August 27, 2013
Of the many hundreds – maybe even thousands – of mbaqanga or “jive” records that were issued in South Africa from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, most fell quite effortlessly into two camps: “sax jive,” which was usually instrumental and based around a saxophone lead, and “vocal jive” which broadly covered a wide range of vocal groups, from the well-known Dark City Sisters or the Mahotella Queens, to the lesser known yet no less wonderful Jabulani Quads, Zoo Lake Rockers, or the Beauty Queens.
There are variants, of course, to this rule – there’s plenty of jive with electric guitar as well as earlier, “pennywhistle jive” or kwela which is really its own genre. Collector Michael Kieffer once played me a terrific jive 78 with a tuba solo! But, one of the most fascinating subgenres, and one which only very occasionally made it to 78rpm records, was the rough-hewn sound of Zulu “violin jive.” While the sax and vocal jive records were generally popular, polished music for dancing, the early violin jive records sounded like they were from the countryside, and not just because of the presence of the instrument itself – the way these artists seemingly scrape their instrument is particularly raw.
One of the only early examples of writing I could find on South African popular music with violin that goes beyond a brief mention, appears in an article by ethnomusicologist David Rycroft in 1977.* In it, he describes a South African violin player in the 60s playing what was ostensibly a store-bought Western-style violin with steel strings, and with a homemade bridge and tuning pegs. The violin is held against the collarbone and according to Rycroft, was used as a “functionary replacement” of the earlier gourd-bows of the region (the ugubhu or the umakhweyana). Rycroft mostly studied the violin’s use as accompaniment to a particular type of vocal singing, and did not explicitly mention that it had been used in popular jive music, gumboot music, or had been issued on record. The Tiger Boys String Band, featured in this post, issued several records on the Quality label. Other great early violin artists included Richard Mtembu and the Durban Lions. Violin jive kept going until at least the early 1970s. For two excellent later examples, listen here, and here!
Label: Quality (South Africa)
Issue Number: XU. 381
Matrix Number: 7420
*Rycroft, David. (1977). Evidence of Stylistic Continuity in Zulu ‘Town’ Music. In Essays For a Humanist: An Offering to Klaus Wachsmann (pp. 216-260). New York, NY: Townhouse Press.
August 18, 2013
It’s been too long since a new Excavated Shellac post, and I can only blame that on the usual excuse: I’ve got way too much to do. However, happily, a variety of 78s keep rolling in, and now that I have a little more time to devote I’m back at it, with several new posts in the works. Collecting old records is both a blessing and a wonderful, celestial curse. So here we are again, bending our ear toward the past…
The music of Egypt before the 1930s is often cited as a Middle Eastern music “golden age,” with some of the greatest singers in the history of recording at top form, both in the classical sphere as well as the world of light classical and taqtuqa songs. I’ve written about women superstars such as Munira al-Mahdiyya before, but in the 1920s, some of the greatest male singers were also active, such as Sayyid Darwish with his renowned adwâr, and today’s focus, Abdel Latif El-Banna. These names may not mean much to western audiences unless they are reasonably familiar with traditional Middle Eastern music, but they were incredibly popular forces in music and stage, bridging a gap between classical forms and modern ones.
El-Banna, born in 1884, was one of the most popular singers of the sentimental, light song form, filled with melismatic ahaat. Sometimes called “Bulbul Egypt” (the nightingale of Egypt), what’s interesting is that El-Banna is frequently described as having a high, feminine voice, and deliberately singing in the style of women Egyptian singers. His popularity seemed to last only about a decade. He began recording for the Baidaphon company – the independent label based in Lebanon – sometime in the early to mid-1920s it seems, and continued until the early 30s, before disappearing from records (as one source put it). His legacy was at least 60 issued records, possibly many more. He died in 1969 or 1970 (two sources had conflicting dates).
This piece, the title of which loosely translates to “My Heart, Since the Day I Saw You,” was probably recorded in the mid-1920s – certainly in the pre-microphone acoustic era. It’s both sides of a clean copy and a superb recording. Despite the fact that singers of this time had to bellow into a massive horn, at the end of which sat a diaphragm that vibrated, which in turn moved a needle that etched itself into a rotating wax disc, and despite the fact that these wax-etched masters were mass-pressed onto rough discs covered in a bug excretion….the results are still tremendous.
Abdel Latif El-Banna – Alfouad Min Yom Chafek, Pts 1 & 2
Catalog / Matrix numbers: B 083402/3
Thanks to Rheim Alkadhi for translation help!
July 8, 2013
The mystery of this record rests in the biography of the singer. The late 19th and early 20th century Hindustani recording and performance circuit was rife with baiji-s[i], most notably, Kesarbai Kerkar (check out Ian Nagoski’s recent release of some of her classic 78s), Moghubai Kurdikar, Laxmibai Jadhav, and Gangubai Hanagal. While “Saraswatibai” would have not been an uncommon name at the time, the two Saraswatibai-s I encounter most often that were active around the time of this recording are the daughter of Abdul Karim Khan, Saraswatibai Rane, and his last wife, Saraswatibai Mirajkar. Given that these Saraswatibai-s were rather well-known singers, I concluded that Faterpekar was an alias of the better known Saraswatibai-s. However, a quick comparison with recordings of Rane and Mirajkar led me to conclude otherwise. So who was she?
The recorded output of Saraswatibai Faterpekar is likely scant given her relative obscurity in the literature. She’s never mentioned in the most common sources. There is one reference to a singer with the same name in K.P. Mukerji’s memoir The Lost World of Hindustani Music, which suggests that a Saraswatibai Faterpekar was a student of Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan of Bombay’s Bhendibazaar Gharana (school). Curiously, no histories of the Bhendibazaar cite her as being Khadim Hussain Khan’s student.
Suresh Chandvankar (from the Society of Indian Record Collectors) suggests that Saraswatibai was Goan (like Kesarbai and Moghubai), from the village of Fatarpe and arrived in Bombay, the hub of the burgeoning entertainment industry in the 1920s to seek fame and fortune in the big city. She must have been well-regarded at the time, as she was able to secure high-profile concerts. Micheal Kinnear’s Bio-Discography of Abdul Karim Khan has a reproduction of a 1938 concert poster where she headlines a show the day before the matchless Abdul Wahid Khan (Abdul Karim’s cousin!). This is about all I know about Saraswatibai Faterpekar’s biography. Perhaps readers of this blog will fill in the glaring gaps, giving us a better picture of the woman behind the voice.
The present recording, from the Columbia “Special Western Indian Recording” GE-1500 series, was likely recorded around 1933. Saraswatibai’s voice is ripe with rasa (literally the “juice” of aesthetic expression), a rich tone and articulation. Her taan-s (rapid vocalic passages) towards the end of this track rivals the best singers of her time. Basant is a late evening raga, so bask in Saraswatibai’s performance after 9pm!
[i] “Bai” was a common suffix added to women’s names in western India, especially those in the performing (singer/dancer) communities.
Issue Number: GE 1518
Matrix Number: WEI 2584-1
Additionally, Suresh Chandvankar of the Society of Indian Record Collectors has graciously given us some additional scans from a catalog:
It’s about time that we featured another lively piece from Martinique…or Martinique via Paris. Martinique has been a French possession since 1815 without interruption, although previous to that, it had been occupied by the French off and on since the 1600s. Today, it’s technically an overseas region of France, like Réunion and Guadeloupe. The population of Martinique is said to be descended mainly from West African slaves, as well as immigrants from a variety of cultures, including European, Carib, Chinese, and Tamil, among others. Creole is spoken, though the official language is of course French. This is all basic information, but it can be helpful when considering the complex origins of Martinique’s singular music, which, while undoubtedly influenced by the French, occupies a unique place in the history of jazz.
Orchestral biguine, the music featured on this track (as well as the name of a dance), dates from the 19th century, developed in the city of Saint Pierre. Musically, it is directly related to a very different sounding traditional drum music of Martinique also known as biguine, which is descended from West Africa. Perhaps the quintessential element in the orchestral type of biguine is the wonderfully weepy clarinet – it’s unmistakeable.
In France, beginning in the late 1920s, there began almost a Martiniquan music craze, centered around the music played at several clubs, particularly the Bal Colonial on Rue Blomet. The first discs made of this music, mainly those recorded by the giant of early Martiniquan biguine, Alexandre Stellio (1885-1939), ushered in what is considered the “golden age” of Martiniquan jazz. The standard repertoire of these bands, who often traded musicians and vocalists, included biguines, mazurkas, and waltzes, recorded from roughly 1929-1940. They are some of the most spirited examples of hot jazz from the Caribbean, or maybe jazz anywhere, for that matter, and were performed by the best Martiniquan and Guadaloupean musicians around. Martiniquan music represented cosmopolitan Paris.
Eugène Delouche (1909-1975) was one of the great clarinetists to appear on record just after Alexandre Stellio made his first recordings. Delouche studied music in school in Fort-de-France. The violin was his first instrument, but after he heard Alexandre Stellio, the story goes that he immediately switched to clarinet, and was one of Stellio’s very few rivals within a short time. It was Stellio himself who beckoned Delouche to replace him in the Martiniquan band for the Colonial Exposition in 1931. Within a year, Delouche was recording his own band for the French division of the Odeon label.
Delouche had a lengthy career. He continued to record extensively in the post-WWII era, particularly on his own Ritmo label with his Creole jazz band. He was also a trained cobbler, and continued to repair shoes until his death in Saint-Ouen, where he was also working as a taxi driver.
Many great examples of early Martiniquan jazz have been reissued. These reissues, with the exception of a terrific Arhoolie release (Au Bal Antillais), have mainly been in France, and many have now gone out of print. Fremeaux, thankfully, has kept their three 2-CD sets of the history of biguine in print, as well as the complete recordings of Alexandre Stellio, and those are findable.
This track, originally recorded around the middle of 1932, looks to have once been reissued years ago on a CD titled “Creole Orchestras In Paris” that seems to be long out of print. So, I thought I’d resurrect it here with a new transfer from my copy.
Catalog Number: 250.251
Matrix Number: KI 5474
May 25, 2013
Early Cajun recordings are really something else – and in the US collecting them is sort of akin to collecting the rarest American blues records, except, quite possibly, even more rarified. There are a finite amount of early Cajun 78s, and when an exceptional Cajun disc turns up it is almost always played to death, with not one shiny groove.
I’ll say upfront that I am not a Cajun collector. Though I love the music, my expertise is elsewhere. That said, I’ve managed to acquire a few rare Cajun gems that I treasure, by artists that I love. Most have already been lovingly transferred to CD (see the Resources page for in-print CDs of early Cajun music) – but I wanted to post this one, which has not made it to CD yet (though some mediocre mp3s float around) by one of the early Cajun greats: accordionist Joseph Falcon and his wife, the guitar player Cléoma Falcon (née Breaux).
Rather than restate what’s been written by many other Cajun music experts, musicians, and writers, I’ll keep it very brief. Joseph and Cléoma were the very first Cajun musicians to ever record a 78, the oft-cited (and fantastic) tune “Allons à Lafayette,” in April of 1928. They had more or less a steady career on 78s as a duo until Cléoma passed away in 1941. Joseph continued his career until his death in 1965.
This track, the name of which is commonly spelled “Sosten,” “Sosthene” or “Sothene,” is a waltz in G-sharp played on a C-sharp accordion, and was recorded in New Orleans on December 22, 1934. This was the Falcon’s very first song recorded for their first session for Decca Records. It has since been covered by many contemporary Cajun artists such as Michel Doucet and Wayne Thibodeaux. Lyrics for this song are online, but they are not quite the same as Falcon’s version, although Falcon’s version does begin with the standard line: Oh, Madame Sosthene, mais donnez moi Alida; cette la j’ai aime depuis l’age de quatorze ans (Oh, Madame Sosthene, give Alida to me; the one I’ve loved since the age 14). The Falcons would record 40 songs for Decca over the next 3 years.
Novice that I am, Dave Murray pointed out to me (and I’m paraphrasing) that the notes on the bass side of the accordion, when played in 2nd position, create a harmonic clash on the resolve. So at the end of each phrase, you can hear a distinct clash between Cléoma’s guitar chord and Joseph’s accordion.
Catalog Number: 17000
Matrix Number: 39185-A
Thanks to Dave Murray!
While this beautifully frenzied piece might be a challenge for some, I think it could be one of the more historically interesting tracks I’ve posted in a while. This recording is among the very first ever made in Uganda, meant for Ugandans. It’s exceptionally rare, and it has an interesting history.
In 1930, there was a mad rush by the four major European record companies to explore the East African market, likely based somewhat on the sales success of the Gramophone Company’s first recordings of East African musicians (Zanzibari musicians, to be specific) made in Mumbai, beginning in 1927. By the time Spring of 1930 came around, the Gramophone Company had sent engineers back to East Africa to make additional recordings, Columbia was recording in April of 1930 on Zanzibar and in Dar Es Salaam in Tanganyika, and Pathé would soon ship Kenyan musicians from Mombasa to record taarab music in Marseilles. The successful German conglomerate Odeon was also recording in East Africa in the Spring of 1930, having sent engineers to Mombasa to record taarab music, but – unlike the other companies – also to Kampala, Uganda, to make that country’s first commercial recordings.
The country now known as Uganda was, in 1930, a British protectorate, and would remain one until its independence in 1962. It fell under British rule during the infamous period known as the “Scramble For Africa,” and in 1894 it officially became known as the British Protectorate of Uganda. During the run-up to British occupation, Protestant ministers began appearing in the country as missionaries, some of whom were hosted by the CMS, the Church Missionary Society, a Protestant organization founded in 1799 as The Society for Missions to Africa and the East. Naturally, the relationship between the church and the local population must have been (and likely still is) extraordinarily complex, and it would be a mistake for me to expound upon it here, as I can’t claim expertise in the slightest.
But, getting back to Kampala in 1930: on their trip, the German engineers from Odeon likely went to Mombasa in Kenya first, where they recorded 215 individual titles (the equivalent of 107+ 78s), after which they went to Kampala where they recorded a comparatively slight 60 titles. By June of the following year, Odeon had pressed 108 discs of music from Mombasa – virtually every master take from the sessions – and only 23 discs of music from Uganda. These records seem to be all we have from the Uganda of 1930, and the only commercially recorded Ugandan music captured for the next 8 years or so, when the British HMV company began recording in Uganda for the first time.
Who organized these varied recordings? Surprisingly: the church, specifically the Church Missionary Society. Renowned African ethnomusicologist Klaus Wachsmann wrote about these discs in 1958, for the Journal of the International Folk Music Council:
The western pattern of mechanical and commercial distribution of music was late in reaching Uganda – the Uganda Broadcasting Service, for instance, started only in 1954 – and thus the musical prestige held by the Church and her school system was – but for indigenous folk music – hardly challenged from any quarter.
The contents of the first set of gramophone records made in Uganda in 1931 throw light on this issue. The set is remarkable in that it includes tribal African music of an extraordinarily pure and characteristic kind, and that these recordings were distributed through a subsidiary organisation of the Church whose prestige added much to the happy reception which these recordings were given. This was probably the first occasion on which the Church showed sympathy with indigenous folk song.
Paul Vernon, in his article on Odeon Records, found evidence that these recordings sold quite well (except for the church choir recordings, which apparently didn’t sell at all!) and local distribution was through the Uganda Bookshop. About 500 copies each were pressed, and there were plans to release the remaining tracks over the following two years, though this is unclear, as in 1931, Odeon merged with most of the operating record industry in Europe to form EMI.
I have a few of these Odeons from Kampala, and they are all starkly different in style. They feature the Christian choir from the Namirembe Cathedral, unaccompanied canoe songs, and today’s example, traditional songs featuring the thumping, plucked strings of the endongo bowl lyre, and the jittery bowing of Ugandan one-stringed tube-fiddles known as ndingidi. In this case, they are also accompanied by what sounds like a flute in the background. Hugh Tracey, when he recorded the same group over 20 years later, marveled at the group’s regal adornment of their instruments. The ndingidi and the endongo lyres were decorated with colobus monkey hair, and the hollow wood bowls of the endongo were laced with water lizard skin (the lacing is usually made from cow or calf skin). This is, in effect, royal court music, as the endongo has had a long association with Ugandan kings. These Odeon discs were well recorded in sonorous spaces, and if you’ve not heard this style of music before, you are in for a unique experience.
I am indebted to British ethnomusicologist and an expert on Ugandan music, Peter Cooke, who has enlightened me with regard to these particular recordings, and supplied the bulk of relevant information here, along with the works of Werner Graebner. After listening to the disc and examining the label, Peter explained that John Kasirie was the leader of this group, which was known as Abadongo ba kabaka, or “the King’s endongo band,” a changing group of musicians known to have been active since before the mid-19th century.
Peter introduced me to his colleague Dr. Sam Kasule at the University of Leicester, who graciously took some time and summarized the lyrics. The piece itself, the title of which is more properly written as “Ssabasajja omwana wa Nabijano,” translates to “Your Majesty, Child of Nabijano,” with “Nabijano” being another name for the Queen mother. A praise song, the singers extol the virtues of both the king and his mother, using the short form of Nabijano, or “Naba.” They declare that the king is different, special, and great (wanjawulo). The singer invites his musicians to join him in these praises, and they praise the Queen mother’s Mbogo – buffalo – clan (Dr. Kasule explained that in Buganda, princes belong to their mother’s clans).
Catalog Number: A242052b
Matrix Number: BrO 352
With many thanks to Peter Cooke and Sam Kasule. Please check out Peter’s illuminating liner notes to the excellent Honest Jons release Something Is Wrong, as well as his CD on Topic, The King’s Musicians: Royalist Music From Buganda-Uganda.
Above: A group of musicians from Kyambogo National Teachers’ College, ca. 1967-1968. The endongo player is Bulasio Busuulwa, and the ndingidi player to his left is Christopher Kizza. (Photo by Peter Cooke.)
Below: Ugandan lyre ensemble, ca. 1949-1953. Photo taken by Klaus Wachsmann.
May 15, 2013
After a much needed 3-month break to regroup, I’m back with a number of posts either completed or in the works. So, stay tuned and keep checking in – the ES Facebook page is also back in action.
Starting off this flurry of activity is an intense, trance-like guitar and vocal piece from what was once Portuguese East Africa, now the present-day Republic of Mozambique. Under Portuguese rule until independence in 1975, Mozambique is known for several singular types of music, among the most well-known being the timbila music of the Chopi people, played with mbila xylophones, and the urban music known as marrabenta.
Like its neighbor South Africa, Mozambique is a large country with many musical styles, cultures, and influences. Very little has been written about traditional Mozambican records made prior to independence and the 45 rpm era – although, one major and unsurprising exception is the writing and recordings made by Hugh Tracey. Tracey’s recordings of Chopi timbila performances, for example, are renowned, and many of them have since been lovingly reissued on Sharp Wood CDs. He wrote a book about the music of the Chopi which sadly remains out of print, as with many of his other publications. Lesser known are the tracks Tracey recorded by the Tswa people, and the amazingly beautiful “sambas” and “rhumbas” by groups of musicians from Manjacaze.
Also lesser known are the host of guitarists and singers who played what was then known as “Portuguese Shangaan guitar” – the hard edged style that would eventually become known as marrabenta, usually played in the southern regions of the country. The Shangaan are a sub-group of the Tsonga people, though “Shangaan” is also considered a variant name for the Tsonga language. And the word “marrabenta” actually derives from the Portuguese word “rebentar,” which means “to break”…as in, these players are playing their guitars so hard and for so long, that they’ll break the strings!
For the Gallotone label, Tracey recorded many excellent guitarists and singers who played this proto-marrabenta music, mainly in the 50s, and some have found their way to CD. But other South African commercial labels also recorded “Shangaan guitar,” and those have been lost to time for the most part. I cannot determine exactly when this style first appeared on disc, but I am guessing by the late 1940s there were several Tsonga/Shangaan guitar discs in circulation.
This obscure track dates from the early 1960s, sung by the “Virgin of Mozambique,” a woman named Rosa D. Mataveia. It was issued on the USA label, which was a South African label in the Gallotone family. I could find nothing on her history or background, but if this is all she left us, then we can still be thankful.
Label: USA (South Africa)
Catalog Number: USA.187
Matrix Number: ABC.19648
For more early Mozambican guitar, definitely check out Forgotten Guitars from Mozambique on Sharp Wood (from original tapes). Opika Pende contains two cuts from 78s (Disc 4, Tracks 4 & 11), and so does The Secret Museum of Mankind (East Africa, Tracks 2 & 18), as well as the Musique Populaire Africaine CD on Buda Musique (Tracks 1-2). And check the Sharp Wood CDs for additional Chopi, Tswa, and other Mozambique field recordings by Tracey.