May 21, 2012
Muhyiddin Ba’yun (1868-1934) was from Beirut, and became a popular recording artist for the Baidaphon company, based out of that same city, from the early 1920s until around the time of his death. He became well-known as both a singer and as a talented instrumentalist, having studied under a lute player from Baghdad named Ibrabim Adham. It appears he recorded sessions in 1924, 1926, 1929, and sometime in the early 1930s, most likely, when this terrific improvisation was made – a wahida, similar to the Turkish ciftetelli, accompanied by an oud playing on the pulse throughout the piece.
Part of the problem of piecing together an overall picture of Ba’yun’s career for me, anyway, is access to documentation. I could trace about 35 individual releases by Ba’yun, most of which are vocal pieces, though I am almost certain there are more. Typically, his name is often transliterated in multiple ways: Mohieddine Effendi Bayoun, Mohiddine Baayoun, and the spelling I’ve used above, culled from an out-of-print Ocora CD (Archives de la Musique Arabe, Vol. 1).
One of the most interesting wrinkles when considering Ba’yun’s output has appeared when trying to determine precisely what instrument he’s playing. On some records he is credited as playing the buzuq. On others, he is credited as playing the tanbur. Tony Klein first brought this artist to my attention, and the instrument he was playing. We listened to Ba’yun tracks which were labeled buzuq and others labeled as tanbur, and he posited that there appeared to be very little sonic difference, if any, between the sound of either instrument.
Definitions can be hazy, however. The buzuq is usually a two-course instrument with 24 frets and a body similar to the oud. “Tanbur” is a term that can refer to a number of different long-necked lutes from Turkey to Central Asia. Complicating things further, Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments states in their tanbur section that “Buzuq is the term known in Arab urban music and is used in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut.” So tanbur = buzuq in this instance. Or does it? Or, as Tony asked rhetorically in an e-mail: “When is a tanbur a buzuq, and/or when is a buzuq not a tanbur?”
At the risk of plummeting down a semantic rabbit hole, it’s probably best to get right to the music. Those who’d like to augment our musical instrument discussion are welcome. Enjoy!
Issue Number: B 090887
Matrix Number: same
Thanks to Tony Klein!
I am wrapping up the notes to Excavated Shellac: Reeds, the next LP in the Parlortone series, which hopefully will be finished soon. I can definitely say that it’s the most intense little mix I’ve put together, with virtually all 14 tracks stone rarities. Opika Pende, on the other hand, sold out its first printing recently, and a second printing arrives very soon. I’ve been way behind on posting, as usual, but there’s lots afoot.