September 22, 2012
One of the great things about Jamaican mento music – the local, popular music of Jamaica which first began appearing on record in the 1950s – is that, besides being a joy to listen to, it is extremely well documented. Not only are there a number of excellent CD reissues featuring many of the best mento performers that ever cut a record, but Michael Garnice’s Mento Music website is one of the most informative and complete resources on the subject. One can scarcely attempt to understand mento without digging into his site, and I gleaned most of this post directly from information therein.
As Garnice points out on his website, mento was a diverse music, and characteristics of it eventually led to ska and reggae. In essence, however, much of mento had a rural sound to it, with banjo, bamboo saxophones and clarinets, and a particular style of vocal delivery that was direct, even harsh at times. It often gets lumped in with calypso music from Trinidad. Record labels would bill mento bands as calypso bands on their records, and several mento artists had names that sounded like popular calypso artists, such as Lord Power, Lord Composer, and today’s featured artist, Count Lasher. The music, however, was decidedly different than most calypso. Perhaps the most obvious connection was mento’s lyrical content, which was often funny, at times bawdy, and often addressed topical issues of Jamaica that were important during what Garnice calls the “Golden Age” of mento, the 1950s.
Another interesting fact is the majority of early mento records were issued by local Jamaican labels, and were pressed in England (where there also was a Jamaican record-buying public). Kalypso, Chin’s, and Caribou were three popular independent labels, now quite difficult to find. There was also Calypsodisc, Hi-Lite, Times Record, Maracas, and Crystal, among others. The first and arguably the most important Jamaican label was MRS – Motta’s Recording Studio – which, although they issued only about fifty 78s, proved to be popular and influential. “Motta” was Stanley Beresford Brandon Motta, a businessman and shop owner from a family of Sephardic Jews in Kingston. He set up his studio in a woodworking factory in 1951 and began recording and issuing discs, which were pressed by Decca in London. The MRS label was discontinued around 1957, when mento’s popularity was waning.
Terence Parkins aka Count Lasher was a talented and significant mento star, though little biographical information on him has surfaced. He recorded at least 7 discs for MRS, and numerous others for Chin’s and Caribou (sometimes under the name “Count Lasha” or, occasionally, totally uncredited). He continued recording into the 70s and even issued reggae singles before passing away in 1977. This track features some terrific clarinet and guitar, as well as some nice banjo plunking. The lyrics address the issue of immigration by Jamaicans to England. Also important – it has never been reissued.
Issue Number: DSM.41
Matrix Number: SM-146-1
I’m proud to present an extensive and extremely informative guest post written by Mark (Ji-Hoon) Suk, a collector and researcher based in Korea. I was first introduced to Mark a few years ago when I was working for the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR), attempting to create a research paper (completed, and published hopefully soon) which documented all of Victor’s activities in Asia. Mark turned out to be invaluable, providing information on Korean and Japanese recordings that were utterly unknown to any of the collectors in the west that I had contacted. Through that experience, I found that Mark’s passion was collecting early Korean music, and the history of recording on the Korean peninsula. This is a rare opportunity to hear an example! – JW
The recording I’m going to share with you today is considered one of the most important traditional Korean recordings ever issued during the 78rpm era. First, I’d like to share some historical details. These will help you understand this recording a little bit better.
A-Ak (Korean: 아악, 雅樂) is a type of Korean court music that was partly modeled on the court music of Song Dynasty China, known as Yayue1. Earliest historical documentation of this type of music dates back as early as 1116, after King Yejong (r. 1105-1122) of the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392 CE) ordered his musicians to play ritual music and other court music with a large quantity of Chinese musical instruments sent from the Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong. A-Ak was apparently played quite regularly in the court until the Mongol invasion of late 13th century, after which interest waned and it was seldom performed. After the dynasty of Joseon (1392-1910 CE) was established, an interest in A-Ak was revived. In 1430, King Sejong the Great (r. 1418-1450), arguably the most influential historical figure in Korean history, ordered his courtiers to reestablish the entire arrangements of old A-Ak pieces with a new musical notation system called “Jeongganbo”2 (Korean: 정간보, 井間譜, literally translated as “Well Notations”). Two A-Ak compositions written in this system, both by King Sejong himself, titled “Botaepyeong” (Korean: 보태평, 保太平), and “Jeongdaeeop” (Korean: 정대업, 定大業), were performed for centuries at important events such as the Royal Ancestral Ritual in the Jongmyo Royal Shrine. Until the late 19th century, A-Ak was performed by the court musicians at Jangakwon (Korean: 장악원, 掌樂院), a government office responsible for court musicians and dancers. The office was dissolved in 1895 under western influences to ‘modernize’ the centuries’ old system. After that, Jangakwon musicians worked for a variety of occasions for more than a decade, but the occasions became fewer with the demise of Joseon Dynasty, which ended in August 1910 with the Japanese colonization of Korea.
In 1911, with orders from Japanese government, a special office called “Yiwangjik”3 (Korean: 이왕직, 李王職) was established in Seoul. The main purpose of this office was to take charge of business that involved Royal family members of Joseon dynasty, including King Gojong (r. 1863-1907, d. 1919) and his son King Sunjong (r. 1907-1910, d. 1926), who were still residing in palaces. The Yiwangjik then absorbed most of the officials involved in court activities, including 184 musicians from Jangakwon. These musicians then formed the “Yiwangjik A-Ak Band” in 1912 to perform for the old royal members, but as the Yiwangjik gradually began to reduce the budget for the A-Ak Band (for what were explained as “practical reasons”4), the musicians began to fall out from the band, and by 1917, there were only 54 members present, with most of the musicians in their sixties. Like many centuries-old traditions, it appeared the whole A-Ak genre would bite the dust within a few years, but two notable events occurred which turned out to be turning points in the music’s history.
Ham Hwa-jin, (Korean: 함화진, 咸和鎭, 1884-1948), a master of Gayagum and Geomungo (Korean string instruments), was one of the older Jangakwon musicians and the de facto leader of the band at the time5. He figured that the only way to prevent the eventual group’s disbandment was to create a modern-style school devoted to creating new A-Ak musicians. With help from a few friends and fellow artists including his long time friend Kim Young-je (Korean: 김영제, 金寧濟, 1883-1954), he created the “Yiwangjik A-Ak Academy” (Korean: 이왕직아악전습소, 李王職雅樂傳習所) in September 1917. The curriculum included not only Korean traditional music, but also some basic western music theory including western-style musical notation methods. This certainly created some public interest. Nine students entered the first year, and by 1919, the number of students had tripled. However, even with the increasing public interest, the Yiwangjik still kept reducing the budget, and finally, by late 19206, they started to seriously consider the complete dissolution of the band.
In April 1921, the famous Japanese musicologist Hisao Tanabe (Japanese: 田邊尙雄, 1883-1984) visited Korea for his first field trip and series of musicology lectures, which drew much attention both in Japan and Korea. Along with Tanabe’s own musical interests, his field trip was deeply involved with the Yiwangjik as Yiwangjik officials, including Zisaku Sinoda (Japanese: 條田治策), the undersecretary of Yiwangjik, asked him to “evaluate” the musical value of A-Ak to find out whether the A-Ak band is worth being supported or not. After going back to Japan in May 1921, Tanabe wrote a special column regarding his Korean field trip in the July 1921 issue of “Music and Gramophone” (Japanese: 音樂と蓄音機) magazine. Contrary to what Japanese officials at the Yiwangjik had expected, he praised A-Ak a great deal, calling it “a great musical treasure trove of Asia” and its musical style “very unique.” He also strongly suggested that the Yiwangjik should give the A-Ak musicians better treatment, including a larger budget, a permanent studio for practice, and additional members. As he put it, “these actions would serve as a part of a more sophisticated, better approach to colonization.” The Yiwangjik relented, and in 1922 officially adopted the band into “The A-Ak Department at the Yiwangjik of Chosun (Korean: 조선이왕직아악부, 朝鮮李王職雅樂部),” and renamed the band “The Yiwangjik A-Ak Society (Korean: 이왕직아악부원, 李王職雅樂部員).”
With this series of turning points, The Yiwangjik A-Ak Society became strong, performing a concert for the public for the first time in September 1922. In January 1926, they received a permanent studio just across from the Changdeok Palace, where King Sunjong and his family still lived. The A-Ak Academy drew 18 new students each year, making the total number of A-Ak society members more than 200 by 1928. The public drew their attention to the A-Ak Society, and even after the death of King Sunjong6/, the Society’s “official” chief patron, the Society saw little effect from the event. After the introduction of radio in Korea on February 16th, 1927, the Yiwangjik A-Ak Society decided to perform on the air. Their first radio performance was on November 3rd, 1927, and they made several additional appearances over the years.
By this time, the Korean public was becoming aware of modern media such as newspapers and magazines, radio broadcasts, and of course, the gramophone and its records. The first commercial recordings of Korean music were issued on a series of Columbia records in 1907, and the US-based Victor Talking Machine company issued around 200 Korean recordings in 1908 and ca. 1915. But the clear winner of the Korean gramophone market7 during the 1910s and most of the 20s was the Nipponophone company of Japan. Nipponophone had their branch office established in Seoul in 1911 and dominated the Korean record market until the late 1920s. With the introduction of electrical recordings, however, things began to change.
In September 1927, Victor established its Japanese subsidiary in Yokohama as “The Victor Talking Machine Company of Japan, Limited,” which later became known as “JVC.” Later that month, they issued the first Japanese electrical recordings, which literally revolutionized the whole record business in Japan. With this success, Victor started to seek other profitable markets, and Korea was considered. Several business arrangements followed, and on May 21st, 1928, Japanese Victor launched its branch office in Seoul, and among the performers they were seeking was the Yiwangjik A-Ak Society. It is not exactly known who came up with the idea of recording A-Ak pieces, but it appears that the renowned Japanese historian and college professor, Shogo Oda (Japanese: 小田省吾, 1871-1953), a close friend of the aforementioned Hisao Tanabe, was a talent scout for this occasion. It is possible that Oda was the one who made the decision under the influence of Tanabe.
On June 8th, 1928, an exclusive contract between Victor and the Yiwangjik A-Ak Society was signed8. The details of this contract were reported on the following day in a short article in the Dong-A Ilbo Daily9 (Korean: 동아일보, 東亞日報), as well as some short notes written in 1947 by one of the leading A-Ak musicians, Master Seong Kyeong-lin (Korean: 성경린, 成慶麟, 1911-2008)10. According to the article and Master Seong’s notes, Han Chang-soo (Korean: 한창수, 韓昌洙), then secretary of the Yiwangjik and the chief representative of its A-Ak department, promised to make 40 “satisfactory” 10-inch A-Ak sides with Victor, while Victor agreed to give the Yiwangjik advance royalties of 1,000 Yen11 per recording. The music selected for these sessions was mostly ritual music that was used at Jongmyo Royal shrine, as well as court music, dance music, and some court Gagok (art songs) with A-Ak accompaniment. If the first recording session turned out to be successful, Victor then would renew this contract, and record additional A-Ak music. There were some discussions about potential future repertoires, which was cited in the Donga Ilbo article as: “71 major A-Ak works, 189 ensemble pieces, and 52 court dance pieces.”
For this occasion, Victor brought two American recording engineers with a recording lathe, and installed it in one of studio buildings of the A-Ak Society called Yooksadang (Korean: 육사당, 六四堂), originally built in the late 17th century as a part of Royal guard headquarters. The building was seldomused by the A-Ak Society musicians, as it had fallen into disrepair and had very bad acoustics, yet it was the only building big enough to install the recording lathe. It is known that at the same time Victor also sent a different group of engineers to a separate studio for recording additional types of Korean music, such as Pansori, folk songs, instrumental ensembles, and even some “modern popular songs.” Judging by this, Victor apparently took the interest of recording A-Ak much more seriously than other styles.
There are several eyewitness accounts of this recording session, including aforementioned notes by Master Seong, as well as a 1990 interview of another A-Ak master and court dance virtuoso, Master Kim Cheon-Heung (Korean: 김천흥, 金天興, 1909-2007)12. According to Master Kim, one of the string players at this session, the recording actually took place for about a week, starting June 15th with a total of 54 A-Ak society members participating. Notable personnel included Ham Hwa-jin and Kim Young-je as principal conductors13, Master Kim Kye-seon (Korean: 김계선, 金桂善, 1891-1943) who performed solos with the Daegeum (a type of flute made out of thick bamboo), Master Lee Sook-kyong (Korean: 이숙경, 李肅慶) and Jang In-sik (Korean: 장인식, 張寅湜, 1908-1980) who performed Geomungo solos, and Master Ha Kyu-il (Korean: 하규일, 河圭一, 1868-1937) who performed Gagok solos. All of these performers were considered the greatest virtuosos of each instrument and style at the time.
After the session was completed, the masters were sent to Victor’s pressing plant in Yokohama, and test pressings of all 40 sides were made. It took about three months until the Victor engineers re-visited the Yiwangjik A-Ak Society with test pressings and an Orthophonic machine for playback. Upon hearing the results however, the musicians, including the conductor Master Ham, were very disappointed. One of the most problematic issues, according to Master Kim, was the overall poor sonic resonance of the recordings14, apparently affected by the bad acoustics of the Yooksadang building15. Besides this issue, the recording session, judging from surviving records, was actually full of technical mishaps and faults. The overall volume is low, a few of sides were pressed with wavy surfaces, and on some sides, there are some noticeable speed instabilities, including some rapid speed fluctuation. Last, but not least, all of the sides had varying degrees of high frequency noises at the end known as “cold wax chatter.”
Embarrassed by this reaction, Victor tried to persuade Master Ham to change his mind, but he no longer wanted to be a part of the project. The representatives at Victor feared the worst – losing 40,000 Yen16 without any fruition – so they sent some letters to some “powerful people” involved in the Yiwangjik, to place pressure on Master Ham and other A-Ak society members. After about a month, A-Ak society musicians finally relented to approve the issue of 12 sides, and later another 14 sides, thus approving a total of 26 sides (13 double-sided records) for issue. In order to prevent further problems with unsatisfactory sides, Master Ham requested Victor to give him the metal masters and test pressings of rejected sides. According to Master Seong and Master Kim, these materials were kept in the small room in the A-Ak Academy’s office building, but they were lost by fire during the Korean War, along with the complete first pressings of the issued sides along with the Orthophonic machine later given by Victor to the A-Ak society.
It is not known when these records were first offered to the public, but the earliest known advertisement dates from December 14th, 1928, so it can be assumed that these recordings were issued no later than December 1928. They were given the prestigious Victor Red Seal label, the only Korean recordings ever issued with red seals. They were sold for 2 Yen each or 25 Yen for the whole set17, while ordinary black label Korean music releases were sold for 1 yen or less. They were also assigned a special block of catalogue numbers starting from 49801 through 49813, while other Korean Victor recordings were assigned the 49000 number range18. These records appeared in catalogs until about 1937, after which they were discontinued.
Several of these recordings (12 sides, nos. 49815-49820) were later reissued as a set titled “The Essence of Chosun A-Ak” (Korean: 조선아악정수, 朝鮮雅樂精髓) in 1942. This set featured a 66-page booklet, “Short notes of Chosun Music” (Korean: 조선음악소고, 朝鮮音樂小考), written by none other than Master Ham Hwa-Jin, the conductor of the recordings. The circumstances surrounding this reissue are unknown, but it is true that during the Second World War, Japanese Victor reissued a number of ethnic recordings from Asian countries with the title of “Daitoa Ongaku Shusei (A Greater East Asian Music Compilation),” under the supervision of musicologist Hisao Tanabe19. So, it is possible that these A-Ak reissues were related to these ethnic music reissues as well. While these 1942 reissued discs, together with their fancy-looking original album, occasionally show up in good condition on the collectors’ market20, the first pressings rarely show up anywhere in any condition, possibly the direct evidence of their poor sales.
The piece I’m going to share with you is from this original set of 1928 A-Ak recordings and is titled “Heemun” (Korean: 희문, 熙文, literally “Glorious Writings”), the first part of a larger scale A-Ak work, the aforementioned “Botaepyeong” (Korean: 보태평, 保太平, literally “Conserving the Peacefulness”). Botaepyeong has been performed at the Jongmyo Royal shrine during the memorial rituals which pay respects to the deceased Kings of the dynasty, and “Heemun” is performed to signal the opening of the entire ritual as well as during the first dedication of offerings to the spirits of the deceased. It has lyrics sung by Gagok singers, which are mostly about praising the dynasty and its descendants. The lyrics are only performed during actual services21, not during rehearsals or any other events, which is why they are not audible in this recording.
These A-Ak recordings, even with the below-the-average sonic quality, are still considered to be some of the most important recordings of Korean traditional music ever captured during the 78rpm era. They feature a glimpse of A-Ak pieces performed in their “authentic” way – that is, as they were performed by the court musicians of the Joseon dynasty throughout the centuries. The performances in these recordings, compared to the modern recordings of A-Ak, sounds much higher in pitch and faster in rhythm22, with lots of prominent improvisations on strings. This sort of performance style is hardly seen today, as present day A-Ak performers tend to strictly rely on modern notations.
After the issue of this recording, even with the poor sales of the records, the Yiwangjik A-Ak Society and its musical legacy became arguably known as one of the most cherished legacies of Korean culture. Several publications and media reports concerning various aspects of A-Ak and its performers followed, and Korean intellectuals and scholars began to conduct serious research about its origin and development. The A-Ak Society building and its concerts became one of the major tourist attractions, which not only attracted Korean or Japanese audiences but also notable foreigners, including violinist Mischa Elman and film director Josef von Sternberg. After attending a performance of the A-Ak Society, Sternberg said to a reporter in an interview: “I was surprised Koreans have such a rich musical legacy. This is something that should be shared, studied, and enjoyed with the whole world.”23
Competitions followed. Nippon (Japan) Columbia, established in January 1928 by merger of Nipponophone and British-based Columbia’s branch office in Japan, started issuing Korean recordings in February 1929. Among its first issues were a few recordings by the “Jeong-Ak Club” (Korean: 정악구락부, 正樂俱樂部), a small private performing and teaching group24 of A-Ak and other traditional ensembles. These were recorded considerably better than their Victor counterparts, but in terms of musical values, most of these recordings were popular pieces arranged in A-Ak style, so they are not in the same league as the Victor recordings.
The Yiwangjik A-Ak Society continued to perform for the public. A notable performance was at the Seoul City Theater on October 7th, 1938, which drew thousands of people. Even during the Second World War and the political repressions against Koreans, the society continued to perform. After Korea was liberated in 1945, the Yiwangjik was dissolved, but the A-Ak Society still survived as “Old Royal Court A-Ak Society” (Korean: 구왕궁아악부, 舊王宮雅樂部), and in 1951, under the special laws passed by the President and the National Assembly of Korea, it officially became The National Gugak25 Center of Korea26. They are still performing and teaching A-Ak and other traditional Korean music styles to the Korean public to this day.
Technical Notes / Discographic Information
Victor (Japan) Red Seal Record 49801-A
祭禮樂 保太平之樂 (合) 熙文 朝鮮李王職雅樂部 指揮 金寧濟
Conducted by Kim Young-je.
Recorded electrically on location in Seoul, ca. June 15th, 1928.
Issued ca. December 1928.
Reissued on Victor (Japan) Red Seal Record 49815-B as a part of “The Essence of Chosun A-Ak” in November 1942.
Reissue coupled with a side originally issued as 49808-A.
1“Yayue (Chinese),” “A-Ak (Korean),” and “Gagaku (Japanese),” are the local pronounciation of the same Chinese characters “雅樂.” Even though all three of them have the same origins from Tang China, all three of them are usually considered as totally different types of music.
2See one example of this here, a manuscript from the Sejong Silok (世宗實錄); The Chronicles of King Sejong (from 1454), http://pds22.egloos.com/pds/201108/19/29/e0062529_4e4e3817bfad9.jpg
3“Yiwang (Korean: 이왕, 李王)“ means “House of Yi (Lee)” – which was the clan of Royal family of the Joseon Dynasty.
4The Yiwangjik also took charge of a marching band and other western style musicians for entertaining the old Royal family, and apparently these “new” style musicians were considered more important than the “centuries-old tradition.”
5His father, Master Ham Jae-Woon (Korean; 함재운, 咸在韻, 1853-1916), was also a Gayageum player and the leader of A-Ak band from 1912 until his death. The official leader of the band was Master Myeong Wan-Byeok (Korean: 명완벽, 明完璧, 1842-1929), but because of old age and ill-health, he could not perform regularly at this point.
6Even after this, which occurred on April 25th, 1926, Yiwangjik was not dissolved, as the deceased King’s half-brother Prince Yeongchin, succeeded the position as the head of Yi household. The Yiwangjik A-Ak Society continued to play for Prince Yeongchin and his family members as late as 1943.
7Until the introduction of few Korean recordings by Nitto Records in October 1926, Nipponophone was the only record company active in Korea.
8It appears the A-Ak society (at least some of the members) recorded a number of recordings for Nitto Records in 1926, although not a single copy of these recordings hasn’t been found.
9Anonymous. Ancient A-Ak Music of Chosun Goes Worldwide (朝鮮古代雅樂世界的으로前進), article from The Donga Ilbo (東亞日報), June 9th, 1928, p. 2. c. 4.
10Seong, Kyeong-lin, The A-Ak Records (아악레코-드), from the book, A-Ak of Korea (朝鮮의雅樂), Bakmun Publishing (博文出版社), Seoul, 1947. pp. 169 -173.
11Statistics shows that a middle-class Korean white-collar worker earned about 150 Yen a year in 1929, so the whole royalty was quite a big sum of money.
12Kim, Cheon-Heung, Reminiscence of Making 78rpm records (유성기음반취입회고) from, Korean Discography Journal (한국음반학), Vol.1, No.1. Korean Discography Research Society (한국고음반연구회), Seoul, 1991. pp. 267 – 268.
13Master Kim conducted all of the ritual music sides, while Master Ham conducted everything else.
14It appears that these technicians from Victor had not yet mastered proper microphone settings. Most of the other Korean Victor recordings from 1928 also suffers from hollow acoustics, which shows the distance between the performers and the microphone was too distant. Afterwards, Victor chose to record Korean artists in their own studio in Yokohama, Japan. The second Korean recordings sessions occurred around May 1929 and lasted until the final Korean Victor recordings of December 1941.
15Much of the A-Ak Society’s buildings were demolished in 1967 when the whole complex was sold to a private company, The Yooksadang building, however, somehow survived as a part of private property, albeit in a serious state of negligence. This writer actually trespassed (!) on to the private property to confirm the details regarding this building. The building, as you can see in the photo, is mostly built with wood with tiled roof. Inside the building there is a relatively big open space (72 x 40 x 9 feet, respectively) with wooden floors. This room gives enough space to gather 54 musicians, but there’s not much room to consider the sonic balance. There’s a small room at the Northeast corner of the building which is obviously the room where the recording lathe was installed.
16Ironically, according to Master Kim, after these tense situations were settled, the Yiwangjik used this money to build a sonically better studio for the A-Ak society in late 1929.
17It apparently could be bought as a whole set within a special album, although there’s no reported example of the album.
18Victor’s regular Korean issues on black label started from 49000 and went through 49491. Although there are several surviving Victor metal parts that carry the number after 49491 (the highest is 49508, reassigned to Victor Junior number), it is doubtful that the ones after 49491 actually carried the number when they were issued. 49491 was issued on November 1937. Afterwards, Korean recordings were only issued on Victor’s budget label called “Victor Junior,” which started with the number KJ-1001 (issued on February 1935) and ended with KJ-1386 (issued sometime in 1941). There are separate recordings appearing in the 49500 range (49500-49514), special recordings of operatic recordings sung by Korean opera singers, issued between December 1941 and November 1943.
19More information about “Daitoa Ongaku Shusei” and examples can be found on Haji Maji, here.
20The quality of shellac was more inferior than the 1928 pressings because of wartime shortages, but usually most of the examples appearing on the market tend to have less wear or scratches on them.
21According to some insider knowledge, this ‘common law’ was kept among the A-Ak musicians until the mid-1950s, but after Jongmyo Royal shrine rituals temporarily ceased to be performed during the Korean war and afterwards, nobody took this seriously, and as a result, modern day performances and recordings feature the lyrics most of the time.
22Here’s a field trip recording of the same piece (plus vocal Gagok parts) from 1966, recorded by Dr. Robert Garfias.
23Kim, Dong-hwan (김동환 金東煥), Na, Woon-Kyu (나운규 羅雲奎), etc. Impressions on Mr. Sternberg – Interviews and Discussions with an international artiste and leading Korean film stars. (스탄-벅印象, 世界的巨匠과朝鮮映畵人間座談會), Samchullee (“3,000 Leagues”, 三千里) Magazine, Vol, 8, No. 11., 1st November, 1936. Seoul, Samchullee Publishing (三千里社), pp. 164-165.
24Master Kim Kye-Seon, the Daegeum virtuoso who participated in Victor’s A-Ak Society recordings, was also a member of this Jeong-ak Club, and it is interesting to compare his recordings on Victor and Columbia.
25Gugak (Korean: 국악, 國樂) is the term that applies to all sorts of traditional Korean music.
26The National Gugak Center of Korea issued a special private CD in 1991, commemorating the 40th anniversary of its creation. It contains the whole 1942 Victor reissue set, as well as few other 78rpm recordings containing A-Ak or other folk ensembles. The CD actually tarnished the reputation of these legendary recordings, however, as all of the recordings featured in this CD were re-recorded by playing the original discs on a cheap portable gramophone, therefore badly distorting further the sound of the originals.
July 10, 2012
It’s summer where I am – the French doors have opened and in comes the breeze. And I’m probably in one of the few places in North America that isn’t melting under a spate of equatorial heat and humidity right now. It’s true that I turn to specific musics in different seasons. These two tracks have nothing ostensibly similar about them at all – except I find them irresistible at the moment. They appear to be (deceptively) effortless in their execution. They’re catchy, smooth even…though original copies aren’t exactly growing on trees.
“A Tua Vida É Um Segredo” (Your Life Is A Secret) is a classic, easy-going Brazilian samba, recorded and pressed ca. 1932-1933 in Brazil by the Victor company. Victor was extremely active in South America, with major recording hubs and pressing plants in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. They were not the first to arrive, however – Columbia was recording in Brazil in the early years of the 20th century, and so was Odeon and Favorite, pressing loads of 10.5″ discs. What was recorded in the early days in Brazil, by and large, was not folkloric – it was military bands and operettas, and other music of elites. That said, there were incredible exceptions, such as the string band Grupo Bahianinho, featured on the excellent, now sadly out of print Portuguese String Music: 1908-31 CD on Heritage.
By the late 1920s, the Brazilian repertoire on 78 was beginning to change. Some of the leading artists who bridged the gap between traditional and popular music were just beginning to record. A number of renowned talents were involved in the production of this song, early in their careers. First, the lead vocal is by Mário Reis (1907-1981), the smooth-voiced samba pioneer who made his name performing with Carmen Miranda and Francesco Alves, among others. His soft-spoken vocal style was later an influence on João Gilberto. Second is the composer of the song, Lamartine Babo (1904-1963). Babo, originally from Rio, became one of the most important composers of Carnival music. Eventually, he became popular in radio and television production. Finally, there’s the man behind the Grupo da Guarda Velha (“The Old Guard”), Alfredo da Rocha Vianna, Jr., aka “Pixinguinha.” Pixinguinha, besides being a top choro musician (flute and saxophone were his specialties), was also a house conductor and arranger for RCA Victor during this period. His “Old Guard” at times featured guitarist and cavaquinho player Donga, Bonfiglio de Oliveira on trumpet, Luis Americano on clarinet, Vantuil de Carvalho on trombone, and João da Baiana on the pandeiro.
A mea culpa – this track also appears on an imported 3-CD, eponymous collection of Mário Reis’ work, although I have not heard the transfer or seen the set. I am accompanying it with a separate piece of music that’s all but disappeared…
The Winner label was one of many small, South African labels operating in the early 1960s, issuing all manner of popular styles of music across southern Africa – jive, jazz, guitar folk, concertina music, Malawian music, Mozambican music, etc. Winner had an impressive roster and beautifully clean pressings. This track, recorded ca. 1962, features an excellent vocal jive quartet and an acoustic backing band typical of jive bands before most had gone electric in the mid-1960s. I was introduced to the A- side of this record (titled “Vuka Lova”) some years ago by collector and friend Michael Kieffer, and instantly recognized an above-average jive band. When I had the chance to pick up my own copy, I jumped – lo and behold, I was equally enamored of this, the flip side. “Imbishi Mbishi” in Xhosa apparently is a nickname that means “the corpulent one”…though I believe the term is used metaphorically. The lyricist is a man named Gibson Kente (1934-2004), who was just on the cusp of becoming one of South Africa’s most revered writers of musical theater in the townships. Throughout his career, Kente was criticized as being overly saccharine in the face of the violence of apartheid, but various scholars consider his works important examples of township drama, and his works in the 1970s focus on the injustice of apartheid. This sweet number is an example of his early beginnings…
Grupo da Guarda Velha – A Tua Vida É Um Segredo
Issue Number: 33614-B
Matrix Number: n/a
Issue Number: OK.126
Matrix Number: 13455
June 14, 2012
It’s been a while since I’ve revisted the wildly diverse folk music of Spain. Today’s example is from the autonomous community now known as Cantabria, and in the past known as Santander (after its port city) as well as the more lyrical La Montaña.
Cantabria is indeed, mountainous. A small, coastal, and green region, it is bordered by Asturias to the left and the Basque Autonomous Community to the right. Because of it’s geographic location, it’s no surprise that its music has much in common with the music of its neighbors. And yet, it retains its own uniqueness. This piece is introduced with the classic pitu and tambor duet – the pitu being the small reed instrument of the north of Spain, and the tambor, its accompanying drum. However, after a short introduction, all stops, and the classic, acapella singing of Cantabria begins. Journalist Rodney Gallop somewhat improbably wrote about these two particular artists when they recorded a few sides for HMV in 1928 and 1930, and distinctly noted what he called the ”tragic intensity” of their brand of Cantabrian singing. It’s also forceful and strident at times. What still, for some reason, shocks me, is the fact that it’s unaccompanied, until the pitu and tambor return for a brief refrain at the end of the piece. It shouldn’t shock me, I suppose – although it’s less common on commercial discs, unaccompanied folk singing was recorded all around the world. Even Asturian tonadas, right next door to Cantabria, were often completely unaccompanied (when not accompanied by the gaita bagpipe). And on a crisp recording like this one, made in 1930 by the German Polydor company, you can really experience the acoustics of the room, something that is often buried under layers of hiss and decades of groove wear. The sound of the singers’ brief pauses are almost as interesting as their voices themselves.
Because, perhaps, of the region’s size, the cancion montañesa of Cantabria wasn’t recorded nearly as much as the coros of Galicia, let alone the flamenco superstars of Andalusia. As far as I can tell, Manuel Sierra and Sara de Ortega made a handful of records for several labels from the late 1920s to the early 1930s, after which I have no idea where their careers went. Sierra was popular enough to perform at a large exposition in Barcelona in 1928. Any success they would have had outside of Spain would probably be due to the intrepid Rodney Gallop, probably the only person writing about commercial “ethnic” 78s for the English speaking world at the time. He was specifically fond of Sierra and Ortega’s duets. The song itself is a sweet interplay between a boy and a girl on the way to the festival and pilgrimage honoring Saint Cyprian, which dates from the XV century and still occurs yearly in Cantabria on September 16th. Thanks to reader isoldevila, we have a full transcription of the song, a slightly different version than the one documented on this site.
Vístete pronto mozuca
que vamos a San Cipriano
no te apures por las cuestas
que yo te daré la mano
y en brazos, nena, te llevaría
A San Cipriano a la romería.
Dices que me quieres mucho
y a la romería iré,
y al pasar el regatuco en
tus brazos me pondré
pero no te resbales
que no quiero caer.
No tengas miedo
que yo resbale
con una carga
que tanto vale
con gran cuidado
iré, preciosuca, como
llevando a la virgenzuca
Y si caemos nos levantamos
y le decimos a San Cipriano
que fuimos juntos al regatuco
y nos caímos apretaducos.
Sube, sube las cuestas arriba,
que por ti suspira tu moza querida,
y subimos arriba a los llanos,
a tomar la sombra de los avellanos
Issue Number: 220060
Matrix Number: 3047 BK
And yet another shout out to Heritage’s Voices of Spain CD, which contains 3 songs by Sara de Ortega and Manuel Sierra. One duet, and two solo pieces.
May 21, 2012
Muhyiddin Ba’yun (1868-1934) was from Beirut, and became a popular recording artist for the Baidaphon company, based out of that same city, from the early 1920s until around the time of his death. He became well-known as both a singer and as a talented instrumentalist, having studied under a lute player from Baghdad named Ibrabim Adham. It appears he recorded sessions in 1924, 1926, 1929, and sometime in the early 1930s, most likely, when this terrific improvisation was made – a wahida, similar to the Turkish ciftetelli, accompanied by an oud playing on the pulse throughout the piece.
Part of the problem of piecing together an overall picture of Ba’yun’s career for me, anyway, is access to documentation. I could trace about 35 individual releases by Ba’yun, most of which are vocal pieces, though I am almost certain there are more. Typically, his name is often transliterated in multiple ways: Mohieddine Effendi Bayoun, Mohiddine Baayoun, and the spelling I’ve used above, culled from an out-of-print Ocora CD (Archives de la Musique Arabe, Vol. 1).
One of the most interesting wrinkles when considering Ba’yun’s output has appeared when trying to determine precisely what instrument he’s playing. On some records he is credited as playing the buzuq. On others, he is credited as playing the tanbur. Tony Klein first brought this artist to my attention, and the instrument he was playing. We listened to Ba’yun tracks which were labeled buzuq and others labeled as tanbur, and he posited that there appeared to be very little sonic difference, if any, between the sound of either instrument.
Definitions can be hazy, however. The buzuq is usually a two-course instrument with 24 frets and a body similar to the oud. “Tanbur” is a term that can refer to a number of different long-necked lutes from Turkey to Central Asia. Complicating things further, Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments states in their tanbur section that “Buzuq is the term known in Arab urban music and is used in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut.” So tanbur = buzuq in this instance. Or does it? Or, as Tony asked rhetorically in an e-mail: “When is a tanbur a buzuq, and/or when is a buzuq not a tanbur?”
At the risk of plummeting down a semantic rabbit hole, it’s probably best to get right to the music. Those who’d like to augment our musical instrument discussion are welcome. Enjoy!
Issue Number: B 090887
Matrix Number: same
Thanks to Tony Klein!
I am wrapping up the notes to Excavated Shellac: Reeds, the next LP in the Parlortone series, which hopefully will be finished soon. I can definitely say that it’s the most intense little mix I’ve put together, with virtually all 14 tracks stone rarities. Opika Pende, on the other hand, sold out its first printing recently, and a second printing arrives very soon. I’ve been way behind on posting, as usual, but there’s lots afoot.
April 4, 2012
I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant number of readers of Excavated Shellac were familiar with the incredible Kenyan recording of “Chemirocha,” which was captured by the South African ethnographer and recordist Hugh Tracey on his 1950 expedition across East Africa. If ever there was an early recording from Africa that could be described as infamous, “Chemirocha” is it. Decades ago, that recording was issued by Tracey on his long out-of-print Music of Africa LP collection (#2: Kenya), then later by John Storm Roberts on his groundbreaking and long out-of-print Nairobi Sound LP, and later, sounding clear as a bell, on the recent Sharp Wood CD Kenyan Songs and Strings.
“Chemirocha” is deservedly infamous because of it’s backstory. Tracey arrived in Kapkatet, Kenya, inland from the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, to record the music of the Kipsigis. The Kipsigis were then known (and it seems still are) as a pastoral people whose livelihood, on the whole, depended on cattle, tea, and millet. Their language, interestingly, is not a Bantu language, and is part of the Nilotic language group, centered around southern Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda (Luo is also a Nilotic language). Anyway, Tracey discovered on his apparently rainy visit that the Kipsigis had heard numerous recordings by American country music star Jimmie Rodgers – likely purchased and/or brought to Kenya by the British, as Jimmie Rodgers discs were reissued in Britain on the Zonophone label. The Kipsigis, after hearing Rodgers’ music, were, according to Tracey, fascinated by his voice, which they deemed magical, and created a legend around him, calling him Chemirocha: Chemi (Jimmie) Rocha (Rodgers). According to the Kipsigis, Chemirocha, because of his prowess as a singer and player, had to have been half-man, half-antelope. The younger Kipsigis invented songs about him. This well known and beautiful version of “Chemirocha” can be heard, introduced by Hugh Tracey himself, here.
However, that was not the only song about Chemirocha that Tracey recorded. In fact, he recorded THREE Chemirocha songs – and the famous one described above technically was known in Tracey’s archive as ”Chemirocha III.” They are all slightly different. This version, far less known and sung by young men, is “Chemirocha II,” and is slower, and more methodical. Tracey wrote in his notes that the other two versions of Chemirocha tunes were in fact songs usually performed by women, but the young men clearly knew them well enough to perform them, despite the embarrassment of their sisters, who were reticent to perform themselves. They are accompanied, as usual, by the 6-string bowl lyre of the Kipsigis known as the chepkongo (also chepkong, chemonge, or sometimes bukandit). In fact, the lyrics to this track are about the chepkongo, and how Chemirocha’s guitar playing sounds so similar to their own instrument. The instrument is used for both entertainment and ceremonial purposes. According to one source, in 1952 chepkongo songs by the Kipsigis were banned by the colonial-era Nandi African District Council.
These songs have continued to marvel, probably due to the fact that the two main elements, the Kipsigis and the American country star, seem incongruous to most. Their music in theory appears incompatible. Yet, despite distance and difference of culture, and with help from the rampant dispersal of the gramophone record, one influenced the other. Of course, it’s far more complicated than that. Quite possibly, the devastating effects of colonialism played a part in bringing those Jimmie Rodgers records to Kenya. As Barry Mazor points out in his book “Meeting Jimmie Rodgers,” some patronizing hyperbole abounds in the writing on these recordings – one source I came across stated that the Kipsigis developed a “Jimmie Rodgers cult.” This appears to be, at best, an extreme exaggeration. Mazor, referencing Tracey’s notes, states that the name “Chemirocha,” from the Kipsigis standpoint, stood for anything new and different that came from outside of their country. Further, according to Tracey’s notes, the singers of “Chemirocha I” ask why their country has been taken over by white men. That, in itself, is a tip-off that we’re not talking about a Jimmie Rodgers personality cult. The Kipsigis were fascinated by the quality of Rodgers’ voice and playing – not his personality, his career as a country music star, or his lyrics, which they could not understand. At any rate, Hugh Tracey loved the region and was impressed by the Kipsigis, and for that we can be thankful.
I have noticed since returning home that whenever members of my party refer to our recording sessions with the Nandi or Kipsigis they do so with a smile of pleasure…I can think of no single area where greater pleasure for any research man is inherent in the countryside. In human talent it has a special contribution to make to African music. – Hugh Tracey, 1951*
It should be mentioned that many of Tracey’s recordings can be accessed, via cooperation from Tracey’s ILAM (International Library of African Music), on the South African Music Archive Project website. The samples are low-resolution, stereo, and often poorly transferred, with sometimes incomplete or incorrect metadata - but still, it’s a phenomenal wealth of important content for researchers that deserves far more than lip service on a blog.
I could find nothing about the duo of Joash Makaya and Joseph Sambili, members of the Luhya people of Western Kenya. Which one of them is providing the guitar, soda bottle, and vocals, is unknown – conceivably it could be just one of them. But Makaya was the writer of this piece, which was likely recorded in Nairobi in the summer of 1956. I discuss this a little in the notes to Opika Pende, but this entire series was funded by the African Mercantile Company (the “AMC” on the label), and organized by a British ex-patriot named Peter Colmore, a gregarious entrepreneur based in Nairobi. Every disc I’ve heard on this rare series has been terrific. Makaya and Sambili take a little while to get into a groove (indicating yet again that there was no time for second takes with most 78 recording), but then glide smoothly into beautiful singing and playing.
So…five years of Excavated Shellac. Admittedly, the last few have been erratic in terms of posting, I realize. And who celebrates the anniversary of a website, anyway? I had an entire screed written, filled with complaints, anecdotes, opinions on blogging, opinions on collecting, the meaning of why on Earth I continue to do this…but I erased it. Ultimately, the meaning of why I do this is tied to the experience of listening and meeting people for whom this music (as opposed to merely the records) generates a response. It is entirely personal. Through it, I’ve met some generous people, incredibly knowledgeable contributors, and have had the lucky chance to release work publicly. I’ll keep updating Excavated Shellac so long as it continues to modestly make attempts to bridge a gap between ad-free interactive scholarship and entertainment. While the transfers have, and the writing has, I believe, improved over the years, I’ve kept to the same format and design. It’s a less-is-more approach…although with Opika Pende and Strings the amount of music released under the Excavated Shellac rubric has approached the 11-CD boxed set range, so the “more” part of “less-is-more” might be winning that battle. While it’s pretty easy to figure out who I am, at least on this website I will only be ‘JW,’ your (vaguely) anonymous moderator. And my one plug will be that if you have enjoyed these 150+ tracks on this website and have appreciated the commentary, please support my analog releases. You will not be disappointed.
Issue Number: GB.1472
Matrix Number: XYZ.5530
Issue Number: AMC.29
Matrix Number: 0AM 69
*Tracey, Hugh. (1951). Recording Tour, May to November 1950 East Africa. Newsletter. African Music Society, 1(4), 38-51.
Oh…a few posts that I had taken down over the years have been brought back to life. Have at them, if you hadn’t downloaded them already…
February 18, 2012
It’s not uncommon to have multiple generations of a family of musicians captured on disc – though the case of the Khan family is extraordinary in a number of ways, not the least of which is the fact that a full three generations of Khans were recorded on 78 rpm records, dating to the very earliest recording sessions in India. The family tradition still continues, with numerous members active as professional musicians.
Imdad Khan (1848-1920) was the very first solo sitar instrumentalist to be recorded on disc. Born in Agra and raised in the nearby town of Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, Imdad Khan studied with his father, Sahabdad Khan, who familiarized Imdad with sitar, sarangi, and khyal, the North Indian classical singing style (Sahabdad’s brother Haddu was a famed khyal singer). He also studied with veena master Bande Ali Khan (1830-1890). Gradually, Imdad transformed Indian sitar playing, creating his own, incredibly popular style. In fact, he became something of a celebrity. His patrons were wealthy landowners and members of the Calcutta elite (such as Sourindo Mohun Tagore of the Bengali Tagore family), and he even played for the Queen. Yet his most impressive legacy is the entire school of music that stemmed from his performances and teachings – the Imdadkhani gharana – which, as sitar playing goes, is at least partly based on khyal vocal performance. It’s still very much in vogue to this day.
This short sitar solo, “Sohini Qawwali,” was recorded in Calcutta on December of 1904 by the Gramophone Company. The engineer was William Sinkler Darby. This was only the second time recording engineers from England had visited India, yet the market was exploding. According to scholar and researcher Michael Kinnear, the Gramophone Company had learned its lessons from the first tour of Asia (1902-1903), and was ready to record better artists and improve the company’s standing in the marketplace. Plus, smaller independent labels had already begun to set up shop and snap up popular artists. On this particular recording tour, Darby and his assistant Max Hampe started in Calcutta (recording, among other things, 6 tracks by Imdad Khan), after which they moved on to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai (Madras), Colombo in Sri Lanka, Yangon (Rangoon), and eventually back to Calcutta where they recorded a Tibetan music troupe. Darby and Hampe recorded some very important performers on this trip along with Imdad Khan, including Abdul Karim Khan, female singing legend Gauhar Jan, shehnai master Talim Hossein, Sikh musicians and singers, and even two performers from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Instrumental solos weren’t as commonly recorded during the first decade of the 20th century. And the subtleties of the sound of the sitar, in particular, seem to have been difficult to capture during the acoustic recording era. Yet, at about 108 years later, we can still experience the master at work.
Imdad’s son, Enayat Khan (also spelled Inayat, Enayet, etc.) was born in 1894 and studied under his father, who taught him both the sitar and the surbahar, also known as the bass sitar. The surbahar’s origins trace back to ca. 1825-1830 in Lucknow. It has fixed frets and a wider neck than the traditional sitar. It generally has 6-8 strings (4 for melody and 2-4 for drones) and 13-17 sympathetic strings. Enayat was more commonly a sitar player, yet I chose here an example of his surbahar playing – an alap (an introduction) to the Bageshri raga. He died young, in 1938.
Interestingly, Enayat Khan recorded this piece in early 1933 thanks to the newly established Megaphone label. Megaphone, launched by an entrepreneur named J. N. Ghosh, had its origins ca. 1910 as a gramophone machine and harmonium manufacturer. However, by the late 1920s, Ghosh wanted to compete with the Gramophone Company, issuing 78s of artists he felt were ignored by the massive label, including Enayat Khan. By July of 1932, Ghosh began recording and releasing his own Megaphone discs, though they were pressed (rather poorly, I’m afraid – at least my examples are!) by the Gramophone Company at their plant in Dum Dum. Over the next 25 years, Megaphone released thousands of discs. Ghosh died in 1958, and his nephews took over the company – in the 1980s, they were making Megaphone cassettes.
Born in 1928 in Gouripur in what is now Bangladesh, Enayat Khan’s son, Vilayat Khan, became one of the most important and well-known sitar players of the 20th century, carrying on and expanding upon the musical traditions of his father and grandfather. I recently read a section of an ethnomusicologist’s article stating that there was no proof that Vilayat Khan studied with his father before his death. In fact, Vilayat Khan recorded his first 78 for the Megaphone label at age 8! His father died one year later and Vilayat continued to study with his uncle Wahid Khan, a renowned surbahar player, as well as his mother and mother’s father. Vilayat’s career was long, was well-documented and often peppered with hyperbole. The word “unique” is frequently used when encapsulating his life, as well as “legendary” and “revolutionary.” He toured the world over, won numerous honors (some of which he famously refused, claiming that the judges were unfit to judge his or anyone else’s talent), and was prolifically recorded. He’s also well-known for providing the soundtrack for the 1958 Satyajit Ray film The Music Room (Jalsaghar). He passed away in 2004 from lung cancer. This piece, the Mishra Khamaj raga, was recorded in 1952, and Vilayat Khan is accompanied by tabla master Alla Rakha (1919-2000).
Vilayat Khan – Raag Mishra Khamaj
Many members of the Khan family are still performing today, including Imrat Khan (also the son of Enayat), Shujaat Khan and Hiayat Khan (both sons of Vilayat), Irshad Khan and Wajahat Khan (both sons of Imrat), and Shahid Parvez Khan (the son of Enayat’s brother Walid).
Issue Number: P 61
Matrix Number: 2622h
Issue Number: M.C.C. 25
Matrix Number: 0E 1525
Issue Number: N.92565
Matrix Number: 0JW 2899
Thank you to Ajith Raman, Bill Dean-Myatt, and the works of Michael Kinnear.
January 17, 2012
According to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 where the Jacobite Rising, consisting largely of Scotsmen from the Highlands, was brutally crushed by forces loyal the British government, a ban on musical instruments was placed on the people of the Highlands. According to Garland and other sources, this is the predominant reason for the existence of one of the most enduring folk traditions of Scotland: port-à-beul (or puirt-à-beul), also known as “mouth music.” When no instruments were available, bards from the Highlands would sing for dancing, often imitating the rhythms and music of the bagpipes, using humorous and sometimes bawdy lyrics in a dancable rhythm. However, according to several present-day scholars, this story is utterly apocryphal and nothing more than unsubstantiated legend. Port-à-beul could be much older than 1746, and why not? Humans haven’t always had instruments at their disposal, and what would have kept them from inventing their own music? And there are similar styles in other European regions – lilting in Ireland, for example, and in Norway with a fiddle imitation known as tralling. Regardless, this legend is a nice lead-in to discuss a recording of real mouth music.
Recordings of traditional music from England, Scotland, and Wales, are by far the exception than the norm. While the Gramophone Company of London was cavorting around the world recording all manner of peoples and cultures and exploiting new markets in the first half of the 20th century, the regional and folk music in their back yard went largely unnoticed. There are a number of important exceptions, of course. The Beltona label of Scotland recorded many folk bands and unaccompanied singers from the 1930s onward. People like Cecil Sharpe and Ralph Vaughn Williams helped to usher in a folk revival. Carrying the byline “Lon Dubh Na H-Albainn” or “The Blackbird of Scotland,” the Gaelfonn label was in operation in the late 1950s, and had an office at 102 Maxwell Street in Glasgow. The outfit was run by a well-known Gaelic singer, Murdo Ferguson (1923-2005), who recorded performers on tape in Glasgow and had the records pressed in London. He also pressed Gaelfonn recordings on 45s and LPs as well (which might certainly be worth searching for, as clean Gaelfonn 78s are uncommonly noisy in my experience – an instance where limiting oneself to the 78 medium might solely be fetishistic).
Angus MacLeod was born on the island of Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides (2001 population: 322) and died in 1970. Murdo Ferguson recorded several records by MacLeod ca. March of 1957. This piece is a medley of four different examples of mouth music. My Gaelic being virtually nonexistent, I cannot determine their order….yet I believe I hear the first piece, “Tha Fionnlagh Ag Innearadh” or “Finlay is Spreading Manure,” a little later in the recording than stated. Perhaps a Gaelic expert can chime in…in the meantime, enjoy.
Angus C. MacLeod – Puirt-A-Beul
Issue Number: GLA.1005
Matrix Number: 572 0-6703
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt, Cormac O’Donoghue, and Ray Templeton.
For another track by MacLeod, take a look at the new 2-CD collection by Fremeaux, 60 Years of Scottish Gaelic, put together by Scottish discographer Bill Dean-Myatt and Nigel Barrett (and from which I gathered some biographical information).
December 11, 2011
Kazakh folk singer and dombra player Zhusupbek Elebekov was born in 1904 in the Karagandy region of central Kazakhstan. He first studied music with his uncle Zhakypbek, and later with the well-known musician Ämre Qashaubaiuly (1888-1934), who apparently bequeathed his personal dombra (the long-necked, two-string lute of Kazakhstan, of which where are several types) to Elebekov, as a gesture indicating Elebekov’s excellence as a performer. Elebekov was part of various touring Kazakh dramatic troupes and worked as a touring musician and actor throughout the 1920s and 1930s, eventually solidifying his reputation as part of the Kazakh Philharmonic Society in the mid-20th century, as well as his work with a concert association known as Kazakhconcert until his death in 1977.
Elebekov was a singer of the Kazakh lyric folk song, known as änshilik. Lyric folk singing is different than Kazakh epic folk singing or the improvisational poetry tradition, although like those other traditions, it is always played with the dombra. The lyric folk singer draws more on ornamentation when singing, and frequently uses non-lexical vocables, especially in refrains (which you can hear on this track). The änshilik tradition apparently was most robust during the final decades of the 19th century.
The label of this 78 – recorded ca. 1954 – indicates that the “tune and words” were written by “Birzhan.” Birzhan is in fact Birzhan Sal, or Birzhan-sal Qozhagululy (1831-1894), a famous lyric singer and also the subject of a recent biographical film. The translated title or subtitle of this piece is “Wanderer.” More information on Elebekov as well as an entire CD worth of downloadable recordings can be found on the Musical Heritage of Kazakhstan website. (A performance of “Adaskak” is available for download, but it appears to be a different, later performance of the song by Elebekov, and suffers from some heavy-handed noise reduction.)
Label: Aprelevski Zavod (SSSR)
Issue Number: 23579 (a)
Matrix Number: 23579 / 3-4
November 21, 2011
Since I picked up this little gem, I’ve been playing it incessantly. It’s a beautiful example of regional Mexican music, and it’s positively anthemic – rollicking, upbeat, happy, and played with finesse.
The Trio Los Aguilillas performed local corridos, but they also issued discs of wonderful son huasteco from the various states in northeastern Mexico, son jarocho from Veracruz, and – today’s example – son michoacano. In terms of instrumentation, it’s fairly close to son jarocho, featuring guitar, a type of local jarana guitar (5 or 8 strings, depending on its origin), and the harp. Michoacán is one of the regions in Mexico where the harp – sometimes known as the arpa grande or even the arpa de tierra caliente – flourished. Traditionally, it is played while standing, and can be 3-5 feet tall, with a soundbox on it’s base acting as a resonator.
While Aguilillas literally means ”little eagles,” in this case it’s also a reference to the town of Aguililla, in Michoacán, the birthplace of the Trio, which was comprised of three brothers, Antonio, Pedro, and Juan Rivera. The brothers were taught by their father, Don Pedro Rivera, a local harpist known throughout Michoacán as a great interpreter of the region’s music. Eventually the brothers moved from the family’s farm to Mexico City, to try and make their living as professional musicians. Apparently it took years before their local music was accepted without being watered down. Ethnomusicologist and anthropologist Joseph R. Hellmer aka Raúl Hellmer (1913-1971) recorded them ca. 1950 as “Trio Aguilillas” and issued their 10″ disc on Folkways titled “Sones of Mexico.” This Columbia disc dates from around the same time.
Issue Number: 6233-X
Matrix Number: MEX-99