first part of the 20th century. A notable branch of the school was founded by his cousin, the brilliant, eccentric, hearing-impaired, opium-loving, Sufi-devoted Abdul Wahid Khan who was Pandit Pran Nath’s guru and therefore the originator of the kirana school as it exists in the post-psychedelic United States.
Abdul Karim Khan studied sarangi with his family before leaving his home, never to return, as a teenager, in search of a guru. During this time, he approached Bande Khan (grandfather to been player Zia Mohuiddin Dagar and singer Zia Fariduddin Dagar) in search of been lessons. (Sarangi was primarly an accompanist’s instrument and been was a soloist’s instrument.) Bande Khan told him to study singing. As a singing duo with his brother Abdul Haq, Abdul Karim Khan was appointed as a court musician by the raja of Baroda state in Northwest India, but when Abdul Karim fell in love with one of the prince’s daughters, Sardār Māruti Rāo Māne who was his student at the time, the class difference between the royalty and musician-servants forced the two lovers to abscond in order to stay together. They landed further south, in Bombay, where Abdul Karim taught, sang and, in 1905, recorded about thirty performances for the Gramophone company. That same year, his daughter Hirabai Badodekar (later a renowned singer herself) was born. (YouTube clip here.)
Over the next twenty years, his style was informed by a number of visits to Karnataka state in the South, close contact with singers in the gwalior gharana, and changes in the economics of music caused by the crumbling of the courts under British colonialism. Abdul Karim Khan saw that a musician could no longer simply inhabit a court as a paid servant, and became an innovator in charging admission for classical concerts. His family moved in 1913 to Pune, where he founded another music school. In 1922, his wife left him, also resulting in a split with Abdul Wahid Khan (who was related to Abdul Karim by marriage). The event is said to have marked a shift in his style to slower, more contemplative singing. Meanwhile, during the period of increasing modernization and the anti-colonial struggle lead by Ghandi (and radical politics generally), Abdul Karim Khan refused to record again until the mid-30s, when he accepted offers from the minor Ruby Company and the dominant and British-owned Gramophone company’s primary competitor, German-based Odeon. From 1934 until 1936, just a year before his death, he recorded several dozen pieces. La Monte Young said in the first issue of Halana that Abdul Karim Khan died on tour in a railway station by simply turning to the man next to him and saying “I’m going now,” then pulling down his turban and dying on the spot. For Young, it was an example of utter mastery and control.
Abdul Karim Khan’s voice, like his recorded output, is notable for just this sense of mastery, but both are filled with a lightness and sweetness which one does not often associate with the most serious musicians. He chose repeatedly to sing light pieces, bordering on the folksy, making his name as a singer of the relatively modern and fanciful khayal rather than the older and more devotional dhrupad, and he rarely gave in to the kind of heroic and almost macho qualities one hears in Abdul Wahid Khan’s very few recordings or the most ferocious recordings of Abdul Karim’s most renowned spiritual heir, the brilliant Bhimsen Joshi (YouTube clip here.). He was a noted and early classical exponent of romantic thumris. For me, there is something touchingly feminine about his voice. If you’ll forgive a level of psychological speculation, it feels as if within himself he was reconnecting with his lost daughter and wife (or evoking that kind of unifying bond to his listeners) even in the relatively austere classical performance presented here, made for the Ruby Record Company in March of 1934, just three years before his death, with Shankarrao Kapileshwari (harmonium), Shasuddin Khan (tabla) and Balkrishna Kapileshwari and Dashrath Buwa Mule (tambouras).
My copy of this record is a post-war (and probably post-Indian independence) repressing. (HMV acquired Ruby in 1946, so despite going with an indie label, the Brits wound up owning his voice anyway. Such is the music biz.) His music, or some part of it, has been reissued every decade or two since his death, but remains woefully under-heard and certainly under-appreciated in the West. A bio-discography, which I have not yet been able to lay hands on, was authored by Michael Kinnear and published a few years ago in Australia. I’m grateful that a summary of it was posted here.
“Ustad Abdul Karim Khan’s recording of the composition ‘Jamuna ke tir’ in Raga Bhairavi stands as one of the great masterpieces of music. When I first heard the recordings of Abdul Karim Khan I thought that perhaps it would be best if I gave up singing, got a cabin up in the mountains, stocked it with a record player and recordings of Abdul Karim Khan, and just listened for the rest of my life.” – La Monte Young
Issue Number: BEX 259
Matrix Number: RS 601