August 31, 2008
Today, we’ll go back to Japan, around the early 1920s. Still very much in the acoustic recording era before electric microphones, this is a classic example of min’yō, the generic name for Japanese folk music, passed down locally through oral tradition. Min’yō, however, is a late 19th century term used as an umbrella for a variety of folk music: traditional work songs, dance songs, and the like. Interestingly, it is a direct transliteration of the German volkslied.
Usually most min’yō song titles start with a place name, as does this one: Yasugi, a town in the Shimane prefecture on Honshū island. Yasugi Bushi simply means “song from Yasugi” in English. It became popular in the early 20th century, especially when accompanied by a dance of the same name, which imitated the movement of scooping down to catch loach fish. It is sometimes known as the “loach catching song.”
The beautifully expressive Shimizu Itoko is the singer of the piece, and she is accompanied by Okui Ichisaburou on shamisen, Akizuki Daimaru on the koto, Hirotani Omann on the taiko drum, and Hiramoto Shoichi on the tsuzumi drum. You’ll also hear some of the traditional pitched exclamations throughout the song, known as kakegoe.
Many thanks to Makoto and Lena Watanabe for translation assistance.
Issue Number: 16728
Matrix Number: same, with 1-A-1
August 25, 2008
These two tracks of authentic music by Seneca American Indians were recorded 95 years ago, on July 23rd, 1913. Columbia must have kept it in the catalog for some time, as my copy is a pressing from the mid-1920s for their “Children’s Series,” which must have been a 1920s marketing tool for Columbia to regenerate interest in some of their older titles under a new umbrella. “Funeral Chant” is sung unaccompanied, while the “Children’s Chorus” is accompanied by tom-tom. The Seneca recorded another track that day, though it was never released. All we know is the title, scribbled down by an engineer in a Columbia ledger: “Farewell to Minne-ha-ha.”
Documentation indicates that this track was recorded in New York. Was it recorded in New York City proper? It looks like it. I scoured New York City papers from that time period and there was no definitive mention of Seneca Indians in town for an event in the summer of ’13. However, in May of 1913, there was an announcement in the New York Times of a production of “Hiawatha” performed from June 9 to July 5th of that year by the “Indian Players from the Government reservation on Lake Erie” on a theatre on an estate in the Bronx, with the whole event being sponsored by the Women’s Municipal League. The “government reservation” referred to in the article is almost certainly Cattaraugus, a Seneca reservation on the lake established in 1784 – and most probably these are the same Seneca Indians who made this recording.
I will be away for the next three weekends, detoxing from the city and hopefully spending most of my time in a contemplative state. However, Excavated Shellac will continue on schedule! So, keep checking back. We aim to please.
Issue Number: A-3057
Matrix Number: 38957 (1-D-2), 38958 (1C-2)
August 17, 2008
I’m fascinated by the early regional music of Spain. The variety of songs and musical styles found in one country, even a country with many autonomous communities, is quite amazing. I’ve previously posted music from País Vasco (Basque Country), Asturias, and of course, the most well known folk music of Spain, flamenco from Andalucía. And while the music from all of these regions can be captivating, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Spain. There’s cobla music from Catalonia, the jota from Aragon, fiddle music from Mallorca, dulzaina music from Valencia, unbelievable unaccompanied shouts from the mountainous region of Cantabria, not to mention the distinct music of Navarro, Extremadura, the Canary Islands…on and on. We’re lucky it was captured on 78s, though finding much beyond hot selling flamenco records of the 40s can be a dogged struggle. It’s music that, unless we lived in these regions in the first three decades of the 20th century, you and I were not meant to hear.
Today: the wonderful sounds of the gaita galega, the bagpipe of Galicia in northwest Spain. Faustino Santalices (1877-1960) was a legendary master of both the zanfona (the hurdy gurdy in Spain) as well as the gaita, though his recorded output was quite limited. Here he is joined by Modesto Sanchéz in a gaita duet stemming from 1929. They are accompanied by the tambor (snare drum) and bombo (bass drum). It seems from the description that Santalices and Sanchéz were both performing in Galicia’s Coral de Ruada at the time (also known as the Coro de Ruada). Coral de Ruada’s historical recordings have been released on a relatively hard-to-find issue by the Ouvirmos label here – they are well worth checking out, though I can’t vouch for the CD quality. They still exist today, too!
A different take of this song, from the same 1929 sessions (originally released on the Regal label), was released on a Santalices CD several years ago on the Boa label, titled Gravacions Historicas De Zanfona 1927-1949. Boa claimed it was the definitive collection of Santalices’ work, though thanks to Félix Castro and Tony Klein, who contributed comments and compared my version and Boa’s (see the comments section), we know this track is either a new discovery, or one that was simply unknown at the time of the CD’s production, and therefore left out. What made matters more confusing, was that the record label was in fact a botch, and the song titles were mislabeled on either side. Either way, I hope it is new to you.
Issue Number: 291004
Matrix Number: WK 1398 (A8685A)
August 10, 2008
You wouldn’t get very far exploring traditional Chilean music without running into the cueca. An important symbol of national identity, the cueca’s origins are cloudy (African and Spanish influences are often cited), but the dance seems to have first appeared in the early 19th century, right around Chile’s independence. After having flourished for 200 years or so, in 1979, in the midst of Pinochet’s power over the country, it officially became the national dance. (It is also, interestingly, Bolivia’s national dance.) Despite his attempts however, Pinochet did not succeed in keeping cueca solely as a patriotic symbol. It remains something far more than that, and continues to thrive in Chilean immigrant communities across the world, as well as at home.
Usually in 6/8 time, in a major key and featuring guitars, the cueca (short for zamacueca) is a courtship dance for couples, where the man symbolically plays the rooster and the woman, the hen – both of whom dance with white handkerchiefs. Cuecas were frequently recorded in the 78rpm era though they don’t grow on trees – Odeon and South America’s arm of the RCA Victor label probably recorded in the region the most. Raul Gardy’s cueca is joyful, and he is accompanied by guitars, piano, accordion, and spoons.
There is also Jan Sverre Knudson’s article “Dancing Cueca “With Your Coat On.”
I also recommend this interesting 15-minute documentary on a gentleman trying to recapture cueca’s working-class and traditional roots. Lots of history and dancing therein.
Label: RCA Victor (Chile)
Issue Number: 90-0623
Matrix Number: n/a
August 3, 2008
In the late 1920s, musicians from across Iraq were being recorded by a variety of companies: Baidaphon of Beirut, Polyphon of Germany, and HMV of England being the Big Three. As usual in those nascent markets, all were competing against each other for shelf space in the shops that sold gramophone records.
I chose an early piece from Iraq this week because of the appearance of a terrific Honest Jons release culled from original copies at the EMI Hayes Archive titled Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted – Baghdad, 1925-1929. Two lovely songs by Badria Anwar are included on Give Me Love, but today’s post is another of her long lost recordings, from ca. 1928-1929 or so. “Rah Wilfy” translates roughly to “My Lover Is Gone.” She is accompanied by oud, kanun, violin, and percussion. (Thanks to the Pictures Clerk for translation!)
While I generally refrain from deep ruminations on this website, I thought I’d just write about Give Me Love as well as some thoughts on current reissues of historic recordings. Nobody asked me, of course, but these issues actually mean a lot to me. (In hindsight, I see I may have gotten long-winded, but what the hell…)
First, I think Give Me Love is an important collection. There has not been, until now, any serious survey of Iraqi historical recordings released – certainly not one with such a wide variety of styles. Musically, it is superb in my opinion – the taksims are amazing, the songs beautiful, from Kurdish melodies to Iraqi Jewish songs. I’ve little to say in that arena, as I was simply very impressed with the selection. Because of Honest Jons’ access to the Hayes Archive they were able to use untouched file copies of these exceptionally rare recordings, or perhaps even the metal masters, for their transfers. (For those who are wondering, 78rpm masters have shockingly less surface noise than the final product, the mass-produced gramophone record copy of the master, which often contained loads of garbage, or filler, along with the shellac – Paramount Records used sand and cement in their mix, for instance, making virtually all of their records sound like crap.)
That does not happen often. Very few companies exist which still have accessible masters or clean file copies of their original 78s, much less are willing to work with a small label for a release. EMI and Hayes are the major exception. And, the transfers are alive: I’ve listened to Give Me Love a few times now and although I (and my ears) waver a bit on this thought – and I may change my mind still again – I have come to believe that we are finally getting to a point where, taking into account a number of factors, the majority of surface noise can be removed from a 78rpm recording to the actual BENEFIT of the recording itself. There are far too many CDs of historic international folk music (not to mention historic anything) which have been hampered by overzealous noise reduction in their transfers. Of course, on the flip side, some of these recordings are so rare (I’ve seen around 4 Iraqi records in the past 5 years, say), you have to take what you can get sometimes. In other words, I’d probably buy this if it was dubbed from an old Certron cassette tape. (And as if it even needs to be said, I clearly am in no way a professional engineer – I just do the best I can with what I present on Excavated Shellac. Better the stuff is out there than not, is my opinion. Just wanted to get that out of the way.)
On Give Me Love, it sounds like the musicians are next to you. Well, next to you in mono. As I mentioned, achieving this sonic quality depends on a host of important factors: condition of the original record, turntable, tonearm, a wide variety of specialized diamond cut needles of various sizes, analog noise reduction equipment, digital noise reduction equipment, equalization equipment and methods, and the most important factor, a finely tuned ear. It is expensive, time consuming, and surely a monetary loss in the short term. But, I think Honest Jons got it right. And that’s good for both music fans, and scholars of this music.
Another thing Honest Jons got right is the design. Because I still prefer the tactile sensation of an LP (a DJ at heart), I purchased their double-LP issue of Give Me Love. Graphically it is beautifully done – and the design is current. While this may seem secondary to many, I believe the presentation of historical music is absolutely vital to its survival. These releases cannot and should not appeal only to the converted, the record collectors, the ethnomusicologists. They have to break through to new audiences, new listeners, people willing to take a chance. Releases like this, if they are to continue, absolutely must at the very least attempt to appeal to younger generations by methods of marketing, distribution, sale, and especially presentation. If not, the consequence is that the releases, the listeners, and by proxy the music, will become even more elitist, more rarified, more segregated – precisely what shouldn’t happen. This doesn’t mean dumbing down these releases, it just means an overhaul. The design of Give Me Love is, well, pretty damn attractive. It makes one feel that this is an important record, filled with mysterious lost music that is different than what one has experienced.
With all that said, I’m not above some critique. While comparatively minor, I had a few related problems with Give Me Love – in particular, problems with the notes which accompany the LP.
Despite its savvy design, Give Me Love presents itself, rightly I think, as a historical document, and includes a short essay on the backstory behind these recording sessions, with information on some of the artists and quotes from correspondence between HMV employees in Iraq and the home office. Why is it then that there is no detailed recording information (dates, specifically) for any of the tracks? This information could be extremely helpful to those wishing to study further, it would be very brief in terms of space to annotate, and would almost certainly be accessible in the Hayes Archive, as HMV kept scrupulously detailed recording ledgers. Since Honest Jons had full access and permission from EMI, why not list the original record catalog numbers, too? I realize that including this information may go against the whole “reaching out to new audiences” idea I just mentioned (in other words, it might be useless to most consumers), but I think not including it and still attempting to be a historical document is disingenuous. This is new territory they’re working with, and why not go for broke – those adventurous enough to purchase the record may appreciate that detail somehow. Plus, it firmly places these works in a specific place, at a specific time.
The rest of my complaints are niggling and petty and I fear I’ve gone on too far as it is. If you’ve read this far, I appreciate your interest…the most important part of this post is of course way up above: the music.
Coupling Number: AX 568
Face Number: 7-213737
Matrix Number: BX4397