March 30, 2009
My best friend is about to travel to Cairo, surely to experience wondrous sights and sounds. I thought I’d send her off with a piece featuring three of the greatest Egyptian virtuoso musicians ever to record during the 78rpm era. Both sides are featured here, as the piece is in two parts.
Syrian violinist Sami al-Shawwa (1887-1960) established a music school in Cairo by 1906, and began his career on record that same decade, both as a soloist, and as an accompanist for many well-known Egyptian singers (Zaki Mourad, Sayed El-Safti, Um Kulthum – you name them, he played with them). His appearance on a recording was clearly considered a stamp of quality very early on, as he was often credited on records side by side with the singer. On this track he is joined by kanun player Ali Rashidi, of which I know very little (though I know he recorded solo kanun performances around the same time). On oud, however, is the legendary Muhammad al-Qasabji, known forever as Um Kulthum’s oud player (and sometime composer for her, as well as for Asmahan). The three masters perform a bachraf, a song type associated with Turkey, here in the hejaz (or hedjaz) maqam, or scale. Listen to how Sami can’t resist having the last word in the piece, fiddling away after the others have stopped, using up the last 10 seconds available to them.
I am not sure about a date on this recording, but I would guess about 1926 or so, as it’s rather early in Columbia’s “X” series. Enjoy….and bon voyage!
Issue Number: 18-X
Matrix Number: E72 (1-A-1)
March 19, 2009
Check it out here.
Further info on the shorter version (with less commentary) coming soon…
Music from Liberia, in Liberian languages other than their official language of English, is some of the toughest to track down on 78 rpm records. In fact, I’m almost ready to say that nothing was released on commercial labels until the 1950s. There were, however, some important field recordings of ethnographic and popular “café music” made by ethnographer Arthur S. Alberts.
Alberts titled his collection of twelve 78s “Tribal, Folk and Cafe Music of West Africa” and it featured music recorded in French Guinea, “The Gold Coast,” Burkina Faso (rare for that time, as well), French Soudan, and Liberia. The recordings were made in 1949, and were collected in a box set of 12 78rpm records with a 20+ page booklet and a set of black and white photographs taken on the expedition, in a limited edition of 2,000. One could order the set from an address in New York City for a total of $25.88. Those recordings, as well as many unreleased recordings Alberts made on his travels, are now available on CD in three collections (Pearl, Folkways (discontinued), and Yarngo).
Anyway – getting back on track: in the 1950s or so, a strange little label appeared named Palmo Tone, which only released Liberian music, it seems. The records were pressed in England for something called “A.M.S. Ltd.” And while this piece is by an Apostolic Church Choir (40% of Liberia is Christian) don’t assume this sounds like a westernized group of singers going through a British hymnal – it sounds nothing like it. In fact, everything I’ve heard on the Palmo Tone label is raw, almost ethnographic sounding – a far cry from the café music of the Alberts set. This piece is sung in the Bassa dialect (not to be confused with the Bassa dialect of Nigeria, or the Bassa (Basaa) dialect of Cameroon). Who knows how many records were released on the little Palmo Tone label? At least 60, as far as I can tell.
The second piece is a subtle, methodical guitar and voice piece in the Jula language (listed as Dioula on the label). Jula is spoken primarily in Burkina Faso, and also in Côte d’Ivoire. Unfortunately, I know virtually nothing about the singer, Dielykani Moussa, or the label (other than that it seems to have been a possibly-short-lived subsidiary of Ducretet-Thomson) and its nice design. I am most curious about where this track was recorded – my personal hunch is that it was recorded in the mid-1950s in Côte d’Ivoire, but I really can’t say for sure. And the title – Alfayaya – does it refer to Alfa Yaya of Labé, the Guinean ruler of the Fula people, who was deported to Côte d’Ivoire in 1905? Questions, always questions.
While some prefer the sound of 78s to remain rarified air, we here at Excavated Shellac know that it’s music for the people…Coming up soon: a 2-hour set for dublab, where I play many rarely heard pieces of music on 78 including lots of material not featured here (as well as several tracks no longer available), talk about Excavated Shellac and collecting old records, blather on about some philosophical issues, and generally sound like a dork. I will post an announcement when it becomes available. Meanwhile, these are for you —
Label: Palmo Tone
Issue Number: LIB-1031
Matrix Number: LIB-181 (in wax)/ LIB.173 (on label)
Issue Number: 5014
Matrix Number: DTN.253
March 9, 2009
We’re fast approaching the two year anniversary of Excavated Shellac – having explored, so far, over 100 78s from about 70 different regions and cultures. I thought I’d take this week to go back to Portugal – in fact, to the same artist I posted a fado by in April of 2007 – the unsung Maria Alice.
Maria Alice was born in 1904, and was singing the real fado by the late 1920s, recording for the German Polydor label. This piece, with unknown players on the guitarra and violão, was recorded in about 1930 in Lisbon. The title translates to “My Village.” Far more eloquent words about fado’s saudade, “a quintessentially Lusitanian melancholy mixed with nostalgia and yearning,”* have been written elsewhere, and I could not do them justice – suffice it to say it is an essential part of this song, and all great fados. Ms Alice died in 1997.
How this ended up being released by the Brunswick label in the United States is interesting for ephemera-seekers like me. By 1929, the American label Brunswick, a very popular label throughout the early part of the 20th century, was in dire straits due to the Depression and other problems. British Brunswick, their counterpart, had collapsed. To stay alive, in 1930, the American Brunswick label was sold to Warner Brothers, but despite Warners signing up stars left and right, the records did not sell, and in late 1931, Warners sold Brunswick and its contracted artists to the American Record Corporation. It appears, however, that during its brief period of owning Brunswick between 1930 and 1931, Warners continued a relationship which began in 1926 between Brunswick and Deutsche-Grammophon, and reissued classical and some “ethnic” records from German D.G labels in the United States. They don’t turn up much, but I believe the sound quality of the German recordings are quite nice. This is one of them.
Label: Brunswick (from Polydor master)
Issue Number: 41201
Matrix Number: 2786 1/2 BK
*Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World.
March 2, 2009
Since October’s Lili L’Abassi piece was so popular, I thought I’d post more classic, driving popular music from North Africa – this time, from Morocco.
Hocine Slaoui (more commonly spelled Houcine Slaoui) can be credited with helping to invent Moroccan popular music, acting as a bridge between earlier Moroccan chaabi and more contemporary sounds, despite actively recording only a short time. He was born in 1918 as Houcine Ben Bouchaïb in the city of Salé – the pronounciation of the city’s name gave him the new last name of “Slaoui.” An oud player with a crack group of accompanying musicians, Slaoui began his recording career for Pathé in the years after World War II, recording upwards of 30-40 songs for the company from ca. 1948-1950 (possibly in Paris). He then mysteriously passed away in 1951. His 78s were huge sellers in the Maghreb, and his name was probably as well known as Mohammed Abdel Wahab or Farid El-Attrache – perhaps because he deliberately gave his songs mass appeal by intermingling all manner of styles. That said, they now turn up infrequently. There is next to nothing written about Slaoui in English, and there appear to be no available CDs, at least in the West, that contain his work.
Along with Slaoui on oud, you’ll hear percussion, qanun, and his chorus – even a little ululating! This one really moves, like everything else I’ve found by the artist. The title “Yal Cahla,” is a rather poor English transliteration of something that might be better spelled “Ya l’kHla,” which is a reference to a black-skinned woman. The song, according to reader Tim, is filled with possibly ironic stereotypes of blacks (see the comments below).
Issue Number: PV 202
Matrix Number: CPT 7871-1P (M-127784)
(Thanks to the Alkadhis for help with translation!)