August 31, 2013
Sometimes in the early days of recording, companies would temporarily change the names of certain bands on their releases, possibly unbeknownst to the performers themselves. Often it was to appeal to a different cultural market, and this happened in particular with Eastern European instrumental tunes, as with an instrumental there was obviously no language issue to prevent cross-marketing. For example, I’ve seen Slovakian bands renamed as Lithuanian bands, and their instrumentals re-pressed in a company’s Lithuanian series. Many tunes that were ostensibly Polish and issued in a company’s Polish catalog, were re-pressed in a Ukrainian series and added to the Ukrainian roster – and vice versa. And the same with “Russian” discs, “Lemko” instrumentals – the list goes on. It was kind of a mess, when you look at the data, and it happened frequently. Luckily, discographers such as Richard Spottswood spent years figuring these details out, looking at ledgers, cross-checking information, and thus solving a lot of mysteries.
Here’s a terrific polka by a Lithuanian band of actual anthracite coal miners, from central-eastern Pennsylvania, specifically Mahanoy City. The Mahanoy City Lithuanian Miner’s Band began recording in 1928 for Victor, and their last sessions appear to have been around March of 1933 for Columbia, when this disc, one of their last, was recorded in New York. The musicians on this particular track (I hear two violins, brass, bass, clarinet, and trumpet, at least) are not all known, but we do have some names from this session: Frank Yotko (usually credited as the leader of the band), Adomas Šaukevičius, J. Zack, and A. Shuck (possibly the same as Šaukevičius). According to the liner notes from Spottswood’s out-of-print New World LP Old Country Music in a New Land: Folk Music of Immigrants of Europe and the Near East, the Manahoy band were crucial participants in worker’s rights at the time, as they would let miners know when a strike was declared by traveling from one mine entrance to another, and playing in front of them.
Interesting, then, that this record was not issued as being by the Manahoy band, and instead issued as the Shenandoah Lithuanian Miner’s Band. This was not a cross-cultural marketing technique. The town of Shenandoah and Manahoy City are only about 2 miles away from each other, and both were mining towns with significant populations of Lithuanian immigrants. The Manahoy band had records issued as the “Lietuvių Tautiškas Orkestra,” the “Polish Novelty Orchestra,” the “Russian Novelty Orchestra,” and they even issued a disc titled “Shenandorio Polka.” One wonders why the small geographic change. Perhaps because the towns are so close to one another (Shenandoah is in fact technically part of West Manahoy Township) it was understood by locals to be the same band!
For more traditional and often rural Eastern European music made in the 20s-30s in the US by immigrants, check the Resources page under Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Issue Number: 16280-F
Matrix Number: w113675
August 27, 2013
Of the many hundreds – maybe even thousands – of mbaqanga or “jive” records that were issued in South Africa from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, most fell quite effortlessly into two camps: “sax jive,” which was usually instrumental and based around a saxophone lead, and “vocal jive” which broadly covered a wide range of vocal groups, from the well-known Dark City Sisters or the Mahotella Queens, to the lesser known yet no less wonderful Jabulani Quads, Zoo Lake Rockers, or the Beauty Queens.
There are variants, of course, to this rule – there’s plenty of jive with electric guitar as well as earlier, “pennywhistle jive” or kwela which is really its own genre. Collector Michael Kieffer once played me a terrific jive 78 with a tuba solo! But, one of the most fascinating subgenres, and one which only very occasionally made it to 78rpm records, was the rough-hewn sound of Zulu “violin jive.” While the sax and vocal jive records were generally popular, polished music for dancing, the early violin jive records sounded like they were from the countryside, and not just because of the presence of the instrument itself – the way these artists seemingly scrape their instrument is particularly raw.
One of the only early examples of writing I could find on South African popular music with violin that goes beyond a brief mention, appears in an article by ethnomusicologist David Rycroft in 1977.* In it, he describes a South African violin player in the 60s playing what was ostensibly a store-bought Western-style violin with steel strings, and with a homemade bridge and tuning pegs. The violin is held against the collarbone and according to Rycroft, was used as a “functionary replacement” of the earlier gourd-bows of the region (the ugubhu or the umakhweyana). Rycroft mostly studied the violin’s use as accompaniment to a particular type of vocal singing, and did not explicitly mention that it had been used in popular jive music, gumboot music, or had been issued on record. The Tiger Boys String Band, featured in this post, issued several records on the Quality label. Other great early violin artists included Richard Mtembu and the Durban Lions. Violin jive kept going until at least the early 1970s. For two excellent later examples, listen here, and here!
Label: Quality (South Africa)
Issue Number: XU. 381
Matrix Number: 7420
*Rycroft, David. (1977). Evidence of Stylistic Continuity in Zulu ‘Town’ Music. In Essays For a Humanist: An Offering to Klaus Wachsmann (pp. 216-260). New York, NY: Townhouse Press.
August 18, 2013
It’s been too long since a new Excavated Shellac post, and I can only blame that on the usual excuse: I’ve got way too much to do. However, happily, a variety of 78s keep rolling in, and now that I have a little more time to devote I’m back at it, with several new posts in the works. Collecting old records is both a blessing and a wonderful, celestial curse. So here we are again, bending our ear toward the past…
The music of Egypt before the 1930s is often cited as a Middle Eastern music “golden age,” with some of the greatest singers in the history of recording at top form, both in the classical sphere as well as the world of light classical and taqtuqa songs. I’ve written about women superstars such as Munira al-Mahdiyya before, but in the 1920s, some of the greatest male singers were also active, such as Sayyid Darwish with his renowned adwâr, and today’s focus, Abdel Latif El-Banna. These names may not mean much to western audiences unless they are reasonably familiar with traditional Middle Eastern music, but they were incredibly popular forces in music and stage, bridging a gap between classical forms and modern ones.
El-Banna, born in 1884, was one of the most popular singers of the sentimental, light song form, filled with melismatic ahaat. Sometimes called “Bulbul Egypt” (the nightingale of Egypt), what’s interesting is that El-Banna is frequently described as having a high, feminine voice, and deliberately singing in the style of women Egyptian singers. His popularity seemed to last only about a decade. He began recording for the Baidaphon company – the independent label based in Lebanon – sometime in the early to mid-1920s it seems, and continued until the early 30s, before disappearing from records (as one source put it). His legacy was at least 60 issued records, possibly many more. He died in 1969 or 1970 (two sources had conflicting dates).
This piece, the title of which loosely translates to “My Heart, Since the Day I Saw You,” was probably recorded in the mid-1920s – certainly in the pre-microphone acoustic era. It’s both sides of a clean copy and a superb recording. Despite the fact that singers of this time had to bellow into a massive horn, at the end of which sat a diaphragm that vibrated, which in turn moved a needle that etched itself into a rotating wax disc, and despite the fact that these wax-etched masters were mass-pressed onto rough discs covered in a bug excretion….the results are still tremendous.
Abdel Latif El-Banna – Alfouad Min Yom Chafek, Pts 1 & 2
Catalog / Matrix numbers: B 083402/3
Thanks to Rheim Alkadhi for translation help!