Music from Liberia, in Liberian languages other than their official language of English, is some of the toughest to track down on 78 rpm records. In fact, I’m almost ready to say that nothing was released on commercial labels until the 1950s. There were, however, some important field recordings of ethnographic and popular “café music” made by ethnographer Arthur S. Alberts.
Alberts titled his collection of twelve 78s “Tribal, Folk and Cafe Music of West Africa” and it featured music recorded in French Guinea, “The Gold Coast,” Burkina Faso (rare for that time, as well), French Soudan, and Liberia. The recordings were made in 1949, and were collected in a box set of 12 78rpm records with a 20+ page booklet and a set of black and white photographs taken on the expedition, in a limited edition of 2,000. One could order the set from an address in New York City for a total of $25.88. Those recordings, as well as many unreleased recordings Alberts made on his travels, are now available on CD in three collections (Pearl, Folkways (discontinued), and Yarngo).
Anyway – getting back on track: in the 1950s or so, a strange little label appeared named Palmo Tone, which only released Liberian music, it seems. The records were pressed in England for something called “A.M.S. Ltd.” And while this piece is by an Apostolic Church Choir (40% of Liberia is Christian) don’t assume this sounds like a westernized group of singers going through a British hymnal – it sounds nothing like it. In fact, everything I’ve heard on the Palmo Tone label is raw, almost ethnographic sounding – a far cry from the café music of the Alberts set. This piece is sung in the Bassa dialect (not to be confused with the Bassa dialect of Nigeria, or the Bassa (Basaa) dialect of Cameroon). Who knows how many records were released on the little Palmo Tone label? At least 60, as far as I can tell.
The second piece is a subtle, methodical guitar and voice piece in the Jula language (listed as Dioula on the label). Jula is spoken primarily in Burkina Faso, and also in Côte d’Ivoire. Unfortunately, I know virtually nothing about the singer, Dielykani Moussa, or the label (other than that it seems to have been a possibly-short-lived subsidiary of Ducretet-Thomson) and its nice design. I am most curious about where this track was recorded – my personal hunch is that it was recorded in the mid-1950s in Côte d’Ivoire, but I really can’t say for sure. And the title – Alfayaya – does it refer to Alfa Yaya of Labé, the Guinean ruler of the Fula people, who was deported to Côte d’Ivoire in 1905? Questions, always questions.
While some prefer the sound of 78s to remain rarified air, we here at Excavated Shellac know that it’s music for the people…Coming up soon: a 2-hour set for dublab, where I play many rarely heard pieces of music on 78 including lots of material not featured here (as well as several tracks no longer available), talk about Excavated Shellac and collecting old records, blather on about some philosophical issues, and generally sound like a dork. I will post an announcement when it becomes available. Meanwhile, these are for you —
Label: Palmo Tone
Issue Number: LIB-1031
Matrix Number: LIB-181 (in wax)/ LIB.173 (on label)
Issue Number: 5014
Matrix Number: DTN.253