May 29, 2011
Listening to these two tracks recently got me thinking about the complex concept of “authenticity” with relation to commercial recordings in certain regions. I’ve broached the subject several times on Excavated Shellac, and still find it a worthy discussion to ruminate upon. I suppose the overarching rhetorical question is: how do we treat these recordings in the present-day?
The first piece is a folk song from Portugal, recorded June 17, 1947, in Braga. For better or worse, the might and popularity of fado usually eclipses the other regional styles that have existed in Portugal for centuries. There’s unaccompanied polyphonic singing from the south, bagpipe music from the northeast, accordion bands, and all manner of rancho folclóricos performing regional music across the country. This piece is from northwest Portugal, specifically the area once known Minho province (now the Viana do Castelo and Braga provinces). It is a chula, a localized circle dance for couples. The singers Granja and Lima are accompanied by a chorus, drum, and multiple four-stringed cavaquinhos, the small guitar of Portugal which was apparently the original model for the ukulele, brought to Hawaii by Portuguese sailors.
But, it is probably safe to say that this piece was, in one form or another, mediated by the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal, which apparently exercised strict control over all cultural activities. During the dictatorship, folk music groups – the aforementioned rancho folclóricos – were part of the nationalist organization known as FNAT, or Fundação Nacional para a Alegria no Trabalho – meaning “The National Foundation for Joy at Work.” And FNAT is represented here on this recording with the presence of Professor J.C. Mota Leite (credited as the director of this performance) and the Grupo Folclórico do Doutor Gonçalo Sampaio (who accompany the lead singers). During this period, FNAT was involved in essentially fostering a revivalist spirit throughout the country with these groups. The Grupo Sampaio, formed in 1943, worked closely with FNAT and worked to create what scholar Kimberly DaCosta Holton calls “an authentic duplicate of regional tradition.” Mota Leite, a folk music scholar, was hired by FNAT to train the group for months, acting as a bridge between the members of the group, who were peasants, and the dictatorship nobility.
Now that we know this about the recording, will we feel differently about it after listening? Do we have the capability to take it at face value, or is it fraught with the politics of the day? Does the fact that this recording is in the renowned Constantin Brăiloiu archive of folk music change anything?
“…traditional musics were transformed into national monuments in order to comply with Soviet internationalism. This entailed standardization to ensure compatibility with, and inclusion within, a monolithic Soviet culture. The adoption of standardized European performance modalities thus enabled local musics to find a place among their peers in the parade of national heritages of the USSR, and to join the large-scale cultural engineering that was triumphantly displayed at inter-national festivals.”*
Rena Galibova (1915-1995) was born in Uzbekistan, of Buhkaran Jewish heritage. She eventually moved to Tajikistan and became a trained opera singer. Her career was lengthy, through decades of Soviet rule - she performed for Stalin, and gained the title “People’s Artist of Tajikistan.” She eventually moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where she passed away at age 80.
This piece has something similar to the typical “folk music ensemble” sound of Central Asia in the Soviet 78rpm era. You can hear a violin, the dayra frame drum, the nay flute, and the chang zither (oddly, I don’t hear a tar or dutar). Apparently Galibova also sang traditional Bukharan shashmaqam. I would love to be able to hear that some day, yet Tajik records – even the classical, operatic ones - are incredibly difficult to find. Which leads me again to our questions: can we approach this music at a level disassociated from its political past? Will the discourse always be messy? Or is it essential background information that is needed in order to give the music its proper context? If the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music calls this Soviet ensemble style “bloated” and “ponderous” – does that mean it’s improper to hum?
It’s quite likely that the Stakhanov in this track is the “Hero of Socialist Labor” Alexey Stakhanov (1906-1977).
Rena Galibova – Ba Stakhanov
Issue Number: MQ 63
Matrix Number: 0PC.132-2
Label: Taskhenskiy Zavod
Issue Number: 5289-50
Matrix Number: 8823/3
*Spinetti, Federico. (2005). Open Borders. Tradition and Tajik Popular Music: Questions of Aesthetics, Identity and Political Economy. Ethnomusicology Forum, 14(2), 185-211.
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for discographical information, and to Steve Shapiro.
March 9, 2009
We’re fast approaching the two year anniversary of Excavated Shellac – having explored, so far, over 100 78s from about 70 different regions and cultures. I thought I’d take this week to go back to Portugal – in fact, to the same artist I posted a fado by in April of 2007 – the unsung Maria Alice.
Maria Alice was born in 1904, and was singing the real fado by the late 1920s, recording for the German Polydor label. This piece, with unknown players on the guitarra and violão, was recorded in about 1930 in Lisbon. The title translates to “My Village.” Far more eloquent words about fado’s saudade, “a quintessentially Lusitanian melancholy mixed with nostalgia and yearning,”* have been written elsewhere, and I could not do them justice – suffice it to say it is an essential part of this song, and all great fados. Ms Alice died in 1997.
How this ended up being released by the Brunswick label in the United States is interesting for ephemera-seekers like me. By 1929, the American label Brunswick, a very popular label throughout the early part of the 20th century, was in dire straits due to the Depression and other problems. British Brunswick, their counterpart, had collapsed. To stay alive, in 1930, the American Brunswick label was sold to Warner Brothers, but despite Warners signing up stars left and right, the records did not sell, and in late 1931, Warners sold Brunswick and its contracted artists to the American Record Corporation. It appears, however, that during its brief period of owning Brunswick between 1930 and 1931, Warners continued a relationship which began in 1926 between Brunswick and Deutsche-Grammophon, and reissued classical and some “ethnic” records from German D.G labels in the United States. They don’t turn up much, but I believe the sound quality of the German recordings are quite nice. This is one of them.
Label: Brunswick (from Polydor master)
Issue Number: 41201
Matrix Number: 2786 1/2 BK
*Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World.
April 30, 2007
Much has been written about the Portuguese “song of fate” and there is little chance that I could add anything new to the subject. However, some brief notes for those interested: the origins of the fado are muddy – some say it originated from Portuguese sailors and their songs of longing for home (there are theories that the rhythm of the fado evolved from the lurching, rolling waves at sea). Others claim that the roots of the fado came from Brazil, and made their way to Portugal in the 19th century. Some claim it came from the Moors, although other musical styles from the same general area, such as flamenco, seem more obviously connected to North Africa.
Several qualities are evident: a true fado is performed accompanied by a guitarra and a viola da franca. The viola da franca or violão is another name for the Spanish guitar. The guitarra is the name for a lute with a rounded sideboard and six double strings of wire. Perhaps most importantly, the fado is always accompanied by the inexpressible feeling of saudade. As folklorist and ethnographer Rodney Gallop put it in 1933*:
The true fado is always sad. Usually in the minor, it retains even in the major the melancholy character associated with the minor. It may be wild, finely exultant in its sadness, seeming to revel in tragedy; or, more often, striking a note of pathetic and almost languid resignation. Its sophisticated cadences breathe a spirit of theatrical self-pity combined with genuine sincerity. It is emotional, passionate, erotic, sensuous, one might say meretricious, and yet, like some rustic courtesan, fundamentally simple and unpretentious.
This fado, uncollected on any CD, was recorded ca. 1929, in Lisbon by the German Polydor company. I could find little written about Maria Alice, a genuine fadista if there ever was one. (She is NOT to be confused with a Cape Verdean singer of the same name.) I’ve been able to find imported recordings of fados by Alice that were released in the late 1920s in the United States on the Brunswick label. Unsurprisingly, little of her work has seen the light of day since. One track can be found here, although I cannot vouch for the transfers.
Issue Number: P 44233
Matrix Number: 2758 BK
*Gallop, Rodney. “The Fado (The Portugese Song of Fate).” The Musical Quarterly 19/2 (1933): 199-213.