November 3, 2008
After a long break, we’re back in mountainous Basque country – País Vasco – continuing the theme of woodwinds that aren’t particularly well-known in the West. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always amazed at the variety of Spanish folk music captured on 78. According to Paul Vernon in Arte Regional, it’s quite possible that no other single country except for the United States had such a wide range of regional styles. The fact that such a broad palette of recordings were made makes sense for several reasons. First, Spain was quite accessible in the early 20th century by record companies in operation in Europe (England, Germany and France – and Spanish independents). But second, and just as important, many of Spain’s rural regions, while comparatively close for engineers to travel to, were remote, autonomous communities. Real roots music was recorded in Spain during those years. Well, phenomenal roots music was recorded throughout the vast majority of European countries during this period (with a few notable exceptions) and it’s all tough to locate, let’s face it.
The txistu is the three-holed, Basque wooden flute, which can be held and played with one hand, so the player can usually play a drum at the same time. Instrumental Basque music during this period was used mainly for dancing – which is obvious in the title to this track, “Fandango Contradanza.” To many listeners this music might sound like processional or formal fife and drum music – but indeed it is authentic, traditional folkdance music.
The Txistularis (“txistu players”) Hermanos Landaluce were a trio, it appears – with Sr. Elola on the tamboril drum, I’m betting. They recorded this and several other tracks in Barcelona, on December 12th, 1928, for HMV. Gramophone’s engineer for this session was H.E. Davidson, the man who managed to record some of the most important Spanish folk music in history – peasant songs from La Montaña, Valencia, and Asturias, actual cave-dwelling gypsies in Andalucia, a true, live “Saetas” flamenco recording made from a bell tower – radical stuff for the company used to planting recording horns in front of Caruso and Chaliapin. Not that you would know it, as next to none of it is available in any format today.
One person did notice the music at the time, however: Rodney Gallop, a British ethnomusicologist before the term was coined, was particularly interested in music from Spain and the Basque region (his Book of the Basques, originally published in 1930, is still in print today). Gallop was one of the first – perhaps THE first – person to champion international folk musics on commercial 78rpm records and it’s a shame he isn’t known more today. He had his particular tastes for sure, but his series of articles for The Gramophone in the 1930s are pieces I turn to for inspiration, once I had read of their existence (thanks to Paul Vernon’s articles and books mentioning Gallop, I found copies of my own). In fact, in the November 1930 issue of The Gramophone, Gallop recommends two Basque recordings by this very band, including this record, to his staid, British audience.
For more of Gallop’s legacy and Spanish regional music from this era, seek out the Voice of Spain CD on Heritage, the only broad collection of Spanish regional 78s from this period that I know of (though there are 3-4 nice cuts scattered about the Secret Museum series). Unfortunately, while it contains terrific music from nearby Asturias and Santander, it does not contain any of the Basque recordings that Gallop loved so much.
Coupling Number: AE 2467
Face Number: 2-260706
Matrix Number: BJ1692
April 23, 2007
At first, this baile vasco starts off with a typically enjoyable folkdance melody featuring the pandareta, the Basque tambourine, and the regional diatonic accordion, the triki-trixa.
But it’s the beautifully jolting vocal performance by Ms. Narbaiza that’s the real stunner. Whether Columbia’s engineer, who recorded these musicians from Eibar in what seems to me to be the early 1930s, had the microphone up a little too close, or whether Ms. Narbaiza’s energy simply couldn’t be contained is something we’ll never know. The music obviously speaks for itself.
Issue Number: A 5181
Matrix Number: C 8156-2