July 8, 2013
The mystery of this record rests in the biography of the singer. The late 19th and early 20th century Hindustani recording and performance circuit was rife with baiji-s[i], most notably, Kesarbai Kerkar (check out Ian Nagoski’s recent release of some of her classic 78s), Moghubai Kurdikar, Laxmibai Jadhav, and Gangubai Hanagal. While “Saraswatibai” would have not been an uncommon name at the time, the two Saraswatibai-s I encounter most often that were active around the time of this recording are the daughter of Abdul Karim Khan, Saraswatibai Rane, and his last wife, Saraswatibai Mirajkar. Given that these Saraswatibai-s were rather well-known singers, I concluded that Faterpekar was an alias of the better known Saraswatibai-s. However, a quick comparison with recordings of Rane and Mirajkar led me to conclude otherwise. So who was she?
The recorded output of Saraswatibai Faterpekar is likely scant given her relative obscurity in the literature. She’s never mentioned in the most common sources. There is one reference to a singer with the same name in K.P. Mukerji’s memoir The Lost World of Hindustani Music, which suggests that a Saraswatibai Faterpekar was a student of Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan of Bombay’s Bhendibazaar Gharana (school). Curiously, no histories of the Bhendibazaar cite her as being Khadim Hussain Khan’s student.
Suresh Chandvankar (from the Society of Indian Record Collectors) suggests that Saraswatibai was Goan (like Kesarbai and Moghubai), from the village of Fatarpe and arrived in Bombay, the hub of the burgeoning entertainment industry in the 1920s to seek fame and fortune in the big city. She must have been well-regarded at the time, as she was able to secure high-profile concerts. Micheal Kinnear’s Bio-Discography of Abdul Karim Khan has a reproduction of a 1938 concert poster where she headlines a show the day before the matchless Abdul Wahid Khan (Abdul Karim’s cousin!). This is about all I know about Saraswatibai Faterpekar’s biography. Perhaps readers of this blog will fill in the glaring gaps, giving us a better picture of the woman behind the voice.
The present recording, from the Columbia “Special Western Indian Recording” GE-1500 series, was likely recorded around 1933. Saraswatibai’s voice is ripe with rasa (literally the “juice” of aesthetic expression), a rich tone and articulation. Her taan-s (rapid vocalic passages) towards the end of this track rivals the best singers of her time. Basant is a late evening raga, so bask in Saraswatibai’s performance after 9pm!
[i] “Bai” was a common suffix added to women’s names in western India, especially those in the performing (singer/dancer) communities.
Issue Number: GE 1518
Matrix Number: WEI 2584-1
Additionally, Suresh Chandvankar of the Society of Indian Record Collectors has graciously given us some additional scans from a catalog:
It’s about time that we featured another lively piece from Martinique…or Martinique via Paris. Martinique has been a French possession since 1815 without interruption, although previous to that, it had been occupied by the French off and on since the 1600s. Today, it’s technically an overseas region of France, like Réunion and Guadeloupe. The population of Martinique is said to be descended mainly from West African slaves, as well as immigrants from a variety of cultures, including European, Carib, Chinese, and Tamil, among others. Creole is spoken, though the official language is of course French. This is all basic information, but it can be helpful when considering the complex origins of Martinique’s singular music, which, while undoubtedly influenced by the French, occupies a unique place in the history of jazz.
Orchestral biguine, the music featured on this track (as well as the name of a dance), dates from the 19th century, developed in the city of Saint Pierre. Musically, it is directly related to a very different sounding traditional drum music of Martinique also known as biguine, which is descended from West Africa. Perhaps the quintessential element in the orchestral type of biguine is the wonderfully weepy clarinet – it’s unmistakeable.
In France, beginning in the late 1920s, there began almost a Martiniquan music craze, centered around the music played at several clubs, particularly the Bal Colonial on Rue Blomet. The first discs made of this music, mainly those recorded by the giant of early Martiniquan biguine, Alexandre Stellio (1885-1939), ushered in what is considered the “golden age” of Martiniquan jazz. The standard repertoire of these bands, who often traded musicians and vocalists, included biguines, mazurkas, and waltzes, recorded from roughly 1929-1940. They are some of the most spirited examples of hot jazz from the Caribbean, or maybe jazz anywhere, for that matter, and were performed by the best Martiniquan and Guadaloupean musicians around. Martiniquan music represented cosmopolitan Paris.
Eugène Delouche (1909-1975) was one of the great clarinetists to appear on record just after Alexandre Stellio made his first recordings. Delouche studied music in school in Fort-de-France. The violin was his first instrument, but after he heard Alexandre Stellio, the story goes that he immediately switched to clarinet, and was one of Stellio’s very few rivals within a short time. It was Stellio himself who beckoned Delouche to replace him in the Martiniquan band for the Colonial Exposition in 1931. Within a year, Delouche was recording his own band for the French division of the Odeon label.
Delouche had a lengthy career. He continued to record extensively in the post-WWII era, particularly on his own Ritmo label with his Creole jazz band. He was also a trained cobbler, and continued to repair shoes until his death in Saint-Ouen, where he was also working as a taxi driver.
Many great examples of early Martiniquan jazz have been reissued. These reissues, with the exception of a terrific Arhoolie release (Au Bal Antillais), have mainly been in France, and many have now gone out of print. Fremeaux, thankfully, has kept their three 2-CD sets of the history of biguine in print, as well as the complete recordings of Alexandre Stellio, and those are findable.
This track, originally recorded around the middle of 1932, looks to have once been reissued years ago on a CD titled “Creole Orchestras In Paris” that seems to be long out of print. So, I thought I’d resurrect it here with a new transfer from my copy.
Catalog Number: 250.251
Matrix Number: KI 5474