January 4, 2014
I’m starting off 2014 with what I believe is a pretty exceptional rarity. Certainly it’s one of the earliest commercial recordings of regional music from the highlands of Western Sumatra made by the Minangkabau people, known as Urang Minang in the local language. With most of the local recording industry at the time based in Java and Singapore, we are lucky that music of the Minang, a matrilineal, Islamic culture primarily based in the Minangkabau Highlands, was set to shellac. But more on that in a moment.
Traditional music practiced by the Minangkabau, or the “People of the Plains,” is varied – there are classical songs for the bamboo flute (salung or saluang), gong and drum ensembles (talempong) and numerous other types, and the music varies from the highlands to the coast. This track features the one-stringed rebab fiddle, the salung flute, and the puput or pupuik, a rice-stalk reed instrument. There are three main styles of Sumatran rebab music: rebab pasisie, rebab piaman, and rebab darek. The first two are music of the coast, and the latter is inland rebab music. While I’m not certain which style this is, it’s a lovely example of a kind of insistent and droning nature of Minangkabau music, with ornamented playing by the salung and puput (one of which is very much in the distance), augmenting the string.
For the sake of documentation, I retained the original spelling on the label, though the Indonesian alphabet’s spelling system was changed in 1947, following independence. The female singer, “Rapioen,” would today be spelled “Rapiun.” The title of the piece “Tandjoeng Sani” would be spelled “Tanjung Sani,” which refers to a small village of the same name in Western Sumatra. The label also lists “Boekit Tinggi,” which is the archaic spelling of the small city of Bukittinggi, formerly known as Fort de Kock, and where the musicians hailed from. “Djirek” in parentheses is the name of the 3-instrument ensemble – “Jirek” in today’s spelling.
This piece was recorded in May 1939 by the Tjap Angsa (meaning “Swan Brand”) label – it was recorded during their second recording session. According to the research by ethnomusicologist Philip Yampolsky, Tjap Angsa recorded most or all of their material in the city of Medan on the northern Sumatran coast, where they were partially based (their other headquarters was Bukittinggi). The label began in 1938 and issued several hundred discs, repressing some of them into the late 1940s. This disc was pressed in China, by the Chinese branch of EMI, who also supplied the engineers for the recording session.
While it would make sense for a Sumatran-based 78 label to record local musics such as those by the Minangkabau, other multinational labels did as well, for local distribution, including HMV, Columbia, and Odeon. Today, the Minang are a thriving culture of over 6 million with a very popular music scene (pop Minang is the name of the current genre). I don’t want readers to exoticize this music to the point that they think the musicians must live in mud huts. That said, Minangkabau music constituted a definitively minor percentage of 78rpm releases when compared to the thousands of krontjong discs released, as well as other popular and traditional styles from the region. Today, in fact most all 78s from Southeast Asia are scarce, no matter what style you’re talking about – even the full-fledged Western-style pop. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon – the tropics substantially increase the 78rpm attrition rate.
And this seems like the perfect time to bring up the recent release Longing For the Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia, compiled and edited by my friend David Murray and recently issued on Dust-to-Digital. I’ve only mentioned it on the ES Facebook page, but I should state that it’s one of the best looking and best sounding archival releases ever produced. I am biased – I provided some of my favorite rare Southeast Asian discs from my collection and did the transfers – but Dave, D-2-D and crew put an extraordinary amount of effort in that release. If you are interested in Southeast Asian music, you will truly appreciate it.
Label: Tjap Angsa
Issue Number: AM 28
Matrix Number: A6808
This post would just be a handful of sentences were it not for the published research of, and my correspondence with, Philip Yampolsky, as well as correspondence with Indonesian music historian Alfred Ticoalu.
December 15, 2013
I was planning on giving away something extra at the end of this year, as I’ve been pretty slow on updating the site for the past year or more. I didn’t realize it would take this trajectory though, and become a full-fledged mix. I blame the great Pixinguinha – after picking up one of his sought-after solo records on a trip to Brazil, and realizing that my glass-shattering (yes) Reeds collection will be coming out soon, I thought an international mix of flute music from 78s would be in order. You can download the mix in its entirety at the end of the post, but here are some brief notes on the tracks.
Ture Gudmundsson – Vållat (Sweden)
In the late 1940s, Swedish folk musician and music teacher Gudmundsson (1908-1979) went into the studio to record for Radiotjänst the first known commercial recordings featuring the Swedish bagpipes (säckpipa). At the same time, he also recorded a few short tunes on the local wooden flute, the spilåpipa, of which this is one. The “vållat” is traditionally a pastoral tune or herdsman’s song. I particularly like the sonorous recording space.
Ustad Misri Khan Jamali – Des on Alghoza (Pakistan)
A rare relic of Sindhi instrumental music from the early 50s, featuring the alghoza (alghoze, algohza, etc.), the double-flute played in Pakistan and northwestern India. Misri Khan Jamali (d. 1981) of Nawabshah was a master of the folk instrument. It’s extremely difficult to track down instrumentals of this sort on 78. I’ll leave it at that!
Pixinguinha – Recordando (Brazil)
What can be said in a few sentences about these incredible musicians that does any of them justice? This certainly goes for Alfredo Viana, aka Pixinguinha (1897-1973), arguably the most important Brazilian musician of the first half of the 20th century. Pixinguinha, originally from Rio de Janeiro, helped to popularize choro music, the jazz-influenced, deft, and highly syncopated music played mainly by flute, cavaquinho or bandolim, and guitar (though saxophone and light percussion are important as well). But Pixinguinha also was adept at all kinds of music including samba, jazz, Brazilian song styles, and eventually became the bandleader for Victor records throughout the 1930s. Most recordings by Pixinguinha are either with a band, or as a duo, such as his excellent recordings on saxophone with Benedito Lacerda’s band throughout the 1940s. His solo recordings are less common. Hell, none of them are common, and most of them are impossible. This choro was recorded ca. 1935, and features Luperce Miranda on bandolim and Tute on guitar.
John Griffin – Kitty’s Favorite (Ireland)
Griffin, originally from County Roscommon, was usually listed on various record labels as “The 5th Avenue Busman.” Besides being a real New York City driver on the 5th Avenue bus line, he was primarily a singer of comic songs. However, on November 11, 1926, he cut this and three other energetic flute solos for the Victor company. Piano accompaniment by Lew Shilkret.
Abia Themba – Moody River Kwela (South Africa)
An excellent example of a pennywhistle kwela piece from the height of the kwela craze, ca. 1961. Accompanied by what sounds like a mandolin, this was issued on the South African Envee label, which was associated with the Trutone label. Quite an intro!
Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto – Candelaria (Colombia)
Quantic states in one of his important cumbia compilations that Colombia kept pressing 78s up until 1979 or so, because jukeboxes were so prevalent around the country. That has to be the latest date on Earth for circulating 78s, I think, though maybe there’s a comparable situation somewhere. Regardless, what a legacy! This piece, an early recording by a group that’s received some well-earned success in recent years, features several players on the gaita, or kuisi, the fipple flute made from a cactus stem, and played along the coastal plain of the country.
I Flautisti – Rita Impertinente (Italy)
“Naughty Rita” was one of just four tracks recorded by a mysterious little ensemble that likely featured one G. Crapanzano, the author of most of I Flautisti’s tunes. Featuring flute, piccolo, banjo, and guitar, the group recorded their entire output on June 1, 1928 at Liederkranz Hall on 58th Street.
Txistularis de San Sebastián y Rentería – Aurresku (Basque Country, Spain)
Here’s a return to the stately folk music of País Vasco, ca. 1930, featuring the light sound of the three-hole txistu flutes and the drumming of the tabor. The aurresku is in fact a Basque courtship dance, and particularly nice is the break at 1:29 or so.
Duje Dandas Gyula – Šarisky Čardaš – 2 častka (Slovakia)
This is the only record I’ve ever come across that features the massive fujara, the Slovakian shepherd’s flute. However, it doesn’t sound quite like the modern fujara recordings I’ve heard, where overtones are produced in the same manner as you might hear on a didgeridoo. Instead, this has a fairly light clarinet-like sound. So, apparently Dandas Gyula was playing it straight on this one, it seems. There is a discrepancy here, however: in contrast to the record’s label, Richard Spottswood’s Ethnic Music on Records discography lists Gyula’s instrument as the furulya, which is a Hungarian wooden flute. I’m on the fence, as the furulya seems to have a higher pitch than the instrument featured here. Was Columbia trying to market the Hungarian furulya to Slovakians hoping to hear the fujara? Still, it’s an interesting recording made in November 1919 – the lurching piano chords reminding me of some of the more demented Conlon Nancarrow pieces, for some reason. Unless that’s the DayQuil taking its toll.
Trio de Quenas y Arpa – Lejos de Tí (Peru)
“Far from you” is the title translation for this wistful Peruvian folk piece featuring, just as the label states, a prize-winning trio of two Andean flutes (quenas) and harp. It was recorded on June 27, 1930, in Lima. If you missed my post on early Peruvian folk music, you can check it here.
Shozan Abe and Dancho Ogura – Oiwake (Japan)
An early 1930s recording from Columbia Records in Japan, featuring Shozan Abe and Dancho Ogura on shakuhachi flutes. The end-blown, vertical, bamboo shakuhachi have been documented in Japan since the 8th century Nara period. This piece appears to be an instrumental portion of an “oiwake” folk song.
Palladam Sanjeeva Rao – Manasu Swadhina Mina (India)
India has given the world some incredible flute instrumentalists, including Pannalal Ghosh, T.R. Mahalingam, and the great Palladam Sanjeeva Rao (1882-1962) of Tamil Nadu. This piece, from ca. 1932 or so, is in the raga Sankarabharanam.
Modiseng and Tswana Men – Godumaduma Gwa Mosadi (Botswana)
One of my favorite pieces of music ever recorded, I think – it’s incredible and captivating until the last second of music and the errant recording noise. Hugh Tracey, unsurprisingly, was the person who captured this beautiful dance for flutes ca. 1948, performed by Tswana men who stand in a circle while playing.
Joan Sharp – The Fool’s Jig (England)
Joan Sharp was the daughter of folklorist Cecil Sharp, who played a crucial role in the revival of folk music in 20th century England. On this recording for Columbia ca. 1930 (issued one-sided on a disc with violinist Elsie Avril), she plays the three-hole pipe and tabor.
Special thanks to Sanae (and Cormac).
- Ture Gudmundsson – Vållat (Sweden)
- Ustad Misri Khan Jamali – Des on Alghoza (Pakistan)
- Pixinguinha – Recordando (Brazil)
- John Griffin – Kitty’s Favorite (Ireland)
- Abia Themba – Moody River Kwela (South Africa)
- Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto – Candelaria (Colombia)
- I Flautisti – Rita Impertinente (Italy)
- Txistularis de San Sebastián y Rentería – Aurresku (Basque, Spain)
- Duje Dandas Gyula – Šarisky Čardaš – 2 častka (Slovakia)
- Trio de Quenas y Arpa – Lejos de Tí (Peru)
- Shozan Abe and Dancho Ogura – Oiwake (Japan)
- Palladam Sanjeeva Rao – Manasu Swadhina Mina (India)
- Modiseng and Tswana Men – Godumaduma Gwa Mosadi (Botswana)
- Joan Sharp – The Fool’s Jig (England)
Radiotjänst RA 124 (Rtj 2947); Columbia KCE 20012 (CKP.5066); Odeon 11.204 (4869); Victor 79015-B (BVE-36682); Envee NV 3326 (T. 11947); CBS 2464 (11-01-475); Victor 14-81309-A (BVE-45600); Regal RS 1303 (K 1547); Columbia E-4657 (85688); Victor 30335 (XVE-58847); Columbia 41097-F (70669); Columbia LBE 32 (WEI 2386); Gallotone/Singer GE.994 T (ABC.3204-B); Columbia DB 226 (WA 10544).
November 10, 2013
It’s been some time since I’ve posted a new track, though that’s entirely due to a soul-crushing schedule – time to pick it up. Here’s something that’s rare, infrequently recorded in the early days, musically interesting, and from an area that I haven’t yet featured on Excavated Shellac: the early music of Panama.
While Panama’s isthmus connects Central and South America, it’s music has influences from all over. You’ll understandably hear direct influences from Spain and Amerindian peoples, but also from Africa. There was a constant stream of people moving through the famous El Camino Real from the 1500s, as the route connected South America with the Caribbean. Many of those travelers were African slaves. Railroad construction in the 1800s and the Canal construction brought immigrants from various parts of the world to the region, further expanding the variety of Panama’s population. Two types of local Panamanian music have African roots – the tamborito, and the cumbia Panameña, the music featured here.
Perhaps the most apparent difference between Panamanian cumbia and the Colombian cumbia is the drumming. Heavy drums play a part in both the cumbia of Panama and also the tamborito – yet you’ll hear in this example a very loose, easy-going feel, unlike a lot of rapidly-paced Colombian ensembles. The cumbia in Panama is classically a couples dance, and the Quinteto Istmeño (“istmeño” = isthmus) here features horns, drums, percussion, accordion, and guitar. The title, “Marañon,” translates to “cashew.”
Who recorded in Panama in the early days? It turns out almost no one, as far as I can tell. The few remaining examples of regional Panamanian music actually recorded in the country seem to have been recorded exclusively by Victor, who had strong, established markets in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, and who also recorded less frequently in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Victor made two very brief stops in Panama, in March of 1928, and in April of 1930, when this track was recorded. All told, the company recorded a scant total of 21 records in Panama. That’s it – just 21. Sure, Victor marketed several other discs to Panama of band music, largely recorded in New York, but only 21 discs worth of original material was recorded in Panama before 1930…and possibly until WWII. By comparison, at that time thousands of Argentine discs were available, recorded by numerous companies big and small.
Just two of these Panamanian discs were kept alive in the ensuing decades, reissued and repressed on the RCA Victor label. I know of no other early company that recorded in Panama. However, in those 21 discs are truly beautiful examples of unique, local music – tamboritos, danzons by small orchestras, the arresting mejorana music played with the small guitar known as the socavón, and the cumbia Panameña.
Grupo Istmeño – Marañon
For a great tamborito from the same series, visit Sonidos Perdidos!
Catalog Number: 46927-B
Matrix Number: XVE-58771
This record was originally purchased and sold at the Albert Lindo sporting goods store of Panama.
August 31, 2013
Sometimes in the early days of recording, companies would temporarily change the names of certain bands on their releases, possibly unbeknownst to the performers themselves. Often it was to appeal to a different cultural market, and this happened in particular with Eastern European instrumental tunes, as with an instrumental there was obviously no language issue to prevent cross-marketing. For example, I’ve seen Slovakian bands renamed as Lithuanian bands, and their instrumentals re-pressed in a company’s Lithuanian series. Many tunes that were ostensibly Polish and issued in a company’s Polish catalog, were re-pressed in a Ukrainian series and added to the Ukrainian roster – and vice versa. And the same with “Russian” discs, “Lemko” instrumentals – the list goes on. It was kind of a mess, when you look at the data, and it happened frequently. Luckily, discographers such as Richard Spottswood spent years figuring these details out, looking at ledgers, cross-checking information, and thus solving a lot of mysteries.
Here’s a terrific polka by a Lithuanian band of actual anthracite coal miners, from central-eastern Pennsylvania, specifically Mahanoy City. The Mahanoy City Lithuanian Miner’s Band began recording in 1928 for Victor, and their last sessions appear to have been around March of 1933 for Columbia, when this disc, one of their last, was recorded in New York. The musicians on this particular track (I hear two violins, brass, bass, clarinet, and trumpet, at least) are not all known, but we do have some names from this session: Frank Yotko (usually credited as the leader of the band), Adomas Šaukevičius, J. Zack, and A. Shuck (possibly the same as Šaukevičius). According to the liner notes from Spottswood’s out-of-print New World LP Old Country Music in a New Land: Folk Music of Immigrants of Europe and the Near East, the Manahoy band were crucial participants in worker’s rights at the time, as they would let miners know when a strike was declared by traveling from one mine entrance to another, and playing in front of them.
Interesting, then, that this record was not issued as being by the Manahoy band, and instead issued as the Shenandoah Lithuanian Miner’s Band. This was not a cross-cultural marketing technique. The town of Shenandoah and Manahoy City are only about 2 miles away from each other, and both were mining towns with significant populations of Lithuanian immigrants. The Manahoy band had records issued as the “Lietuvių Tautiškas Orkestra,” the “Polish Novelty Orchestra,” the “Russian Novelty Orchestra,” and they even issued a disc titled “Shenandorio Polka.” One wonders why the small geographic change. Perhaps because the towns are so close to one another (Shenandoah is in fact technically part of West Manahoy Township) it was understood by locals to be the same band!
For more traditional and often rural Eastern European music made in the 20s-30s in the US by immigrants, check the Resources page under Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Issue Number: 16280-F
Matrix Number: w113675
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.