February 23, 2009
While recording in Bulgaria did begin as early as the first decade of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1930s when independent Bulgarian labels began to crop up that recording began in full-swing. To compete with Odeon, Pathé, and HMV, local labels like Orfei, Arfa, Balkan, and London Record were recording at a rapid clip. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if these records received little distribution beyond cities in Bulgaria – finding folkloric Bulgarian records in anything above hopelessly worn condition is difficult.
Today’s piece was released on the Radioprom label…but perhaps not at first. The Communist government consolidated (and liquified) the assets of all active Bulgarian independent record labels as part of a nationalization process in the late 1940s, with everything then lumped together under the state-owned label Radioprom. Despite the amount of propaganda released by Radioprom, they did release much folkloric music as well – and re-released material that had previously appeared on other labels. In this case, it appears that Ms Tsekova’s piece originally appeared on the Orfei label, where she recorded a number of tracks in her apparently short-lived career on 78s. And as for Radioprom, it eventually became known as Balkanton in the LP era.
Ms Tsekova sings with the Peyu Budakov brass band (along with a clarinetist, a violinist, a lute player, and an accordion). The exact transliteration of the Cyrillic title, “Kako Todoike, Todoike” may be slightly incorrect. Kako means “older sister” in Bulgarian – and the female name that comes closest in Bulgarian is “Todorke.” I’m reasonably sure this is a song about Todorke, the older sister, though any help is of course appreciated. The equally terrific flip side to this record appears on Song of Crooked Dance, on Yazoo Records. Lauren Brody’s notes for her CD provided some of the information here, as well.
So, here we are with more forgotten sounds, the marks etched in the grooves, as fine as dust…
Issue Number: 1042
Matrix Number: 1610
February 16, 2009
A rare guitar piece from Congo, produced ca. 1950 or so. That’s today’s post, although I must admit it was something of a rescue effort. I’ve had this on my hard drive for many months, and have tried numerous transfers to get it right. I finally decided to let it loose – a hitherto unreleased and potentially unknown piece on an independent African label by a Congolese guitarist (and company), and that’s at least three reasons to get excited, in my opinion. Acoustic guitar music from Africa is worth all of the hype.
So, why was it a “rescue effort”? Well – conditions in Africa for independent labels weren’t exactly the easiest. No one is really to blame – sales in such an emerging market probably weren’t large enough to warrant money to be spent recording multiple takes, or re-pressing problem tracks. That said, I’ve found absolutely amazing records on a number of labels marred by tape speed issues, low-frequency hum, poor microphone placement, and bad pressings – sometimes all at once. This record comes close. The recording quality is poor, the pressing is mediocre to poor, there seems to be some warbly tape issues (though the speed is constant), the record is warped, and the center hole is slightly off. Although I have other guitar records from Africa in my collection, it was precisely because of these issues that I thought it needed to be worked on and heard by an audience – plus, it’s a beautiful song.
After I first posted this track, late February 15th, I received an illuminating e-mail from Tony Klein in Sweden, who had a hunch that the song was not recorded and pressed at the correct speed. He had taken my mix and raised it two semitones. (Speed issues are common with 78s, and I’ve often adjusted the speed in the past.) After that, we heard from Vincent Kenis of Crammed Discs, who informed us about the speed issues on early Opika records (see the comments) and confirmed that the proper speed was indeed a minor third higher than the released record – THREE semitones. So, we have since adjusted the recording to its proper speed. With his permission, I’ve reproduced Tony’s comments below, as I think they are a great example of this site being a conduit for people interested in historical recordings, as well as an example of the many pitfalls and perils one encounters when transferring 78s.
What I reacted to on your disc was that, even before the voice came in, it felt like the music was running through thick syrup, that no one could play that way even if they wanted to, and then the vowel sounds sounded like slowed down tape. The thing with speed accuracy in music is that there are two particular acoustic absolutes:
1) Transients (i.e. the kick-in sounds, perhaps especially in plucked and struck instruments, and in plosive consonants and of course in extraneous plosive “noises”) and
2) Vowel and timbre formants – which are more or less independent of the pitch of the note sung or played. In the case of instruments, this will depend on the particular acoustic qualities of the musical instrument in question.
Any speed inaccuracy will create (more or less subtle) artefactual effects of the Donald Duck or Darth Vader type. Of course, in the ideal situation one would be familiar with the language, but I’ll take the risk in this case to assert my point.
Thanks to Tony and Vincent, we now have a more accurate version of this rare track. Meanwhile…
Opika was a tremendous label, which I’ve written about in the past. Starting in the late 1940s, the owners of Opika, the Greek brothers Benetar, began recording all manner of artists in east Léopoldville (Kinshasa). They were the first to sign Congolese legends Joseph Kabasele, Jhimmy, and Dr. Nico – and according to Gary Stewart’s Rumba on the River, Opika dominated music sales in the region until they ceased production ca. 1957 or so. They simply had a terrific roster of musicians. (Popular music is not all they recorded, however. In fact, Opika and their competitor label Ngoma recorded a substantial amount of raw, more “ethnographic” recordings as well – and virtually none of those recordings have made it to any present-day compilation, or perhaps have even been acknowledged.) I could find nothing on Felix Sunzu, unfortunately. The label states he was “Wahemba” which appears to be an out-of-date cultural name, and does not appear in the present day Ethnologue. Thanks to a reader (thanks Vincent!) we know that the Wahemba are located in North Katanga, close to Lake Tanganyika. Enjoy the music.
Issue Number: 423
Matrix Number: 1092
February 9, 2009
I’ve yet to visit the country of Paraguay on Excavated Shellac. Certainly a good deal of music was recorded there, particularly during the postwar era, but pre WWII-era recordings from Paraguay are difficult to track down – especially folkloric examples, as Paraguayan bands often had a strikingly European sound at that time. The influential and egalitarian Secret Museum series contains not one Paraguayan track over five discs. Neither does Henry Cowell’s 10-LP set on Folkways, Music of the World’s Peoples.
To be fair, many of Paraguay’s most important folk musicians during the 78rpm era did not actually record in Paraguay – they left their native country and recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a major recording hub at the time for Victor, Odeon, and smaller labels. Two of the most well-known Paraguayan expatriate musicians were guitarist Agustín Barrios, and arpa Paraguaya player Féliz Pérez Cardozo (also spelled “Cardoso”), who performs this week’s track, accompanied by two guitarists.
The diatonic Paraguayan harp, also known as the arpa India despite the fact that it is of European origin, is a lightweight harp with 36 to 40 strings and no pedals. Traditionally, harp music is music of the countryside in Paraguay, and many harpists actually make their own harps, even today. Also, harp music of Paraguay is not standardized – it is taught by observation, and songs often feature the player’s improvisational flourishes and glissandos. But the showiness is deceptive, as Cardozo is a master of making the difficult somehow seem mellow, effortless, even timeless.
Affectionately nicknamed “Mitá Guazú” (“big boy”), Cardozo is a legend in Paraguay both as a harpist and proponent of Guarani music across South America. He was born in 1908 in a town in the Guairá Department renamed recently as “Félix Pérez Cardozo,” though at the time of his birth it was known as Yhaty. Around 1931, he moved to Buenos Aires to begin his recording career, and this track for Argentine Victor stems from the mid-1930s, give or take a few years. “Cigarro Mi” (“Cigar of Mine”) is a galopa. The galopa is an upbeat folkdance for linked pairs of dancers, generally danced by women only, who are dressed like the raida poti – the honorable country girl. Traditionally, the galoperas perform this dance while balancing a jar of water on their heads. 75 years after this recording, the traditional galopa survives mainly as a tourist attraction, alas. Cardozo died in 1952 – there was a CD of his material released outside of the US and Europe in 2001 titled Paraguayo Puro, though that seems to be difficult to obtain, if not completely out of print (this track does not appear on it).
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 38173-A
Matrix Number: same
(This copy is a bit noisy, though it is in excellent condition – this is due to a funky pressing and a low recording…but we persevere!)
For this week’s post, I’ve decided to continue exploring the folk music of Spain’s many autonomous communities, each with its own particular type of traditional music – often multiple types. Previously, I’ve posted tracks from Galicia, Asturias, Andalucia, and Basque Country – and now we’ll move in a southeast direction to what is officially called Comunitat Valenciana, or the autonomous community of Valencia, which roughly reflects the borders of the medieval Kingdom of Valencia (1010-1238).
Several regions in Spain feature music with powerful unaccompanied vocals – Asturias and mountainous Cantabria being two examples. I do not know the origin of this often jaw-dropping trait in Valencia, but I have to think it may be related either to rural, peasant life (as it apparently was in Asturias and Cantabria), or at the very least related to performance outdoors. This piece, by Antonio Soriano and company, is a mix. The vocals are accompanied by a muted drum only and handled by multiple performers in succession, but are bracketed and bridged by duets on the dulzaina (also dulçaina), the extremely loud double-reed shawm of Spain, and the aforementioned tabalet drum (called tambor on the label). The piece is an “albaes” which, according to my research, is the Valencian version of the aubades, or alboradas – the “dawn song.” Traditionally known as a song sung by lovers before they part in the morning, the albaes is also sung after Midnight Mass at Christmas. It is also commonly known as a song type which features biting social commentary – the singer is accompanied by the “versaor,” who spontaneously invents the lyrics on the spot. This is a wonderfully unusual song type for public performance: a blistering outdoor screech of an instrument accompanied by a tiny little drum, singers who bellow amazing vocal runs, and a silent person who whispers lyrics into the singer’s ears. For a visual idea of what this may look like, please check out this video here.
This albaes was recorded in Valencia by engineer H.E. Davidson on September 30th, 1928. He must have known talent as this take is a keeper, made even more real by the coughing and throat-clearing throughout. Davidson spent much of his career with the Gramophone company recording in Spain. In 1928 alone, he was in Spain for virtually the entire year, recording upwards of 600 sides in Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao, and Barcelona. According to Paul Vernon’s article The Engineers (Vintage Jazz Mart 94, 1994), Davidson led an expat’s life, spending the better part of eight years traipsing around Spain recording artists, rarely returning to England, and frequently disappearing for months at a time with no explanation, much to the chagrin of the home office. As for the artists themselves, little is known (a typical refrain around here, alas), although Evaristo Payá, who accompanies Antonio Soriano, has been documented on 78s since ca. 1905.
Coupling Number: AE 2333
Face Number: 2-264180
Matrix Number: BJ1436