Fred Gaisberg in Kazan, 1901


In June of 1901, recording engineer Fred Gaisberg was in Russia for the Gramophone Company. This was his third visit to Saint Petersburg. He’d already been to the grand city in 1900, and for a second trip in 1901 that was smack in the middle of a frozen Russian winter, which he was eager to experience. This time, however, it was during Saint Petersburg’s famed white nights, the crepuscular glow that lasts all night and when true darkness doesn’t exist. He marveled at the night life, the stylish women and fashion, the carriages on the city streets. After a quick trip to Moscow, a thought occurred to him: we have some free time, why don’t we move farther east…to Tatarstan?

Born in 1873 in Washington DC, Gaisberg was without question one of the first trailblazers that made the industry a global one. He began working for the Columbia Phonograph Company which was producing cylinder recordings, and he accompanied artists on piano (as “Professor Gaisberg”) as early as 1889. Soon after, he began learning the technical side of the business and was working for Emile Berliner’s lab, also in DC. Berliner was in the process of revolutionizing sound recording in two important ways: he developed recording on a flat disc, and he developed disc recording where the cutting stylus vibrated laterally in the groove (and not vertically, cutting depth-wise into the groove, which could be inherently uneven). With Berliner, Gaisberg hunted for talent, played as an accompanist, continually made recording experiments with his employer and mentor, and even cleaned the chemical equipment.

Among fits and starts, financial troubles and successes, Gaisberg had by the late 1890s opened two recording studios for Berliner, in New York and Philadelphia, and the business was growing. With Pathé expanding in France, and Columbia making noise about establishing business overseas, Berliner began making moves to create a European office. An agent was hired in London, investors were gathered – one of whom, Trevor Williams, had the prescience to demand that local recording artists had to be part of the agreement, as, presumably, no one would buy American imports of whistling records forever. In 1898, Gaisberg, one of the few existing recording and repertoire experts, a champion of the capabilities of the phonograph at the time, was sent to London to fundamentally establish what would become the Gramophone Company.

While Gaisberg rehearsed, recorded, and located British artists of all stripes, Berliner’s brother built a record pressing plant in their home city of Hanover, Germany as a way of avoiding England’s unions. By May of 1899, Gaisberg was embarking on his first continental recording trip, with boxes of “portable” equipment weighing 118 kgs / 260 lbs each. His stops were Leipzig, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris, and Madrid. Of course, Gaisberg had his sights on recording the best operatic and classical talent – however, funds for this fledgling industry were still small by comparison, and there was a tentative distrust of this new technology by many performers. He couldn’t yet afford or persuade the big timers just yet. This six-city trip, however, remains important in that it set the Gramophone Company in an outward, rather than inward direction. The solution for the company was global talent, and as the company expanded these multi-stop recording trips became longer and longer, with more local contacts being brought onboard, and more matrices being recorded with each visit. All of their major competitors, namely Pathé, the Lindstrom companies, and the British Columbia company, copied this method.

Gaisberg was first sent to Saint Petersburg in 1900. His tastes, after Milan, had grown to the point where anyone other than the most exalted classical performers were described in terms like: “a poor, conceited lot” in the case of the Irish, or “very poor artists” in the case of the Scotch (where early bagpipe performers were recorded). In a rigid sense, this attitude helped him eventually secure world class stars such as Caruso and Chaliapin. In the meantime, his local agents didn’t escape this invective, either. “The businessmen of Petersburg are mostly Jews, and a hard lot to deal with – shrewd, crafty, and unreliable,” he wrote in his diary during his first visit. “Always fingering for bribes – everything bribery.” Gaisberg had all the intolerant prejudices and imperious trappings of a erudite white man of his day, and they often come through in his diary, especially as he travels further east into what was no doubt a wildly different world for him. Still, he continued to expand the business into areas that today seem almost surprising, eventually cutting discs in Beirut, Burma, Japan, Turkey, Cairo, just to name a few. He began to introduce local folk music in the Gramophone Company’s repertoire – evidence enough that despite his outward intolerance he was likely far more progressive than most, during his time.

Which brings us back to Moscow in June of 1901. Gaisberg contacted a man named Theodore Birnbaum in Berlin to request a recording trip to Kazan, about 700 km to the east. Birnbaum, an Englishman, was the managing director of Deutsche Grammophon AG, and was in charge of the Gramophone Company’s engineers as soon as they disembarked in mainland Europe, coordinating their journeys and also finding artists to record. Birnbaum gave the go-ahead, and Gaisberg and one of his Saint Petersburg agents, a man known only as Lebel (or “Labelle”), left Moscow for Kazan, via Nizhny Novgorod.

Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, which is comprised predominantly of ethnic Tatars, who are Sunni Muslim. These two days spent recording in Kazan, which yielded a mere 38 seven-inch, single-sided discs, were probably the first recordings of a Muslim minority (perhaps even any ethnic minority) in Russia. However, from the moment they hopped off their steamer at 8 AM on the 24th, it was clear that Gaisberg was not prepared to deal with so drastically different a culture. Pekka Gronow has pointed to this visit to Kazan as among several in early recorded sound history where European recording engineers were bewildered and unqualified, proving that they needed more than just upper-crust European middlemen to develop a market, they needed locals who were familiar with the music, language, and culture.

After getting settled in their hotel, Gaisberg and Lebel met with another local agent whom Gaisberg refers to as “Old Malacapff” who left them to try to scare up local performers. Malacapff returned with a man named Izmail Abdrashitov, whom Gaisberg pitilessly described as “a petrified, yellow-skinned accordeon player with a musty smell to him. We asked him would he stop if we paid him 5 R. [rubles] and bring in someone who could sing. He agreed.” Abdrashitov would be one of the few artists credited on this quick trip, with 18 discs to his name.

He continued: “Next came two vile-smelling creatures with little squeezed up eyes, broad fat faces. Their love for hair made them tack on their heads a variety of greasy mildewed strands of false hair until it reached their knees. Their singing would bring tears to your eyes. The song would be a rhythm of about 8 bars, repeated over and over again, to the accompaniment of 5th in the bass (accordeon) organ-point fashion. We asked the accordeon player if that was the best he could do, and he said it was. He said Tartars have no artists or places of amusements, and he had to recruit these people from disreputable resorts. After they left, a priest came in and recited verses from the Coran (or better yet, sang).”

The “vile-smelling creatures” were left uncredited on their single issued disc, and it is still unclear whom the priest may have been (though it looks like he was accompanied on some discs by Abdrashitov on accordion).

Gaisberg loved to gallivant around Europe, going to the theater, dining with performers, playing cards, and entertaining a host of ladies (so many pass through his diaries, it’s difficult to keep track), but Kazan likely gave him something he’d never experienced: culture shock.

“The Russian part especially contains handsome buildings and churches. Streets are orderly, and there are plenty of parks. But the Tartar section is beyond doubt the dirtiest, filthiest, vile-smelling place I have ever come across. All the Tartars have that peculiar Oriental smell about them that seems to asphyxiate you. I always felt faint when near them. They are quite Oriental in appearance. Small eyes; expressionless immobile features. The women of the better clans are never seen. Strict seclusion is enforced, and should they go out it is always closely veiled. The custom is a laudable one if all women were as ugly as the commoner class we saw. […] We did however make the acquaintance of some beautiful Russian girls. One was a pure type of Russian blonde, and the other of gypsy-type, dark. It cost me about $25 for their society.”

On the morning of June 25th, the group were still hunting for talent. “Our first people were some Tatar students with their master. They sang us some songs. Then two more women. Later another man. The different songs these people sang sounded every one like the other.”

None of these performers were credited, except for “another man,” who was accordionist and singer named Yarulla Valiulin. It seems they made one more attempt to find talent that evening. After dinner, Abdrashitov took the group to a Tatar bar, which Gaisberg described this way:

“Before charging the Russians with being dirty, one must get his standard of filth fixed by visiting this joint. They crowd about 8 men and 8 women in an unventilated box of a room – in the centre a table with a kerosene lamp. The harmonica would start up one of the merry monotone dirges, then the crowd would join in and continue for half an hour with the most solemn expressions on their stony faces. Well we saw all we could and got out as quick as possible. I wanted to take a photo of two girls but they refused saying, “God would be displeased”. A rouble induced them to forget Allah. These girls instinctively cover their faces when a man looks at them. We tried to get them to take off the mantle in singing in the machine, but without it they were as embarrassed as young school girls.”

They left the next morning.

This uncredited disc is likely one of the few in existence from the Kazan sessions. If Gaisberg’s diary can be compared with the original ledgers, this anonymous, unaccompanied trio are probably the “Tatar students with their master.” The title is “Taravikh.” The word literally means “gather,” but I believe this is an excerpt of what is known as the “taravikh-namaz,” a prayer for Tatar Muslims meant to be performed collectively, along with the night prayer, during Ramadan. I find it unlikely that anyone other than the performers had any inclination of the spiritual nature of what was being sung. Still, it’s far better we have it, than not.

Trio – Taravikh

Notes
Label: “Berliner’s Gramophone”
Issue Number: 24023
Matrix Number: 2951 (2951a in ledgers)

Much gleaned from Hugh Strotbaum’s Recording Pioneers, and Pekka Gronow’s work.

Kipene Su’a and his Royal Samoans – Ua Ou Fiafia Tele

Early commercial recordings of traditional music from the Samoan Islands were not common. There were field recordings made onsite as early as 1910 (by Roland Burrage Dixon), and of Samoans in the United States as early as 1893, but commercial discs were a different story. Of course, there were mainstream popular musicians who utilized “Samoa” or “Samoan” in their song titles, such as Andy Iona’s “Samoan Love Song.” There were also Hawaiian music recordings made by Samoan recording artists, probably the most notable being the outstanding discs by Tau Moe (1908-2004), who was originally from what is now known as the territory of American Samoa, and whose group was sometimes credited on disc as the “Samoan Troupe” or “Samoan Dancers.” Probably to Western consumers of hot Hawaiian steel guitar music, “Samoan” added an additional exotic and unfamiliar flourish – yet at the same time, there were recordings that could be construed as “Samoan” in circulation.

The artist featured here, whose full name was Kipeni Su’apa’ia, has more than a little in common with Tau Moe. Su’apa’ia was born in 1889 either in a small coastal village on Savai’i island known as Sale’aula, or in a village on the island of Upolu (sources differ), both of which are in the nation of Samoa, or Western Samoa. And, like Tau Moe, he traveled well over 2,500 miles to Hawaii in the early part of the 20th century. It’s unclear precisely what brought them to Hawaii. It could have been work, or the German or New Zealand occupations of Samoa, but it could have been something else. The Su’apa’ia family story goes that in 1892, Kipeni’s father Saimasina and mother Tui were presiding over their dying son Salu (one of Kipeni’s many siblings), with little to nothing that could be done to cure him. Two Mormon missionaries attempted to treat the boy, stating that only the power of God could cure his illness. The boy recovered, and Saimasina and his family became firmly dedicated Mormons. In the case of Kipeni, it’s entirely possible that he moved to Hawaii to help work for the Mormon community at Laie, on Oahu, which had been active since 1865 and was in the process of building a new mission. While in Laie, young Kipeni was the first to help translate the Mormon hymnal into Samoan, which was published in 1918. One year later, Tau Moe, also a Mormon, was living in Laie as well.

For the next forty years or so, Kipeni Su’apa’ia, or “Kipeni Su’a” as he was sometimes known, would have a number of occupations. It appears he was a school principal, as well as the leader of the local band in Laie. He was considered a “Chief” and a member of the local Chief Council. He also formed a group, sometimes known as the “Royal Samoans, or the “Samoan Warriors,” or the “Samoan Serenaders,” that performed around Hawaii, playing traditional, secular songs, sometimes in the form of a “pageant” or play that focused on daily life in Polynesia. On April 5th, 1935, he and his group, for this session named the “Royal Samoans,” recorded ten sides for Victor records in Honolulu. Only two songs – one 78 – ended up being issued. It’s unknown why the remaining songs were rejected. Judging by its paucity, the existing 78 was not a big seller, but it is a lovely record.

The track is credited as a “Warrior’s Welcome Song,” and the first line – “ua ou fiafia tele” – roughly translates to “I am very happy.” It does not appear that a translation of this particular song exists, but I hope one is eventually made available. There is no further information on the other members of Su’a’s group, alas. Kipeni Su’apa’ia eventually moved to Southern California, settling outside of Los Angeles. He did publish a book – Samoa: The Polynesian Paradise – that was published in 1962 (“the first book about Samoa written by a Samoan”). He passed away in 1977 in Van Nuys.

Kipene Su’a and his Royal Samoans – Ua Ou Fiafia Tele

Notes
Label: Victor
Issue Number: 25289
Matrix Number: BVE-89092

Special thanks to Les Cook (Grass Skirt Records).

 

Manyoso and Hassani Kachre – Banana

After eight years, why not return to Malawi for an example of the driving banjo and guitar music that was flourishing in the country after World War II.

During what was essentially the entire 78 rpm era, Malawi had not yet achieved independence – that would happen in 1964 – and the region was a British colony known as the Nyasaland Protectorate. Something happened after the War, where European banjos were suddenly being played by local troubadours, usually with a second guitar player. The theory is that these banjos were brought back by local soldiers who were fighting for the British in the East African campaign, many as members of the King’s African Rifles colonial regiment. Of all countries in southern and eastern Africa, the Western-style banjo seemed to take off in Malawi above anywhere else.

In my prior write-up on the Paseli Brothers, I’d found one source that listed the brothers as the very first Malawians to commercially record local music. This turned out to be incorrect. Not only was there a disc on Gallotone by a guitarist known as the “Nyasaland Singer” that predated the Paselis work by some time, but there were two tracks in the local Malawian Yao language recorded in Zanzibar in 1930 for Columbia, and performed by a member of the local police. It’s difficult to gauge the relative importance of those 1930 recordings, as no copies have surfaced that I know of.

Once Hugh Tracey had recorded Black Paseli and the Paseli Brothers for Gallotone, the floodgates opened. The local branches of HMV, Columbia, and Johannesburg’s Troubadour Records began recording Malawian popular music at a faster clip, and many of these examples featured banjo and guitar duets. These were usually influenced by a South African style of repetitive vamping that could go on forever, but with some expert picking along the way.

East Africa and southern Africa were rife with local independent 78 rpm labels. Malawi, however, was not, for some reason. This disc is an example from an obscure local label from the little town of Limbe, situated near the industrial and business-center known as Blantyre, in southern Malawi. I could find no trace of the artists (though the proper spelling of their surname should be “Kachere”). There is virtually nothing I could find about the Famous label other than that they were distributed by the Nyasaland Record Co, Ltd, based in Limbe, and pressed at least 60 discs, which look to have been pressed by Decca in England. Judging by the appearance of the crescent on the label, Famous might have been owned and run by Muslims. Many South Asians were in the region and ran small 78 labels, so that’s also a possibility.

A peculiar bit of provenance: this copy and another rare disc on Famous were once the property of a French Catholic missionary priest named Bernard Burel. Burel was born in 1924 and became a member of the Company of Mary, or the Montfort Missionaries. He was active in Madagascar from 1951 to 1960, after which he returned to the offices of the Company in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, acting as “Procure de Missions.” Why he owned this and other African secular 78s is unknown, but he was compelled to keep them, stamped with his name, for over 50 years.

Manyoso and Hassani Kachre – Banana

Notes
Label: Famous
Issue Number: FR 1159
Matrix Number: FR 1159 B

Celestino Fogu – Ballo Sardo Tradizionale

In the years since I last posted a Sardinian disc, I’ve been lucky to acquire quite a few 78s featuring the masterful and sometimes brash cantu e chiterra performers such as Gavino de Lunas and Giovanni Cuccuru, and the triple-pipe (llauneddas) master Efisio Melis. But, there are of course other folk music forms in Sardinia, so here’s a scarce disc featuring an example of traditional dance music on the local diatonic accordion, or fisarmonica. I first heard something similar on Paul Vernon’s In Dialetto Sardo CD performed by singer Gavino de Lunas and Pietro Porcu on the fisarmonica. I somehow managed to find a new copy of that record, but never anything else resembling it – until recently.

Ballo means “dance” in Italian, and in Sardinian it’s more properly spelled ballu. Evidence of Sardinian dance goes back to 3,200 BCE. There are several types of Sardinian folk dances, although the title of this track is generic enough that I’m not sure which it refers to (if any). These are dances performed, often in local costume, at festivals. Some have intricate footwork and are circle dances that move clockwise (ballu tundu, for instance – also known as ballu sardu) with dancers holding hands.

Celestino Fogu was born in 1882 in the small village of Osilo, located in the northwest of Sardinia near the larger town of Sassari. Little is known about his life except that he was short in stature, and a bricklayer by trade on top of being an itinerant musician. After the First World War, Fogu was apparently a sought-after local performer, as he was expert in animating the dance with satirical lyrics, rustic double entendres, and comical faces. It appears that Fogu did not appear on disc much before he died in 1959, although he did accompany performers in the early 1930s on the Excelsius, Fonotecnica, and Fonola labels, and recorded solo for Odeon in 1938. This “traditional Sardinian dance” is from those 1938 sessions. It’s seen a few plays, but hey.

Unlike island neighbor Corsica, which saw almost no traditional folk music recorded during the 78 rpm era, Sardinia saw the Gramophone Company’s Italian branch (La Voce del Padrone), Columbia, Odeon, and local labels like Fonotecnica/Fonola of Milan, pressing discs of Sardinian folk music. The earliest Sardinian performances on commercial 78s were made in the early 1920s by ethnomusicologist Gavino Gabriel (1881-1980), himself from Sassari province – and they’re quite good. By the late 1920s, however, local artists were regularly traveling to Milan to record, and their discs were kept in print long after World War II.

Celestino Fogu – Ballo Sardo Tradizionale

Notes
Label: Odeon
Issue Number: GO 19305
Matrix Number: Mo 7601

Pavel Toydemar – Oy, Payramen; Ikten Koktyt; Oy, Luy Modesh

Mari El is a Republic of Russia located about 400 km east of Moscow, just north of the city of Kazan and Russian Tatarstan. The northern bank of the Volga cuts through Mari El’s southwest, then runs along its southern border. About half of the Republic is Russian, but the other half is made up of Mari people, an ethnic minority that has been present in the region for possibly as far back as the 5th century. The Mari are considered a “Finno-Ugric” culture…meaning, essentially, that they speak a language that is from the same family as Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, and about 35 other languages.

The Soviet recording monolith is fascinating because it’s so complicated, musically and politically. Prior to World War I and the Russian Revolution, all the major European conglomerates like The Gramophone Company, Pathé, and the German labels like Homocord and Favorite, were quite active in Russia. So were many smaller, independent labels like Syrena and Apollo based in Warsaw, Extraphone based in Kiev, and RAOG, the Russian Stockholders Company of Grammophone. During this period, while popular and classical music were the norm, thousands of recordings from the Caucasus and Central Asia were made, as well as ethnic minority music of Russia found closer to Europe. Train travel made cities accessible to recording engineers during these early years, as well as for recording artists not based within those cities. Recordings were made as far east as Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

After both the War and the Revolution, commercial recording ground to a near complete halt. The industry as a whole was socialized and became a state-run monopoly. Some discs from the pre-Revolutionary years were re-pressed during the early 1920s but not many, it seems. By the mid-20s, two imprints, MuzPred and then MuzTrust, were pressing discs once again, but it was nothing compared to the vibrant scene in, say, 1912. In the early 30s, however, Stalin began promoting “national music cultures” within the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics (never mind that the borders of some “ethnic” ASSRs were created artificially). In 1934, he suggested to composers and musicians that overt nationalism was, in fact, bourgeois. Over time, all kinds of music was being recorded in dozens of local languages. Some was operatic propaganda, some was classical music in local languages by composers from unions, but some recordings captured as part of this grand plan were excellent examples of local folk music.

The Soviet recording industry had multiple factories, and each plant had its own label for most of its existence: Aprelevski Zavod (for the Aprelevka plant, near Moscow), Noginski Zavod (in Noginsk – in operation until WWII), Tashkentski Zavod (in Uzbekistan, created from salvaged technology from the Noginsk plant during WWII), the Riga plant, and the Leningrad Plant. Eventually it all became known as Melodiya in 1964. By 1960, when they were still pressing 78s, annual sales were approximately 95 million, and they had discs in over 40 languages, from Yakut to Uyghur, from Avar (Dagestan) to Bashkir (Bashkortostan), to Abazin in the Caucasus, from Komi to Chechen to Udmurt.

In 1959, there were at least 69 78rpm discs in the Mari language available. This was one of them, recorded in 1938. It’s amazing their paucity, today.

Pavel Stepanovich Toydemar was born in 1899 in the rural village of Verkhniy Kozhlayer. Considered the first “professional” modern-day Mari musician, Toydemar studied music and Mari theater in Moscow, later becoming an employee at Moscow’s Museum of Ethnology. While studying, he met Mari composer Ivan Klyuchnikov-Palantai, who urged him to become an expert in Mari folk instruments and to document Mari traditional music. Toydemar played the svirel (flute) and the shuvyr (bagpipe), but his primary instrument became the kusle (also karsh). The kusle is a zither that is played on the lap, and has a similar structure and sound to that of the Finnish kantele – delicate, soft, and artful.

Toydemar plays three tunes here in a medley, the last being a classic Mari song that translates to “The Marten Playing.” A vocal version was performed in Road to Life (1931), the Soviet Union’s first sound film. Toydemar died in 1958, while touring.

Pavel Toydemar – Oy, Payramen; Ikten Koktyt; Oy, Luy Modesh

Notes
Label: Aprelevsky Zavod
Issue Number: 6980
Matrix Number: 6980/4 1-0673

(Pavel Toydemar – image from MariMedia.ru)

Abubakar – Shah Na Mbere, Pts 1-2

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This, it seems, is the very first commercial recording from the Comoro archipelago in the Indian Ocean; or, at least the first in a Comorian language. It has never been reissued or discussed, as far as I know.

In earlier entries, I’ve mentioned the race to record musicians in East Africa by European record companies that began in 1928 and was halted after 1930. Of course, records and gramophone players had already been present in the region likely for two decades or so, but these early sessions marked the first attempts to record “popular” music of the region and to solidify an East African market. The Gramophone Company recorded three sessions that featured Zanzibari musicians (in 1928, 1929, and 1930, respectively), most notably Siti binti Saad and her group. In all three sessions, the musicians were sent to Mumbai to record. In 1930, Odeon recorded on site in Mombasa and then a little in Kampala, Uganda. That same year, Pathé sent East African musicians by boat to Marseille and then on to Paris to record. And from February to April of 1930, Columbia had a team recording in Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam. This record is from those Columbia sessions in Zanzibar – issued on their “Tanganyika & Zanzibar” series, which had one of the most beautiful early label designs in history.

Of all the musical forms in the region, the remarkable taarab, sung in Swahili and played largely in coastal areas, was by far the prevailing style preferred by the record companies. They recorded it almost exclusively in Zanzibar and Mombasa, in part due to the runaway success of the 28 records from Siti binti Saad’s first session, which was entirely taarab music. Deeply influenced by the music of Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia, taarab has its origins in Zanzibar in the late 19th century. The cloudy  story is that the sultan, Barghash bin Said, invited a musical ensemble from Egypt to play and teach his musicians. From there, this secular style of music with poetic lyrics spread to the mainland, even as far as Uganda and Burundi. It also took root in Comoros, and was played in the Comorian community in Unguja (Zanzibar island).

The Comoros, located some 480 miles south-southeast of Zanzibar off the coast of northern Mozambique, were also an important trading spot for centuries between coastal Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf. The French officially colonized the islands in the mid-19th century, and as with with Réunion, they created a plantation-based economy. When this recording was made in 1930, the Comoros were part of the colony of Madagascar; however, culturally there had always been a deep connection to the Swahili coast.

Comoros has its own brand of taarab, known as twarab. According to scholar Werner Graebner, taarab was introduced from Zanzibar to the main island of Ngazidja (also known as Grand Comore) at some point prior to 1912/1913, and perhaps as early as 1908, when the first musical association was established on the island. The center of musical activity was the main port of Moroni. By the late 1920s, there were several twarab groups on the island. But, they were never recorded.

When Columbia Records of England came to Zanzibar in 1930, they, like the others, recorded the stripped-down style of taarab that was popular at the time, featuring mainly oud (or sometimes the gambus), violin, percussion, and vocals. The Zanzibari artists were by then well-known and credited by their full names: Budda bin Mwendo, Subeit bin Ambar, Malim Shaban, Abeid bin Mohamed. But, there were two discs recorded by a mysterious artist known only as “Abubakar.” His discs were listed as being in the “Kingazija” language, now known more commonly as Ngazidja, the language of the Comorian island of the same name. It’s not known if he was from Comoros or from the Comorian community in Zanzibar, or if he was in fact a Zanzibari who spoke the dialect. The fact that he was credited only by a single name, without “Sheikh” or “Effendi” as some of the other musicians were, may indicate that he was not a member of the elite class of Zanzibari musicians.

I’ve included both sides of this piece. It sounds like he is accompanied by an oud (though perhaps a gambus as it’s credited as “native instrument” instead of “ud” or “oud”), along with violin and percussion.

Abubakar – Shah Na Mbere, Pts. 1-2

Notes
Label: Columbia
Issue Number: WE 52
Matrix Number: 62175/6

Much info gleaned from Janet Topp Fargion’s and Werner Graebner’s writing.

Association Folklorique de la Côte Est – Tia Ambady

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Hello, hello – it’s been a while. The collecting hasn’t stopped and has continued apace, but I’ve been concentrating on some upcoming releases which I hope can see the light of day soon. That, coupled with a reticence to repeat myself endlessly across numerous posts, created a little delay. But, we are back. This one is still hot from the hands of the postal service. Maybe it’s still fresh to me. It’s back to the music of Madagascar after many years, for a style that barely made it to disc during the 78rpm era: accordion-based dance music.

The first substantial, commercial recordings of Malagasy music were made by the French divisions of the Columbia and Odeon labels, on site, in 1930. The Columbia session resulted in over 160 records. Primarily, Columbia featured groups accompanied by piano or harmonium, often examples of Malagasy operetta known as kalon’ny fahiny. There were also some performances with the classic valiha tube zither, mandolin, guitar, and sodina, the local flute. These records weren’t just for locals in Madagascar – they were also for the French who might be interested in “exotic” music of the colonies. “[In Madagascar] reigns a delightful atmosphere of musical fragrances, songs with languid and fresh melodies; all a sensuous and endearing poetry,” claimed the Columbia catalog that advertised those discs, which also deliberately noted how essential it is to the listening experience that the Malagasy music they recorded was substantially influenced by its connection to Europe. It could be that this was the reason for the inclusion of all the piano/harmonium music – however, kalon’ny fahiny music was extremely popular in Madagascar at that time. While many examples had an “uptown” operatic feel to it, much of it is inescapably in keeping with the melodies of Malagasy folk music, and the incredible nasal, vibrating soprano vocals.

It’s unclear if Odeon was recording at the same time, immediately before, or immediately after Columbia. They, too, issued a generous 125 records, at least. And again, their session yielded a large amount of music by elite theatrical troupes accompanied by piano (though violin, guitar, mandolin, and accordion performers also were recorded), their bandleaders finely coiffed and dressed in suits in their catalog. Odeon’s exclusive representative on the island was a massive distribution company founded in Réunion at the turn of the 20th century, Cie Marseillaise de Madagascar, but again, these discs were also distributed in France to intrigued locals. However, as historian Paul Vernon has pointed out, the initial pressing for these discs in this nascent market was scant: about 50-100 copies each. While they appear to have been occasionally re-pressed, virtually all of them are rare.

Today, if anyone at all is familiar with early Malagasy music, it’s due to an incredible selection of recordings made in 1931 in Paris, during the massive, years-in-the-making Paris Colonial Exposition, where Malagasy musicians (among many others) traveled to perform, staying for months. Most all of these discs have been compiled on influential and highly recommended CDs, namely The Music of Madagascar on Yazoo, and Madagascar: Musiques de la côte et des hauts plateaux on Fremeaux. They prominently featured stunning choirs accompanied by the valiha, whereas most all the several hundred Odeons and Columbias that had been released just prior, did not. The performances with valiha (pronounced “valee”), the tube zither that, when played, sounds like rain on a quiet lake, could have been out of fashion by 1931, perhaps increasing their importance in hindsight. During the Exposition, the French office of HMV issued twelve records’ worth of songs by the visiting musicians; Polydor also issued twelve discs, and Pathé issued seven. Some of the same tracks appear to have been recorded by both companies. Some of the Pathé/Polydor discs were re-pressed in limited amounts by the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, and some of the Polydor tracks were re-pressed after World War II, after the Philips label had the rights to the French Polydor/Polyphon material.

As beautiful as these recordings are, one style that was not featured was accordion-driven music for dance, a style that crops up regularly on more contemporary ethnographic LPs and CDs from Madagascar. A few 78s managed to squeak out, however. I reissued a side from the obscure Colombe label on Opika Pende, one of a cluster of at least three discs of field recordings featuring accordion shunted between piano and operatic releases, issued in the early 50s. And this piece, from the Discomad label, ca. 1959-60.

While the performer’s name might make this look like an ethnographic recording, it’s not – the name of band/group performing here is actually “Association Folklorique de la Côte Est,” and its musical directors were François Leboto and Patrice Petera. It’s a song of the Betsimisaraka, the second largest ethnic group in Madagascar who are generally concentrated along the east coast. “Betsimisaraka” has been translated to “The Many Who Will Not Be Sundered,” “The Many Inseparables,” and perhaps the most contemporary-sounding, “Those Who Are Many and United,” the name stemming from the early 18th century when several local clans were joined. I’m not sure if this is basesa music of the Betsimisaraka, which is a kind of ceremonial dance music with accordion that is played during tromba. Tromba is a loose term for rituals having to do with spirit possession, but that can feature dancing, music, and celebrating. Either way, it’s rare to find performances this alive, with shouts and hollers, and not have them be ethnographic and instead commercial releases. This and the Colombe discs are the only 78s I know that feature this style of music.

The label Discomad was founded in Antananarivo ca. 1959-60 by a man named Raoul de Comarmond (1908-1993). Born in Mauritius, Comarmond started working with record companies in Madagascar as early as 1937 when he helped to organize a Polydor recording session. By the early 1950s, he was recording for the French branch of Decca, his discs branded with “R. de Comarmond” on them. His business, Comarmond et Cie, a distribution company, was located on Avenue de l’Independence (then “Avenue de 18 Juin”). He founded a pressing plant to produce his new discs in 1960, as well as Discomad’s sister labels, Decco and Decophone. All told, he issued approximately 350 78s, certainly the the most successful Malagasy label outside of the major European concerns. Discomad was issuing 45s by 1962, though I am unsure what the crossover was between formats. For example, the Association Folklorique de la Côte Est issued at least two 45rpm EPs on Discomad, yet this piece does not appear on either. It could be this was its only issue. In any case, Discomad continued for decades, run by Comarmond’s son, Jean-François, and then his grandson, Stephane.

Association Folklorique de la Côte Est – Tia Ambady

Notes
Label: Discomad
Issue Number: 59.536
Matrix Number: COM 1175

Thanks to Thomas Henry and the works of Paul Vernon!

Achmat – Krontjong Achmat Bandoeng

In urban areas around the world, traditional music blended with more popular music as well as music from outside cultures. This created entirely new genres, perhaps especially as the phonograph spread in popularity, and perhaps more so when radio became ubiquitous. It’s always been so, and the process is still at work today, despite those who opine that music was “better” or more “pure” at some earlier date. Because of this, the definitions of “traditional,” “folk,” and “popular” are at best just guideposts in a transcultural stew.

Kroncong music from what was once the Dutch East Indies in the colonial era, is a particularly enjoyable example of this intercultural mix. Philip Yampolsky, the leading scholar of music of Indonesia, agrees that some elements of kroncong were first brought to the region by black Portuguese sailors as early as the 16th century. One of these elements was the small cavaquinho, which locally became known as the kroncong. The term kroncong eventually expanded to refer to an entire genre of music.

The Portuguese influence was just one piece of the puzzle. The region was already mixed in terms of ethnicity. In the late 1800s, a type of theatre known as stambul was becoming extremely popular in both the Dutch East Indies and the Straits Settlements. Stambul theatre, or komedi stambul, was a kind of multi-ethnic popular entertainment featuring versions of stories from the East like Ali Baba, accompanied by music and songs. The performances could last hours. In the 1890s, kroncong songs and performers became part of stambul theatre, and conversely, kroncong performances contained stambul songs.

The genre developed over the next several decades until it solidified in the mid-1920s as a professional, popular music. Two of kroncong’s most important elements were the fluid, somewhat improvisatory violin playing, as well as a “walking guitar.” These, along with small lutes strumming alternately in the background and its relatively stable chord structure, gave kroncong a languid, almost Polynesian feel. Primarily, it was a vocal music, though here we have a piece that is solely instrumental, and a chance for the violinist to show off.

Both “Achmat” and “Achmad” are common names in Indonesia and this makes identification difficult, along with the fact that many performers from the region, both male and especially female, were only credited on records with their first names. We do know that our Achmat was from Bandung in western Java, and that he’s accompanied here by the Gadjah string orchestra of the city of Semarang. It’s likely this was a “house band” for Odeon records in the mid-1930s. Several years later, in 1938, our Achmat is documented as playing with the HMV label’s house band, but this is as about as much as we know for now.

Kroncong was recorded as early as May 1903, when the Gramophone Company first made one-sided discs in Singapore. It continued being recorded by multinational recording labels including the German labels Beka and Odeon. World War I shut down recording in the region for 10 years. When the labels scampered back to record, kroncong was even more entrenched, with a new, easy-going tempo, and hundreds if not thousands of individual kroncong records were issued prior to World War II, the Japanese occupation, and Indonesia’s independence (and then many more after that).

 

Achmat – Krontjong Achmat Bandoeng

 

Big thanks to Philip Yampolsky and Alfred Ticoalu.

Notes
Label: Odeon
Issue Number: A 204438b
Matrix Number: Jab 1586

Alfredo Vianna (Pixinguinha) – Numero Um

What can you say that hasn’t been said about the man known as Pixinguinha, certainly one of the greatest Brazilian composers of the 20th century? Some would call him THE greatest. I personally liken him a little to Duke Ellington: a brilliant arranger and composer as well as a solo artist. Yet, for someone with such a sterling reputation, with such a varied and lengthy career, you’d really have to dig just to find decent transfers of a handful of his early discs, at least in the US and Europe. Many in the West have only heard covers of his most beloved and swoony compositions, like “Carinhoso” and “Lamentos.” In reality, Pixinguinha rarely recorded as a solo artist and primarily recorded with groups. A little rundown:

Pixinguinha was born Alfredo da Rocha Vianna in 1897, in Piedade, a neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. His father was an amateur musician, keen on choro music, and who kept stacks of choro arrangements at home. Their address became a gathering place for local musicians to jam. Pixinguinha learned cavaquinho by the age of 10 from his brothers Léo and Henry, and began to accompany his father. Soon after, he was an apprentice of a musician and composer named Irineu Batina, and learned flute, which became his primary instrument through the late 1930s. By age 14, he was composing. In the 19-teens, he was playing with João Pernambuco, a revolutionary Brazilian guitarist (who, again, recorded only a handful of solo pieces) and a fellow musician who became a colleague throughout the rest of their long lives, Ernesto Joachim Maria dos Santos, known as “Donga,” who had a hit record in 1916 with a tune titled “Pelo Telephone,” considered to be the first recorded samba (though Donga’s authorship is disputed).

One of the reasons that Pixinguinha is considered a pioneer is because of the band he formed in 1919 to play at the Cine Palais in Rio, which was named Os Oito Batutas (“The Eight Amazing Players”). Pixinguinha led an integrated band – four white and four black Brazilians (Pixinguinha, his brother China, Donga, and Nelson Alves who had played with Chiquinha Gonzaga) – and they were controversial and criticized both because they were mixed and played in upper crust dance halls, and because they played tunes that, while jazzy and contemporary in many ways, were Brazilian or even Afro-Brazilian in style, like lundu and batuque songs. The band became huge and toured Brazil. In 1922, they were invited to Paris for a six month stay. When they returned to Brazil they toured Buenos Aires with a different lineup, and that is where Pixinguinha first appears on record. Os Oito Batutas recorded 10 discs for Victor in Argentina in early March of 1923. Despite those hot performances, most of those discs sold a mere 600-700 copies and are very rare. The irony continued, as the group was attacked for being multi-racial, and yet not being Brazilian enough – in other words, too cosmopolitan, too influenced by North American jazz.

The term choro didn’t really appear on disc in the early days of recording, though the music certainly was around, developing in the late 19th century; tunes that were in fact choros that appeared on record prior to the 1920s were sometimes called “polkas” or “Brazilian tangos.” A three part rondo, some liken choro to ragtime. Yet, while influenced by Brazilian song styles like the maxixe and lundu, choro is clearly also influenced by European dance forms. One of the quintessential aspects of choro is known as malícia, a kind of competitive back and forth between musicians during a performance – each trying to outdo each other. Another is the ability to improvise within that strict, syncopated form. The better musicians were able to turn on a dime and embellish their melodies with breakneck, intricate playing and surprises. Some of the greatest musicians who played choro were at their peak in the late 1920s, including bandolim master Luperce Miranda, trumpet player Bonfiglio de Oliveira, saxophonist Luiz Americano, guitarists Rogério Guimarães and João Martins, and without question Pixinguinha on the flute.

After the Batutas sessions, Pixinguinha continued as a performer and bandleader, recording for the Brazilian branch of Odeon (known as “Casa Edison”) with his Grupo do Pixinguinha. For those sessions in the mid-1920s, he also recorded his first pair of solo flute choros, “Sapequinha” and “Tapa Buraco.” In mid-1927, electric recording with microphones came to Brazil and Odeon was among the first to experiment (though the first 150-200 issues or so still had quite poor sound, considering). Pixinguinha recorded with a new iteration of the Oito Batutas for Odeon within the first year of their new effort, both as a group act and accompanying other singers. He also recorded a few solo flute choros. This piece, “Numero Um,”  issued in April of 1928, is among his rarest. It’s unclear who is accompanying him on violão and cavaquinho – could it be Donga and Alves?

Pixinguinha’s life changed not long after this record was made, and the rest of his storied career is well-documented elsewhere (though, sadly, not nearly enough in English). Most importantly, he recorded “Carinhoso” for the Parlophon company in 1928 and through the strength of that arrangement got the job as the house arranger for Victor records. Unlike their business in the rest of South America, Victor had arrived quite late to the party in Brazil, and didn’t establish a studio there until 1929. They immediately became a force to be reckoned with, however, issuing 1,000 discs in 8 years. Pixinguinha was a major part of that success, whether it was arranging the backup band for samba crooners like Silvio Caldas, or arranging outstanding Afro-Brazilian music by his own band of classic musicians many of whom he’d known for decades, the Grupo da Guarda Velha (the “old guard”). His own works were performed too, and in the first year or two of his Victor employment, he managed to cut a few more solo flute choros. Single sides, only –  always the exception, not the rule.

Alfredo Vianna (Pixinguinha) – Numero Um

Notes
Label: Odeon
Issue Number: 10158
Matrix Number: 1569

The Batutas. Pixinguinha at center with saxophone.

For more, please visit the Instituto Moreira Salles, nestled in a neighborhood in Rio in a beautiful Oscar Niemeyer home. Through their curators and collection, they have provided us with this Pixinguinha website (used as a source for this little write-up).

“Negro, tu tienes dos alas / Y volando por losnidos / Recogistelos sonidos / em caprichosas escalas” – poem about Pixinguinha in the La Razon journal, Buenos Aires, 1923.

Ichinkhorloo – Gan Tumur; Gandii Mod; Yanjuur Tamkhi

We are back! This month, I’m happy to introduce our friend Reto Müller of Switzerland who has provided us with three brief and sublime Mongolian rarities. It was fun to do a little research together! – JW

Reto Müller:

Ever since I heard Mongolian music for the first time, I felt very drawn to its power. So, I decided to pack my backpack and visit Ulaanbaatar in the hopes of finding traces of early recording.

My adventurousness was rewarded. This record I obtained from the estate of a Hungarian politician is no longer an obscure treasure of Mongolian music. It was Mr. Surenkhorloo, a scholar of early recordings, whom I luckily met in Mongolia, and who kindly helped me to shed some light on the story behind this very disc.

It features the fine songstress Dashzevegiin Ichinkhorloo (1910-1972) performing three short pieces. The first is titled “Gan Tumur,” where she is accompanied by Mr. Dorjdagva on the bowed instrument known as the khuuchir. Both were honored People’s Artists. The second track is a well-known folk tune titled “Gandii Mod” (mynah tree), and the third is “Yanjuur Tamkhi.” In the latter, she is accompanied by another People’s Artist, Magsarjavyn Dugarjav (1893-1946), on the Mongolian flute, the limbe.

These three recordings were made in Moscow in 1934 and first released on the state-run label known as Gramplasttrest, numbers 427/428. I was told that in the early days, records were not common in Mongolia at all. They rather were awards for gifted musicians. Therefore, these issues are very scarce.

The copy featured here is a reissue on the BNMAU label (Bügd Nairamdakh Mongol Ard Uls – or, Mongolian People’s Republic).  In 1946, BNMAU released several records for Mongolia’s 25th anniversary of independence from China. They were pressed in the Soviet Union.

If you happen to be in Ulaanbaatar, make sure you visit the “Mongolian Theatre Museum” near Sukhbaatar Square. It features an awesome music section. They even have Mrs. Ichinkhorloo’s shanz, her diary, and numerous pictures on display.

Meanwhile, you can listen to her singing.

If you track down early recordings of Mongolian music you will eventually bump into the works of Danish explorer Mr. Henning Haslund Christensen, who recorded on site in Inner Mongolia. Obviously, he too was drawn to Mrs. Ichinkhorloo’s voice, as it seems that he had made a copy, or dub, of the first of these three pieces, “Gan Tumur”: see “1938/39 female singer acc. by morin khuur.”*

Ichinkhorloo – Gan Tumur; Gandii Mod; Yanjuur Tamkhi

Notes
Label: BNMAU
Issue number: 13460
Matrix number: 13460/5n Г-92

*While Europeana states that the instrument is the morin khuur, we believe that it is in fact the khuuchir, though the limits of recording could alter the sound, and it could in fact be the morin khuur fiddle. Secondly, Europeana also lists the date of the recording as 1938 – we believe that is incorrect, and that their recording is in fact Haslund Christensen’s 1938 re-recording or dub, at an inaccurate speed, of the very same 1934 Soviet recording of “Gan Tumur” that was eventually issued on BNMAU, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Urlag.mn.