squadraAfter Alan Lomax returned from his famed 1954-1955 recording sojourn through Italy, he saved some of the highest praise for a particular type of singing from the coastal region of Liguria and the port city of Genoa: trallalero. Anyone who has heard Lomax’s recordings will understand why, as they are a standout in his entire vast catalog. In the notes to the essential, expanded edition of Lomax’s trallalero recordings on CD, Italian Treasury: The Trallaleri of Genoa on Rounder (sadly out of print), Lomax is quoted as saying: I was literally blown away. […] I have discovered that this Ligurian style is probably one phase of music that is literally as old as human time. Yet, it was certainly recorded, decades earlier, on gramophone records.

Without running down the already excellent notes by Edward Neill, Goffredo Plastino, and Lomax, I’ll humbly attempt a brief description of the music for the uninitiated. Trallalero is a type of polyphonic vocal music that dates back centuries, though according to Mauro Balma in his notes to the two-volume Trallalero Genovese CD set of contemporary trallalero recordings, there has been little scholarly work on its history (at least, it seems, in English). Some claim it is related to the barzelletta, a type of music related to the frottola, a predecessor of the madrigal. By the early 20th century, the music was sung by various “squadre” or “teams” named after their respective neighborhoods, the members of which were often unionized longshoremen. Lomax’s CD, for example, contains recordings made at a “longshoremen’s inn.”

Traditionally, trallalero is sung by nine men, with five vocal parts, though there can be anywhere from 7-15 members in some groups, and more recent trallalero groups employ women. In the nine-man version, five of the voices are bass, or the bassi, which give a drone-like quality to the chorus. A tenor leads the group, followed by the most startling aspect of the trallalero sound, the sharp, high falsetto, sometimes known as “la donna” (the woman), according to Lomax. After the falsetto, there is the “chitarra” singer, who imitates the sound of a guitar, often singing into the backs of his fingers, for lack of a better description. Finally, there is a baritone. The name of the music is based on the syllables “tra-la-la,” which is often used in trallalero songs during vocal improvisations. The nine men stand in a circle. This is certainly for the purpose of eye contact, but again according to Balma, may have its origins with drinking songs sung around tables. It adds a visual element that cannot be captured by recordings alone. In fact, early recordings cannot possibly capture the magic of live trallalero singing, unfortunately. Massive bass drones sung by longshoremen, a piercing falsetto, men singing into their hands, standing in a circle, all singing counterpoint-heavy music with each other…it practically sounds fictional.

According to Balma and Edward Neill, the first trallalero recordings were made as late as 1928. That year, the Gramophone Company (and perhaps Pathé) recorded discs by the Squadra di Bel Canto Genova Quarto. In 1930, GramCo also recorded 6 discs by the Squadra di Canto Popolare Isola del Cantone. Meanwhile, Italian’s Odeon branch recorded the Squadra di Canto Popolare Genova Molassana. Some of these groups recorded for other labels, such as Excelsius. Apparently there were around 100 trallalero recordings made during the 78 rpm era. They are almost all incredibly difficult to find – I’ve seen about 6 in my life. Complicating things a little, not all of these tracks by these “squadre” were traditional trallalero tunes. Some of the groups recorded comic songs and tangos, and some songs had modern lyrics, even nationalist ones. Some tracks contained modern stanzas arranged in the old, folkloric style (even Lomax’s recordings contained a version of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”).

This situation muddies the waters and likely makes ethnomusicologists shake their heads. At any rate, this track, while it is not in perfect condition, I hope retains the original trallalero sound. It was recorded ca. December 1930 in Milan by the Squadra Nuova Sturla, who apparently formed in 1926. This recording was made under the auspices, it seems, of a man named Costanzo Carbone (1884-1955). Carbone was a journalist, playwright, and a lover of Genoan tradition. Several books about him exist, including one co-written by the aforementioned ethnomusicologist and trallalero expert Mauro Balma.

Squadra Nuova Sturla – E Scibben Che N’Emmo Ninte

If you’ve made it this far and have NOT heard the first track from Lomax’s trallalero collection, let me introduce you to a work of brilliance here. And for a terrific, fly-on-the-wall performance by a contemporary trallalero group that I like, click here. The only other early trallalero performance on an available CD that I know of is – of course – on the Secret Museum series, Volume 3, Track 4.


Label: Columbia
Issue Number: CQ 460
Matrix Number: WB 2840

Thanks to Mike Kieffer and Bill Dean-Myatt.

mamboOn the Opika Pende set, I included what I think is an excellent example of praise singing from Western Kenya featuring the nyatiti. This important instrument of the Luo people is an 8-stringed lyre that’s plucked like a lute, using quick repetitive phrases. The resonator is sometimes held against the player’s chest, sometimes not, but generally the player has small metallic rings attached to his foot, which are tapped against the body of the nyatiti. The short melodic phases (known as puch) and hard tapping make for a pulsing, driving musical experience, accompanied by loud and intense praise poetry. It’s a music for all significant occasions in Luo culture, and traditionally the musicians were itinerant. To hear a sample of the Opika Pende song on iTunes, click here. For a dynamic video of a present-day Luo praise poet, click here.

Today’s track is a musical development – an attempt to bring the nyatiti into the electric age via electric guitars (a lead, and a bass). It must have seemed a natural switch, to attempt to transform and update Luo praise singing with a non-traditional instrument. This certainly has happened all across Africa (and elsewhere), with often really interesting results. Sure, in some cases if a modern or more western instrument took hold, it transformed the older musical type into something that would often soon cease to exist. Varying opinions exist on that, but I am not a purist. Yet, in any case, I’m not sure if this switch to electric guitar ever really took hold – this is the only example I’ve come across. Even if it’s more common than I know, it’s something different to my ears and hopefully yours. While many link the sound of “benga” music back to the nyatiti, this is more of a precise interpretation of nyatiti praise music, just on electric instruments. It’s pretty killer.

The Mambo label was one of the first labels run by the important music entrepreneur and producer Arvindkumar P. Chandaran, who based his company and music store in town of Kericho, west of the Great Rift Valley. Chandaran’s name dots many East African 45 rpm labels (Hundhwe, Saba Saba, Stranger, Pwani, and Wachezaji, just to name a few), and as a producer he apparently was a driving force in popularizing benga, both with his slew of labels and his well-known Chandaran music store. While the 45 era in East Africa was staggering in terms of volume (as evidenced by the excellent Kentanza Vinyl site), the 78-era in East Africa was also incredible – dozens of small, privately owned labels were competing and releasing discs in varying amounts (often small amounts I bet). Most all are very difficult to find on 78 (though 45s were also issued by many of these labels): Mzuri, Rafiki, Robina, Tom Tom, Tejura, Festival, Twist, Equator Sound, Africa, Kenyans, African Voice, AGS, Nyota, CMS, Jogoo, Jambo…it goes on. I would say this 78 was recorded and pressed sometime during the early to mid-1960s.

Mambo Sweet Voice!

Akech Oyoshi with Odongo Elly – Oyoshi Kitegi Timne (Nyatiti)

NotesLabel: Mambo
Issue Number: MV 58
Matrix Number: APC 118 2H 1 670

Visual Iconography, Pt. 4

February 9, 2014


abreuAs I brought up in a previous post, there are very few existing early recordings of music from the islands in the Atlantic Ocean that have a history with Portugal or the Portuguese Empire: the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde. Maderia and the Azores are present-day autonomous regions of Portugal. No 78 rpm recordings of true Madeiran music were made. As for the Azores, the raw performances made by the Sears family in California on their own label appear to be some of the earliest existing recordings of Azorean folk music. Interestingly, the music of Cape Verde, a former colony, fared slightly better – but not much.

Cape Verde is geographically, historically, and at times throughout its history, politically connected with Africa. Once uninhabited, isolated islands, the forces behind the Portuguese Empire turned Cape Verde into a thriving pit stop for the Atlantic Ocean slave trade, as well as for trade in general. From the 15th century on, the transaction of thousands of West African slaves for goods from Europe occurred on Cape Verde. Though the practice continued until the late 1800s, it weakened as the islands instead became an important port and fuel re-supply station for transatlantic vessels. I briefly mention these points because Cape Verde, due to its geographical position and troubling history under colonialism, has a uniquely African-European, mixed “crioulo” population.

It also has a large diaspora. A substantial amount of Cape Verdean immigrants also ended up in New England, much like immigrants from the Azores. Like most, they carried their music with them. While many today associate Cape Verdean music with the incomparable and elegant Cesaria Evora, there is also strong string band tradition as well, featuring waltzes, mazurkas, marches, mornas, and polkas, played by fiddle-led bands.

From 1931-1933, two Cape Verdean string bands from New England were brought into Columbia Records’ studios in New York to make a total of 12 records. One band was Johnny Perry’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio (also credited as Johnny Perry’s Capeverdean Serenaders), who made a total of 8 records from early 1932 to late 1933 – a terrible time for the global record industry. The other was Augustus Abreu’s band, credited as Abrew’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio, who cut a lonely 4 discs in February of 1931. These records, featuring Abreu on fiddle, and uncredited musicians on guitars and sometimes cavaquinho, are now very rare, and uniquely present the earliest Cape Verdean music on disc.

Augustus Freitas Abreu, Sr., was born in 1897 on the Cape Verdean island of Fogo – essentially a large volcano. He immigrated to Massachusetts in 1920, joining his sister Candida and his brother Luiz, already living in the state. Augustus married Edna May Walker sometime before 1930, and they had 7 children. The Abreus moved between several towns in Massachusetts: New Bedford, Wareham, and Harwich on Cape Cod. Eventually, the family moved to California, where Augustus died in 1958. He and his wife, who passed away in 1978, are both buried in Sacramento.

As far as I can tell, there was no additional recording of any Cape Verdean music until the 1950s, when Cape Verdean mornas and other tunes likely recorded in Europe were issued on a Portuguese series on the Parlophone label. As nice as they are, the discs that I’ve heard, while led by fiddle, just don’t have the same character and sincerity as these early recordings.

Abrew’s Portuguese Instrumental Trio – Marcha do Golfo

Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 1127-X
Matrix Number: 112792

Thankfully, three additional Abrew’s tracks have made it to CD. Two are on the out-of-print Portuguese String Music, 1908-1931 CD/LP on Heritage (which also contains a fantastic track by Johnny Perry’s band). One of those same tracks is used on Marshall Wyatt’s in-print Old Hat CD, Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow. A third track is available on Rounder’s Raw Fiddle CD collection. Both that and the Heritage release are curated by Richard Spottswood. For more recent Cape Verdean fiddle music, you could hardly go wrong by checking out the recordings made by the late Travadinha.

Thanks to Russ Shor, Joao Gandar, and thanks to Amanda Raneo Chilaka’s book, “Early Cape Verdean and Portuguese Geneology of Harwich, MA.”

Rapioen – Tandjoeng Sani

January 4, 2014

Rapion Poepoet - Tandjoeng SaniI’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.

Rapioen – Tandjoeng Sani

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.

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.

radiotjanstTure 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!

odeonPixinguinha – 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.

thembaAbia 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.

gyulaDuje 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.

raoPalladam 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).


  1. Ture Gudmundsson – Vållat (Sweden)
  2. Ustad Misri Khan Jamali – Des on Alghoza (Pakistan)
  3. Pixinguinha – Recordando (Brazil)
  4. John Griffin – Kitty’s Favorite (Ireland)
  5. Abia Themba – Moody River Kwela (South Africa)
  6. Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto – Candelaria (Colombia)
  7. I Flautisti – Rita Impertinente (Italy)
  8. Txistularis de San Sebastián y Rentería – Aurresku (Basque, Spain)
  9. Duje Dandas Gyula – Šarisky Čardaš – 2 častka (Slovakia)
  10. Trio de Quenas y Arpa – Lejos de Tí (Peru)
  11. Shozan Abe and Dancho Ogura – Oiwake (Japan)
  12. Palladam Sanjeeva Rao – Manasu Swadhina Mina (India)
  13. Modiseng and Tswana Men – Godumaduma Gwa Mosadi (Botswana)
  14. Joan Sharp – The Fool’s Jig (England)

Download here:

Excavated Shellac: The Flute

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).


Grupo Istmeño – Marañon

November 10, 2013

quintetoistmenoIt’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!

Label: Victor
Catalog Number: 46927-B
Matrix Number: XVE-58771

This record was originally purchased and sold at the Albert Lindo sporting goods store of Panama.


MahanojausSometimes 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.

Mahanojaus Lietuviška Mainerių Orkestra – Storo Yono

Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 16280-F
Matrix Number: w113675

tigerboysOf 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!

Tiger Boys String Band – Odladla

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.

El-BannaIt’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

Label: Baidaphon
Catalog / Matrix numbers: B 083402/3

Thanks to Rheim Alkadhi for translation help!


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