September 30, 2009
It’s a busy time for me, and while I’ll have some great music and special announcements coming soon, I am happy to know that there are some fine curators jumping into the game at Excavated Shellac this autumn. For the first of two guest posts, we have a selection from Stuart Ellis, the man behind the phenomenal Radiodiffusion Internasionaal blog. If you haven’t combed through the archives of international 45s at Radiodiffusion, you must do so. The sounds are varied, thought-provoking, and rare. Stuart is also behind the terrific Sublime Frequences release Bollywood Steel Guitar. That fact alone should be a perfect introduction to his post… – JW
The earliest known report of anyone playing slide guitar was of Gabriel Davion, a native of India who had been kidnapped by Portuguese sailors and was brought to Hawaii in 1876. Of course, Indian string instruments, like the gottuvadhyam and the vichitra veena use a slide and are known to have existed since the 11th century. But it was not until Ernest Ka’ai and his Royal Hawaiian Troubadours toured in 1919 that the slide guitar was introduced to India.
Most people agree that Van Shipley was the first electric guitarist in India and the first to record instrumental versions of film songs, beginning sometime in the early 1950s. Van was born in the city of Lucknow in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. When most people hear his name, they say “But that’s not an Indian name!” Well, that’s because not everyone in India is Hindu. Shipley was Methodist.
Inspired by his mother, who played the sitar, Shipley took to music at a young age. His first instrument was the violin. He attended Saharanpur to study Indian Classical music. There, he studied under Ustad Bande Hassan Khan and his son Ustad Zinda Hassan Khan, who were both famous Khyal singers from Northern India. At the same time, he took lessons in western music from an American identified as Dr. Wizer.
Shipley then returned to Lucknow to attend college, where he became involved with All India Radio. After college, he went to the city of Pune to work for the Prabhat Film Company before moving to the center of India’s film industry, Bombay (Mumbai). It was there that he caught the attention of producer and director Raj Kapoor, who spotted him performing a stage. Kapoor enlisted Shipley to play violin on the soundtrack for “Barsaat” (Rain) in 1949. The following year, Shipley added his electric guitar to a dream sequence in “Awaara” (The Tramp), which brought him to the attention of The Gramophone Co. of India. In 1955, Shipley teamed up with accordionist Enoch Daniels, whom he had met while working for the Prabhat Film Company in Pune. This musical partnership ultimately lasted for many years.
Shipley set off the steel guitar craze in India. Other steel guitar players from the 78 era include Batuk Nandy, Brij Bhushan Kabra, Kazi Aniruddha, Mohon Bhattacharya, Nalin Mazumdar, Robin Paul, S. Hazarasingh, Sujit Nath and Sunil Ganguly. But most of these guitarists only recorded Tagore songs, with only a few (Kazi Aniruddha and S. Hazarasingh) recording Filmi tunes (Sunil Ganguly and Batuk Nandy would start doing film songs in the 60s and the 70s, respectively).
One distinction that set Shipley apart was that he played an eight string guitar, which he had designed and built to give him the drone sound that was more common in Indian classical music than in the Film songs. Almost all of the other Indian steel guitarists played a National Dual Six Console guitar. Shipley also designed his own electric violin as well, which he dubbed the ‘Gypsy Violin’ and used on many of his later records.
Shipley’s first album, The Man with The Golden Guitar, a title that stuck with him the rest of his career, was released in 1962. He would go on to release an album every year until 1982, as well as a dozen or so EPs. He also toured the world, playing shows in Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean Islands, Suriname, Guyana and the U.S., including the cities of New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit. Besides recording, Shipley acted in a few films as well, including 1964s “Cha Cha Cha.”
Shipley died on March 8, 2008 of a heart attack at his home in Mumbai. His daughter Ingrid is an artist and musician who lives in New York, and his nephew Valentine is a singer/songwriter in India.
Issue Number: GE. 8303
Matrix Number: CEI 42414-IC
Thanks to Derek Taylor at Bagatellen for the information.
September 1, 2009
Finally, I’m coming up for air and presenting a long-overdue, two-sided post. Unfortunately, being a Los Angeles resident at the moment, this means the air I’m coming up from is thick and sooty, with flakes of ash swirling around, wherever you’d care to look. People like to say, “Well, they should be used to it – it happens every year!” But, this is now the 10th largest in California’s history with no sign of letting up, and it looms…man, does it loom. The sky has been punched.
But let’s move on to loftier subjects. Today, we present both sides of a recording made ca. July 1916, by two Arab-Americans: the singer William Kamel, and the enduring Syrian-American violinist, Naim Karakand. There is an oud player as well, which may or may not be Kamel. They perform an aching love song, transliterated here as “Ayn Allaty.” When translated into English, it looks like sort of a strange phrase: “Where is she, the one who…?” This is the fragment of a question Mr. Kamel asks repeatedly. He and Karakand engage in interplay between singer and violinist that is made more delicate by the age and acoustics of the recording. Both musicians give each other plenty of room to perform, but there is no need for flagrant theatrics on either side. For a recording that was made 93 years ago, it still has subtlety.
Kamel recorded 12 sides that day in 1916, these two included. As far as I can tell, he did not record for any other company, though it’s possible he recorded for one of the several Arab-American independent labels of the time (Maloof and Macksoud, for example). Naim Karakand, on the other hand, recorded for multiple labels, both as an accompanist and as a virtuoso soloist, from about March of 1915 through the 1940s (under a multitude of name spellings). His talent makes one wonder about his history – in Anne K. Rasmussen’s excellent CD The Music of the Arab Americans on Rounder (where there are several pieces which feature Karakand), she supposes that Karakand arrived in the US sometime “during the second decade” of the 20th century. In fact, Karakand was born in 1891, and arrived in New York City in October of 1909, and is listed as “Nourim Karakan” in Ellis Island records. He passed away in 1973. Now, who was his teacher? Perhaps someone who knew the giant of violin, Aleppan Sami El Chawa? This is simply a fantasy for the time being…
The Columbia E-series began around 1908 and ended around 1923, and featured hundreds if not thousands of recordings made by US immigrants. Armenian, Norwegian, Icelandic, Polish – you name it. There are two things about this series that are worth mentioning from a collector’s standpoint: first, the majority of releases displayed one of the most irksome color schemes in record label history, with its gold on green, making artists and song titles almost impossible to read. Second, their pressings were often godawful, filled with noise even with a clean recording…making those distant, pre-electricity recordings extra difficult for the novice. This one is actually quite clean, believe it or not – thankfully, although the disparity in volume between Kamel’s voice and Karakand’s violin is wide, you can still sink into it. And I hope you do!
Issue Number: E3430
Matrix Number: 44179/44180
Thanks to Ian Nagoski for dates and info! Besides the aforementioned Music of the Arab Americans CD, definitely check out the blistering Karakand solo on Black Mirror, if you haven’t already.