Author: JW

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

4img755

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

4img618

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.

Bala Melikyan – Xaric Segah

I reached out to Excavated Shellac followers on Facebook, asking for suggestions in an attempt to give myself a much-needed kick to complete a new post. One of the primary requests was string music from Iran. I decided for something in the ballpark, geographically and musically, though slightly more complicated.

The artist featured here, Bala Melikyan, was an Armenian from Nagorno-Karabakh, the currently autonomous, disputed territory inside present-day Azerbaijan. Mountainous Karabakh has been a region with ethnic strife between the majority Armenians, who refer to it by the ancient name of Artsakh and are allied with Armenia, and the Azeris. The conflict dates back well over 100 years, rooted in the Bolshevik takeover of what was then known as Transcaucasia, and is something I will freely admit to being only a novice at grasping. What I can say, however, is that when it came to recording music in the Caucuasus prior to the Russian Revolution, the region was ethnically complex. Whenever a recording engineer went to Tbilisi in Georgia (considered the cultural center of the Caucasus at the time), or Baku in Azerbaijan, multiple ethnicities were recorded, and often the musicians played with each other, regardless of ethnicity. Singers commonly performed in multiple languages. This, on its own, naturally suggests deep musical ties all across the Caucasus, and of course, Iran.

Such is the case with Bala Melikyan. Born in 1888, Melikyan was a Christian Armenian from Shusha in Karabakh, a city known for its musicians who practiced the Azeri musical form known as mugham, and one of the primary cities for Armenians in the Caucasus, along with Tbilisi. His instrument was the tar, the long-necked lute of the region with a resonator that is “waisted” with an hourglass shape, traditionally is made of mulberry wood, and with three sets of double strings. Melikyan was the son of a famous tar player from Shusha known simply as Grigor (1859-1929). I’ve documented Grigor as having recorded for the Gramophone Company in at least two sessions in Tbilisi, under the names Balitka Grigor (1909) and Bala Grigorevich (1910), respectively.

Prior to the Russian Revolution (as discussed in this earlier post), the recording industry in the region was for the most part run by Europe-based multinational corporations. Even smaller labels, liked Extraphone in Kiev, who recorded in Baku, were sub-branches of European companies. After the onset of World War I and the Russian Revolution, there was a dramatic slowdown if not a full shutdown. Recording in the Caucasus and many other places under Soviet control essentially ceased after 1915 (and the 1915 sessions made by the Gramophone Company were completely lost). The industry began to pick itself up throughout the 1920s – but this time, it was governed by the State.

According to Anzor Erkomaishvili, after the Revolution there was no recording in the Caucasus until 1930*. This is one of the first – a tar improvisation by Melikyan in the Azeri mugham repertoire, in the segah mode. It was likely recorded in Tbilisi, as the flip side is from the same sessions and features a kemanche (violin) solo by Sasha Oganezashvili (1889-1932). Oganezashvili, a Georgian who was also known as Alexander Ohanyan Arshak, had actually recorded with Bala Melikyan’s father in 1909, for the Gramophone Company.

Melikyan died in 1935. This disc was issued first on the MuzTrust label, then reissued a few years later on the SovSong label. SovSong was pressed by the Aprelevka pressing plant – long before the famous and well-distributed Aprelevsky Zavod imprint of the giant Soviet recording apparatus.

Bala Melikyan – Xaric Segah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes
Label: SovSong
Issue Number: 414
Matrix Number: 1010

*This seems to hold true. There were, however, Georgian, Armenian, and Azeri songs pressed on 78 on the Muzpred label in the mid-1920s, all performed by a man named Armenak Kahurov. It may be very likely, however, that these were all recorded in Russia.

Jean Bosco Mwenda – Kwaleza

If there is one Sub-Saharan African acoustic guitarist from the “golden era” of African guitar playing that people in the West may have heard of, it’s probably Jean Bosco Mwenda (or Mwenda Jean Bosco, as is the standard). This, despite the fact that very little of his output has ever been reissued, and all of his discs are very rare. His reputation outside of Congo and East Africa largely stems from just one of his compositions: “Masanga,” a beautifully executed, inventive, musically varied piece that originally appeared on 78 in 1952.

Bosco was born in 1930. Hugh Tracey, the South African ethnographer who was a part-time recordist and scout for the Gallotone label at the time, heard Bosco playing on the streets of Likasi, Congo (then known as Jadotville) in 1951, and cut his first records for that label. “Masanga” was so popular locally that there were two versions of it issued on 78 within one year – one with vocals and an instrumental. Bosco’s career as a musician was launched, though he still continued his work at a bank, and later for a mining company. His first records were usually sung in his native Sanga language (a branch of Luba)1, although as his popularity grew he very often sang in Swahili. Bosco continued to record for Gallotone without Hugh Tracey, and later for the Kenyan ASL label in 1962, possibly when he had re-located to Nairobi for a six-month stint advertising an aspirin product known as Aspro, with his cousin, guitarist Edouard Masengo (one promotional Aspro 78 has been discovered, by Masengo). It’s estimated that Bosco recorded at least 100 78s in total, though there is no complete discography of his works, no catalog, nor documentation that broadly discusses his output.

Anyway – after 1952, Tracey regularly extolled Bosco and featured “Masanga” in his lectures to African music and culture societies around the globe, to great response, even directly selling copies of the Gallotone 78 to members of his audience. Tracey had formed the International Library of African Music (ILAM) and had begun his “Music of Africa” series of 10″ LPs, culled from his tapes. These LPs were for Western audiences – really, the first extensive, contemporary retrospective of African popular and traditional music – and Tracey included a version of “Masanga” on the “Guitars of Africa” volume…except, it was totally uncredited.

“Masanga” did receive an Osborn Award from the African Music Society. As early as 1961, ethnomusicologist David Rycroft penned two articles on Bosco’s guitar technique for the journal African Music, focusing in part on “Masanga.” Rycroft mentioned that “somehow” Bosco had learned guitar finger picking, a statement that may indicate how little of this music was available in the West, as not only were there numerous acoustic guitar players active on disc when Bosco was discovered, but by 1961, when Rycroft was writing, there were probably hundreds of acoustic guitarists in Congo, Eastern, and Southern Africa on 78s at that time, many of whom were terrifically talented finger-pickers. It also shows that scholars in the West didn’t necessarily understand the record industry at the time, as Sub-Saharan Africans in urban areas had long been given the chance to hear American guitar-based country music and other styles (like Caribbean music), on imported 78s. Frank Crumit, the balladeer of the ’20s and ’30s, was quite popular in Kenya, for example. This is not a knock on Rycroft or Bosco’s obvious talent – it’s just a statement that we can make in hindsight, now knowing a broader picture. The availability of this music is only slightly better than it was in 1961. In order to hear most of the music that was issued on 78 around the globe, you have to track down the original copies. This is a lifelong quest.

Bosco’s output appears to have stopped entirely after 1962, a writer later stating that his career fell into oblivion once guitars went electric on most African record labels. However, Bosco was invited to the Newport Folk Festival in 1969.  This was his only trip to the U.S. In 1982, after several years trying to locate Bosco, Austrian ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik along with guitarist John Low, helped to bring Bosco to Europe for a brief tour organized by the Iwaleza House in Bayreuth, and to record an album. Later, musician, author, and historian Elijah Wald studied with both Bosco and Masengo in the late 1980s, learning their technique and songs, and for years was the only person offering a sample of Mwenda’s rare discs on homemade CDs. I mention all of this, because even though Bosco’s records were essentially distributed only in Africa, and apart from “Masanga” his works were virtually out of reach to anyone else, there had been several concerted efforts by determined scholars and musicians to bring his music to a wider audience prior to Bosco’s death in 1990. Most recently, the vocal version 78 of “Masanga” was included on the Secret Museum of Mankind series on Yazoo, a tape-original was issued on The Very Best of Hugh Tracey on SWP Records, and I included the instrumental version on Opika Pende.

I first heard a copy of this song “Kwaleza,” about 12 years ago, on a homemade CD made by longtime blues and country 78s dealer and musician, the late Mike Stewart (aka Backwards Sam Firk). It’s no surprise that Stewart, a veteran cohort of John Fahey and Joe Bussard, would become enamored of this music. While not nearly as ingenious as “Masanga” (what could be?) – in fact, it’s far more simple – it became one of my favorite pieces, with its repetitive melody. I never thought I’d ever get my own copy. I never knew anyone else who had it. It wasn’t for lack of trying…or even relentless drive. Sometimes, it just takes time, luck, and friends.

Jean Bosco Mwenda – Kwaleza


Notes

Label: Gallotone
Issue Number: GB 1783
Matrix Numer: ABC.11610

1This disc lists the language as “Luba/Songe,” which is also known as Northern Luba or Kisonge – however, Mwenda himself states in his interview with Elijah Wald that, when not singing in Swahili, he sang in his two native languages, Sanga and Yeke. It’s quite possible that “Songe” is a misprint and should be “Sanga” on this label – or, Mwenda could actually be singing in Songe. The title, of course, could mean the same as it does in Swahili: “Let’s Go.” I’ll await word from the experts…

Tbilisi, 1902

It was winter in the South Caucasus, and an American recording engineer in his mid-20s named William Sinkler Darby was on the road.

Darby was already a pioneer in that fledgling industry, having worked in Emile Berliner’s studio in Washington, DC, in the mid-1890s. After arriving in London in 1899 to meet his former colleague at Berliner, Fred Gaisberg, and to help establish the soon-to-be massive Gramophone Company, Darby would begin an itinerant lifestyle that would take him across multiple continents in just a few years – rarely, it seems, with the time to look back. The market for sound recordings was beginning to explode.

He began traveling long distances by rail as Gaisberg’s steadfast companion and assistant, demonstrating the new gramophone and recording artists across Europe. Within a short time, they’d recorded in Leipzig, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Paris, Madrid, Valencia, Glasgow, Belfast, and Cardiff. By 1901, Darby started to lead recording expeditions on his own, bringing him again to Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Moscow, recording hundreds of sides. By February of 1902, Darby had already recorded in St Petersburg multiple times, learning how to deal with extreme cold and the temperament of Feodor Chaliapin.

Yet, this trip was different. It seems unlikely that any recording engineer had set foot in the Caucasus region to make recordings of local music – music that was decidedly different than anything the Gramophone Company had recorded before, in an utterly contrasting atmosphere and culture. The closest they had come was with Fred Gaisberg, who in 1901 traveled to Kazan in Russia, to record the music of Tatarstan. Gaisberg was horrified during his entire visit to Kazan and unleashed his prejudiced invective in his diary: “The Russian part especially contains handsome buildings and churches. Streets are orderly, and there are plenty of parks. But the Tatar section is beyond a doubt the dirtiest, filthiest vile-smelling place I have ever come across. All the Tatars have that Oriental smell about them that seems to asphyxiate you. I always feel faint when near them.”

One wonders if Darby felt the same. Likely the music was baffling to these engineers from America. Up to that time, the normal recording repertoire for the Gramophone Company was what one might expect. It primarily consisted of Western classical vocalists and instrumentalists, comic singers, military bands, and other entertainers. A substantial amount of European folk music had certainly been recorded by that time – in Spain, for example – but Asia was a different story. In 1902, even Cairo had not yet been visited and captured on disc. This was an industry in transition in more ways than one; improving rapidly in terms of technology, yet still in its earliest stages, recording anything, expanding markets. The Gramophone Company’s records at that time were one-sided, and pressed in the company’s plant in Hanover, Germany. The reverse sides of these discs were etched with the image of a cherub cutting grooves into a record with the quill of a feather. In 1901, a 10″ disc that held 3 minutes of recording was perfected and put into use – but the 7″ disc was still commonly used as a primary sound carrier on these excursions, and at the home office in London…even if it sometimes held far less than two minutes of music.

Despite the vast expanse of mountainous, rural terrain to cross, there were important, multicultural urban centers in the Caucasus, and Darby was sent to explore them on this brief trip, presumably to investigate if business was viable. And by doing so, he accidentally made history. His two stops were Baku, in present day Azerbaijan, and Tbilisi, in Georgia. It’s likely that he took the Transcaucasus Railway, which by the early 1880s reached both cities. In any case, Darby arrived in Baku at 2 AM, February 6th, 1902. He spent only two days in the city, though he managed to record 57 discs’ worth of material – mostly brief, 7″ masters. Azeri music was labeled “Persian Tatar” when Darby’s recordings hit the shops, but he also recorded a number of Armenian artists. He recorded several sazandar, the trios associated with Azeri mugham music, as well as instrumental soloists, a poet, and folk dances.

It took approximately two days for Darby to arrive in Tbilisi, some 600 km away. Tbilisi, or Tiflis, was considered the cultural epicenter of the Caucasus – an ancient city where numerous peoples intersect, with its own fascinating musical history and styles, and which was then under the Russian Empire. When Darby arrived at 8 AM on February 10th, he went to the old Hotel London. It was already common practice for engineers to set up sessions in hotel rooms – this procedure went on for decades. The Hotel London, with it’s banner sign in French (“Hotel de Londres”) sat right on what was once known as Alexander Park, named after Alexander II. (It is now known as April 9 Park, in commemoration of the tragedy of April 9, 1989, at an anti-Soviet march where many protesting Georgians, mostly young women, were killed or injured by the Soviet army.)

Darby spent a total of 9 days in Tbilisi, and what we know of the recordings he made there again show the musical diversity of the region. He recorded the first Georgian polyphonic choirs, violin and tar improvisations, a host of Armenian and Georgian singers, double reed duets of duduk and zurna, even soloists on the wooden salamuri flute and the tárogató reed. There were songs from the Georgian regions of Guria, Kakheti, and Kartli. All told, he recorded 117 records, more than two-thirds of which were one-sided 7″ releases. Only 31 were longer performances on 10″ masters, of which this example is one.

Where were these discs sold? According to Anzor Erkomaishvili of the Rustavi Choir, the Gramophone studio shop in Tbilisi was in operation from 1901 to 1914, and at least for a time run by G.S. Davidov. It was located on the main street of Tbilisi – what was then called Golovinsky Prospect and now known as Rustaveli Avenue.

This appears to have been the only recording from those sessions featuring music from the region of Abkhazia. An instrumental featuring two double-reed zurnas and percussion. (I thought, perhaps, that they might be playing the Abkhaz reed, the abyk, but I don’t think so – at the same session two zurna players are listed performing some duets with duduk, so it is very likely those are the same performers.) The label of the disc itself says only one thing in Georgian handwriting: “Abkhazuri” along with “Grusinian” in English, which was the old adjectival form for “Georgian.” No performers are credited, though we do have some additional notes that exist in the original ledgers – the term “Kabardinskiy Tanetz” was listed. This indicates that it’s a dance tune from northwest of Abkhazia, in the region known as Kabardinia, now part of the Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Whether or not these are Abkhaz musicians, we’ll probably never know.

Instrumental Trio – Abkhazuri, Kabardinskiy Tanetz

The Gramophone Company must have found some success in these sessions, as they sent engineers Franz and Max Hampe back to Tbilisi several times between 1903 and 1907. In 1909, Franz Hampe recorded in the city on his massive Central Asian tour so well-documented in Will Prentice’s Before the Revolution CD on Topic, as well as the Drinking Horns and Gramophones CD on Traditional Crossroads – both essential CDs and primary references. One year later, engineer Edmund Pearse recorded a host of sides in Tbilisi every year from 1910 to 1914. Then, the Great War, and the Russian Revolution.

Over the past 27 years, since Georgia declared its sovereignty, Abkhazia has been the site of strife, accusations of ethnic cleansing, and war between Russia and Georgia. The Abkhaz consider themselves a Russian republic, though they are recognized by just a few international entities. Georgia considers it an autonomous republic of Georgia.

The Hotel London, as it stands today, is a shadow of its formal self. It’s now a private apartment building in a state of arrested decay. I went past just two weeks ago. Its front entrance has been replaced, but peek inside the side entrance and you might be able to imagine the sounds coming out of one of the rooms that February, 115 years ago.