Author: Jonathan Ward

Turkish Classical Soloists of 1927

Sometimes one piece isn’t quite enough; it’s fun to compare, especially within a given time frame. I arbitrarily chose the year 1927 to focus on five particularly graceful taksims and instrumental improvisations within the modal framework of Turkish classical music. Many such discs were recorded and there are others I could have grabbed off of the shelf. This is just a representative drop in a bucket and are performances that I believe have not been reissued…or reissued with decent sound quality. I would definitely recommend digging further and a good place to start would be To Scratch Your Heart: Early Recordings from Istanbul, which contains additional exquisite taksims, including some from our chosen year…

Mesut Cemil had the distinction of being the son of the great Tanburi Cemil Bey (1873-1916), whom many consider to be the most important Ottoman classical performer and composer during the early recorded era. The sometimes irascible and occasionally alcoholic Tanburi Cemil Bey was not only a multi-instrumentalist, but he also revitalized the Turkish art-music solo, or taksim. He also recorded an abundance of discs in the earliest era of recording, well-circulated and revered for years (though very difficult to find in clean condition, today).

Could Mesut ever live up to his father’s revered position? Born in 1902, he studied Western classical music in Turkey as well as in Germany, while also studying tanbur first with his father and Refik Fersan (aka “Refik Bey”), a tanbur composer and student of his father. Eventually he ended up at the Darülelhan conservatory. In 1927, he’d begun working for Istanbul Radio and around October of that year, he made his first records for Columbia, including this one. This piece is a sirto – a dance piece that is also used in Turkish classical music – in the Şehnâz makam.

The long-necked Turkish tanbur (also tambur, tambour, etc) has seven strings, though early examples used eight strings in four courses. Mesut Cemil eventually had a long career both in conservatories and with urban radio orchestras. He represented Turkey at the famed 1932 Congress of Arabic Music in Cairo, and apparently discovered regional performer Âşık Veysel. He retired from music in 1955 and died in 1963.

The engineer for these original recordings must have chosen a large room with a tall ceiling, which greatly enhances their quality and mood. Some performances from these 1927 Columbia sessions were later issued for the Turkish-American market, dubbed from clean copies (as in, not from original metal masters, as they must have been unavailable) and issued on a similar, maroon label.

Mesut Cemil – Şehnâz Sirto

Another masterful performance from those same 1927 Columbia sessions is by the enigmatic poet who went by the name Neyzen Tevfik. He was born Tevfik Kolaylı in Bodrum in southwestern Turkey, in 1879. By the early 20th century he was a practicing Bektashi dervish. Despite being a member of the Sufi order, he is known for having a radical, unusual and sometimes contradictory life and lifestyle. Over the course of his career he wrote satirical and vulgar verse that railed against injustices and condemned autocracy. He was a staunch Kemalist, as well as a wandering vagabond, spending most of his career as a transient, living out of inns, occasionally being thrown in jail or institutionalized, and nursing a serious alcohol problem.

Biographies on him tend to emphasize those aspects of his life, but it also happens that he was a beautiful ney player, as captured here. The ney is an end-blown flute made of cane, and another important instrument in Turkish classical music. According to sources, Neyzen learned his craft in Urla on the Izmir Bay. His career on record was lengthy, recording taksims on the instrument for the Lyrophon label as early as the first decade of the 20th century. He died in 1953.

(Note for maniacs: it never ceases to amaze me the difficult-to-read color combinations that 78 record labels often used. In this case: silver lettering on green background, which makes a centered photo or a straightforward scan virtually unreadable.)

Neyzen Tevfik – Bestenigâr Taksim

Mustafa Sunar (also known as Moustafa Bey and Mousta Bey) was born in 1881 and while primarily a violin performer, it’s his rebab discs that may be his most notable. The rebab is a spike fiddle that is bowed and like many instruments, its origins are vague; there are rebab types across Asia and documented for centuries. What is relevant, however, is that while the bowed rebab was popular in Turkish classical music up to the 18th century, it fell out of fashion with the introduction of the violin. Thus, it was not as well-documented on disc compared to the violin, oud, and tanbur, and as such represents an older era of music.

This piece was recorded September 18, 1927 in Istanbul by the Gramophone Company; a taksim in the Evcârâ mode (transliterated as “Evidj Arrah” on the disc). This was a significant recording session; almost 300 matrices were made, or the equivalent of about 150 discs, by engineer Edward Fowler, right after a session in Cairo. Mustafa Sunar recorded three discs at this session.

Sunar was involved with various Turkish music conservatories and taught many students, perhaps most notably the popular singer Safiye Ayla. He died in 1961.

Eyyubî Mustafa Sunar – Evcârâ Taksim

The oud player known as İbrahim Efendi was born Avram Levi to a Jewish family in Aleppo, in 1872. He apparently learned oud from a young age, spending time in other major cities in the Ottoman Empire such as Damascus and Cairo (which gave him his name prefix: Mısırlı), before eventually settling in Istanbul.

It’s unclear precisely how many discs he made. He is often confused with a vocalist active at the same time, Hanende İbrahim Efendi, and the dates listed for his life are varied. Although he also recorded for Odeon, this piece is from the only disc he recorded during the same autumn 1927 session for Columbia featured above. He died in 1933.

Mısırlı İbrahim Efendi – Mâhûr Taksim

Aleko Bacanos’ career seems to have been somewhat obscured by his well-known younger brother, Yorgo, a highly regarded oud player who recorded for many labels himself. Aleko’s specialty was the kemençe; that is, the classical kemençe or kemenche, sometimes known as the Politiki lyra, an important instrument both in Turkish classical music but also in popular music and rebetiko played by Greeks in Izmir. Frequently referred to as “pear-shaped,” it’s a small, bowed lute played on the knee or between the knees.

Born in the Istanbul suburb of Silivri, Aleko’s earliest documented recordings were for the important early independent label of Istanbul, Orfeon, run by the Blumenthal brothers. He later recorded for Odeon multiple times during the acoustic and electric eras. For Columbia in 1927, he recorded several duet performances with his brother. This piece was made for the Gramophone Company on September 18, 1927, where, just after Mustafa Sunar had performed on the rebab, he cut six taksims. This piece is in the Sabâ makam.

Aleko Bacanos – Sabâ Taksim

Aleko (left) and Yorgo Bacanos

This selection could continue. At the same Gramophone Company session in September of ’27, apart from Aleko Bacanos and Mustafa Sunar, several other giants of Turkish instrumental art music made records: Refik Fersan recorded tanbur taksims, Neşet Bey recorded multiple oud solos, Neyzen Tevfik was brought back for ney taksims, Artaki Candan cut six solos on the kanun. The same goes for the Columbia sessions that began just as the GramCo sessions were ending, in late September and October of that year. Apart from whom we’ve already discussed, Fuad Efendi performed taksims on the tanbur, Mustafa Sunar again appeared on rebab, Kanuni Ahmet soloed, and even Zurnazen Ibrahim cut taksims on the zurna. I believe these tracks will help add to the conversation.

Discographic details

Columbia 12660, mx 22213
Columbia GT 12299, mx 22175
HMV AX 422, 7-219324, mx BF 1308
Columbia 12307, mx 22147
HMV AX 497, 7-219350, mx BF 1300

Thanks to Gokhan Aya and Hugo Strötbaum!

Curaçao and its Neighbors at 78 rpm

Entire histories have been written about early recordings from certain regions of the Caribbean. A wealth of truly excellent (and a few mediocre) restorations and reissues have been produced, especially when it comes to the 78 recordings from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, as well as the Martiniquan and Guadeloupean jazz recorded in Paris. Jamaica, which didn’t have a recording industry until the very early 50s, has also been the focus of some wonderful reissues from painfully rare 78s on minuscule labels, with great mento sides featuring rootsy bamboo saxophones and banjos.

What’s known about the nascent and confined 78 rpm industry based in Curaçao and neighboring Aruba is largely thanks to one person: Tim de Wolf of the Netherlands. Sometimes it takes just a single, dedicated individual to shed light on an entire world of uncommon discs. Although some of de Wolf’s writing on the subject is in Dutch, it’s because of his work from the late 1990s onward, including a discography and a single CD, that we have a better idea of how 78 production and distribution worked on the islands, as well as what types of music was recorded. In this entry, we’ll focus on two musical styles with examples that are much less known.

Prior to the 1950s, the music of Curaçao barely registered. The first appearances appear to be from 1928-1930, when compositions by Curaçaoan composers Charles Maduro and Rudolf Palm (1880-1950) were recorded in New York City by studio groups on Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick. The discs on Brunswick are perhaps more notable as the groups that performed the works had relevant names like “Orquesta Brunswick Antilleana” and “Orquesta Bogotana”; the latter was more of an upscale orchestra, but the former group, with their horn section, added a little more flair to Palm’s arrangements of tumbas, waltzes, and pasillos. Still, they were studio bands. Information is scant regarding the make-up of these groups; for at least one session, the Brunswick Antilleana group was led by Puerto Rican pianist Manrique Pagán. This lack of early recording for the “Leeward Antilles” is not really a surprise, especially since there was quite a bit of recording in nearby Trinidad, and by Trinidadian artists in New York. There may have been a feeling by major recording labels in the U.S. that the regional market was being filled due to the relative proximity of the islands, despite cultural differences. It may also have had something to do with the fact that Trinidad was a British colony, and Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba were Dutch colonies.

Local recording on Curaçao and Aruba did not begin until the mid- to late 1940s, right at a moment when the islands were seeing an influx of money from both tourism and the oil refining economy. It happened in fits and starts: a few discs were recorded for RCA Victor in Aruba in 1946 by the “Orquesta Alma Latina,” and a handful of discs on one-off labels were issued as part of local political campaigns. In 1948-1949, however, Horatio “Jacho” Hoyer (1904-1987) established his ‘Hoyco’ label in Willemstad, and his colleague Thomas Henriquez (1912-1955), also a shop owner in Willemstad like Hoyer, started his Musika label approximately one year later. A third significant 78 label, Padú, formed by musicians Padú del Caribe and Rufo Wever, ramped up in Oranjestad, Aruba, in 1952. There were several other related and/or smaller labels (such as Caribia, Benarsa, Sabaneta, and Cah’I Orgel), but their output was small in comparison. As Tim de Wolf has written, these labels were run as if they were an enjoyable hobby; profits were minimal, music was recorded on weekends, food and alcohol was served during the sessions, the records were distributed mostly in Curaçao and pressed in numbers of about 500 to 1000 each, and most seem to have been recorded in the back rooms of their local shops, in makeshift studios. Musika and Padú discs were pressed in Miami, Florida. By 1955 or so, these three labels had shuttered. Horatio Hoyer had started a radio station, Radio Hoyer (still in existence today), and no longer had the time for the label; Henriquez suddenly passed away, and Padú began recording with RCA.

At least 275 individual 78s were issued on these labels. Most were entirely from the islands, apart from a few sides by Venezuelan, Dominican, and Surinamese bands that were passing through. Most were sung in the local creole language, Papiamento, which is based on Spanish and Portuguese. Much of what was issued, and most of what has been restored and reissued on CD, is popular music by brass-led, Cuban-influenced bands like Sexteto Gressmann, Conjunto Cristal, and Estrellas del Caribe, performing terrific guarachas, tumbas, and merengues. There was, however, a wider variety of music that appeared on these labels; one example would be instrumental waltzes and pasillos that bear a strong resemblance and instrumentation to the same from Trinidad and Venezuela – languid, flowing, with a strumming cuatro. Another important local style is tambú.

Tambú originated as a music of the enslaved people of the Curaçao and neighboring islands, dating as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also the name of the corresponding dance, and the name of the primary instrument, the tambú drum, which is usually accompanied by a metal instrument, of which there are several types, known as the heru. It is unmistakably African in origin, and has a primary “cantor” and a “koro” (chorus) that responds throughout. Historically and up to today, lyrics of a tambú piece contain social criticism and sometimes unmitigated protest. The Dutch colonial government considered the music evil and outright banned tambú music (and their gatherings) over the centuries until 1952. Today it is considered important cultural heritage.

A total of eleven known tambú discs were issued by these local labels, most on Hoyco. This example is by the group led by Nicholaas Susanna, known as “Shon Colá,” considered one of the great tambú group leaders and vocalists of the 20th century. It features vocalist “Bea,” or Bea Maria Isemia, aka “Kalukreit,” with Gustaaf Doran, known as “Ta di Djudju” or simply “Ta,” on the tambú drum. Colá, according to an interview, began performing tambú when he was about fifteen years old and continued to give concerts well into his eighties. This piece was recorded circa early 1952.

Cola i su grupo, with Bea – Waja Den Cura

Bonaire is about twenty miles east of Curaçao. The Quinteto Bonaire recorded seven sides for Thomas Henriquez’ Musika label, including this piece of Simadan “folklore” with violin. The Simadan is an annual event on Bonaire from February to May with festive music and dance, that has its origins as a harvest festival when the inhabitants of the island would harvest sorghum. Little is known about the group except that it featured the group members “S. Nicasia,” “R. Hart,” and “D. Piar.” It was recorded in Willemstad in October 1950.

Quinteto Bonaire – Simadan

Label: Hoyco
Issue number: 12
Matrix: NWI 24

Label: Musika
Issue number: 1016
Matrix: HEN 128

Much information from Tim de Wolf’s website, release, and his Discography of Music from the Netherlands Antilles & Aruba (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 1999).

Thanks to Shayne Schafer and Reto Muller.

Sudan at 78 rpm


In July of 2020, I attempted a simplistic recording history of Somali music on 78; a history still clouded in a lot of mystery, with most known recordings not fully documented. Perhaps even more esoteric a topic is the recorded music of Sudan on 78. As with Somalia, the early music of Sudan certainly was set to disc and sold commercially, but compared to the music of Egypt and North Africa, or the music of the Levant, or even music from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, little of it has been documented in a methodical fashion, at least in English. I would also say that outside of some collector and historian circles, this history is altogether unfamiliar.

Prior to the 1950s, it appears there were no “sessions” in Khartoum. It was not a stop for peregrine engineers from the European multinational recording companies, although technically, by 1899, one could take trains from Cairo to Khartoum, crossing the Nile at Wadi Halfa just south of the Egyptian border. The first known recordings of music from the Sudan appear to have been made in Cairo in February of 1903 by Gramophone Company engineer Franz Hampe. It was the company’s first expedition to Cairo and was likely exploratory, to a degree. They hadn’t yet contracted or recorded such famed early Egyptian singers as Abdel Hayy Hilmi or Yusuf Al-Manyalawi. Hampe cut a grand total of four sides by the “Sudanese Vocal Quartet” during his trip. Two were seven-inch, single-sided 78s, and two were ten-inch. The larger discs were both titled “Love Song of Sudan.” The shorter tracks were titled “Prayer” and “Song.” That’s all that is known, for now.

It took that same massive company another twenty-eight years to once again record music from Sudan, when in March 1930, back in Cairo, Sudanese singer Fatma El Chameya cut six sides for GramCo/HMV. Well, technically only two of her records were released, as two of the sides were “damaged” and never issued, according to the files. However, by that time there was a young Sudanese businessman in Cairo working with other labels, and he was bringing Sudanese musicians to the city to record: an entrepreneur who went by the pseudonym Dmitri Al-Bazaar.


Dmitri Al-Bazaar was born Dimitrios Nikolaou Kativanides around the turn of the 20th century in the Dongola area of northern Sudan. Al-Bazaar’s father was a Greek-Austrian who lived and worked in Sudan, and whose mother was the sister of famed Austrian soldier and colonial administrator in the Sudan, Rudolf Carl von Slatin (1857-1932) aka “Sultan Pasha.” Al-Bazaar’s father married a local Dongola woman, and while growing up young Al-Bazaar lived an educated, multilingual, bi-cultural existence, with his father calling him “Dmitri” and his mother calling him “Mohammed.”

His first business was in the central “bazaar” of Khartoum in the early 1920s, where he acted as a local photographer and newspaper agent for Cairo papers and magazines, eventually establishing a popular shop and magazine “library.” At some point in the mid-1920s, his Cairo connections suggested he become a gramophone agent in Khartoum, and it appears that by 1925 he was the regional agent for the Baidaphon label which had a thriving Cairo department (although as a company it was largely run out of Beirut and Berlin).

Legend has it that Al-Bazaar tried to engage his Sudanese musician friends to record in Cairo around this time, but they were unenthusiastic, thinking that the act of playing music on discs could be perceived as fomenting resistance against colonial powers. It appears that Al-Bazaar eventually prevailed, although from here on out, precise details are vague. It’s been said, however, that the first Sudanese artist that Al-Bazaar arranged to record was Abdullah Al-Mahi, who recorded several discs in Cairo ca. 1928.

The music that Al-Mahi and the Sudanese musicians who also recorded during that era is now referred to as haqeeba music. The story of haqeeba is fascinating as it was not a term in use at the time. Haqeeba, meaning “briefcase,” is in reference to a Sudanese radio show from the 1940s hosted by Ahmed Mohamed Saleh, on Radio Omdurman. On this show, which was called “Haqeebat al-Fann,” Saleh would play old Sudanese 78 rpm records – discs from his briefcase, so to speak. Thus, the term haqeeba was born, used to refer to older, popular Sudanese music on commercial 78 rpm records.

It appears that, apart from the two discs made in 1930 for HMV by Fatima El Chameya (one side of which can be heard on the 2008 Honest Jon’s compilation “Sprigs of Time”), the majority of early Sudanese recordings were issued on the Odeon label. They appeared scattered throughout their Cairo series from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. By 1937, Odeon offered over 118 discs from Sudan, including discs by Abdel Karim Karouma (Romanized simply as “Karoma” on discs), Mohamed Ahmed Sarour (“Sarur” on discs), Etoum and Ibrahim Abdel Jalil, Mademoiselle Nagat, Osman Kili, and Bechir el Robatabi, among others.

Major labels were not the only outlet for Sudanese song at that time. Again, very little has been written in English about Armenian music entrepreneur Setrak Mechian, except that he was a notorious early gramophone agent, salesman, and recordist. He was born in 1877 and began his career as early as 1904, attempting to get into the business in the Levant. By 1908, he was Odeon’s agent in Beirut, and already had earned the ire of both major and independent labels for bootlegging all of their records, likely by crudely making copies of existing discs with a pair of hydraulic presses. That same year he started his own label – “Fabrik Mechian” – and moved his business and production to Cairo. Apparently he was a one-man-army, recording the artists, announcing the performers himself, and even pressing the records himself; a true renaissance man. While a nuisance to the moneyed international labels and with records pressed on poorly refined shellac, Mechian was dogged, and recorded many important Egyptian singers during the years his label was active. In the 1930s, Dmitri Al-Bazaar, our agent from Sudan, is documented as working for the Mechian company in Cairo and this is likely when a variety of Sudanese recordings also began appearing on the Mechian label.

(Sudanese discs on Mechian courtesy of Ahmad Al-Salhi.)

In the 1950s, several East African labels issued a smattering of Sudanese discs, including the Tom Tom label (one is featured on my “Alternate History” collection); however, some or perhaps all of these were examples of music from South Sudan. One label named Sudanphone was also active, although the scope of their releases is totally unknown. Their records were pressed in Greece and one issue is in the Benno Haupl collection at UC Santa Barbara.


It’s unclear to me if Dmitri Al-Bazaar was responsible for the entirety of Sudanese recordings that appeared on Odeon in the 1920s-1930s, but it seems likely. This piece, by Bechir el Robatabi accompanied by the tanbur, was perhaps issued ca. 1927-9.

Bechir El Robatabi – Nassim Habali

Label: Odeon
Issue Number: A 224000 (b)
Matrix Number: Ek 8

Thank you to Ahmad Al-Salhi, Mary Kapkidi, Gokhan Aya, Gabe Lavin, Hugo Strötbaum, and the Michael Kinnear archives.

Orchestra lui Harţegan şi Zmed – Învârtita din Detroit

This is the first Romanian track I’ve featured on the site. There were a considerable number of Romanian-Americans that recorded vernacular music for numerous U.S.-based labels during the 78 era. Of course, many exceptional Romanian-American musicians played and recorded what is now called klezmer music during their disc-recording careers, although most of those discs were marketed as “Jewish” or “Yiddish” rather than “Romanian” (or “Roumanian,” a spelling often used at that time). Certainly there was musical and marketing overlap between both company-created categories. In today’s case, we’ll focus on Romanian regional music recorded in the United States that falls outside the klezmer category (though, again, this is rather loosely stated).

If we look strictly at the numbers, it was the Columbia Phonograph Company in New York who first took strides in recording Romanian-Americans, cutting the most discs featuring “Romanian” music – far more than their competitors. They began on their massive, catch-all “E-series” of “foreign” discs, beginning in the early ‘teens. Over the next decade and a half, they issued well over 100 discs featuring Romanian-American artists, such as baritone A. Manescu, tenor L. Aurescu, and the Orchestra Romaneasca, whose output also was sometimes issued under the generic names “Jewish Orchestra” or “Yiddischer Orchester.” Then there was Petru Laicu’s orchestra from Banat (via Philadelphia), who recorded wonderful tracks for both Columbia and Victor. Columbia did this while also issuing Romanian discs from overseas performers, often pressed from the master discs made by their sister company in London, the Columbia Graphophone Company.

And what about the Victor label in the United States, Columbia’s primary competitor and America’s most massive record company? Well…they simply didn’t record nearly as much Romanian-American music. When they started a new Romanian series in 1929, it reached a skimpy 24 records before it was shuttled for almost ten years, and almost everything on that slender series was borrowed from overseas masters, thus not Romanian-American.

One group that briefly recorded in Chicago for both labels was a brass band-type ensemble from the mid-west led by Joan Haţegan. The fanfara music they specialized in was music from the Ardeal region, or Transylvania, especially asymmetic învârtita dances. In July of 1927, they recorded their first session, for Columbia, which consisted of two discs of lively instrumentals including two învârtitas named after local spots (Chicago and Indiana Harbor), as well as a tune from Banat, and one titled “Haţegana.” Three of four of these sides are reissued on the Blowers from the Balkans CD on Topic.

Two years later, in December of 1929, what was probably an iteration of the same band recorded five tunes for Victor in Chicago and these are lesser-known. The track featured here, “Învârtita din Detroit,” was originally titled “Învârtita lui Chita” (or “Ghita”) – possibly changed to again add some local flair. The ledgers state that these were “old songs.”

What we know of Haţegan’s band comes from musician and historian Paul Gifford, who interviewed John Boldi, a Romanian-American musician from East Chicago. Boldi claimed he played clarinet on Haţegan’s 1927 Columbia session, and he also identified a trumpet player (Ioan Stoica), a drummer (George Bocan), and a “bass horn” player named Steve Kalman on the same session. However, these 1929 recordings have different and varying instrumentation, with no trumpet or drums. It sounds to me like there are two to three clarinets, at least one sax, and a violin buried under the sound. Very likely Boldi and Kalman played on this session as well. Paul Gifford has identified the “Zmed” in the band’s name as the violinist in the group, Adrian Zmed.

Haţegan himself is a bit of a riddle. His career on disc began in the mid-1920s, playing backup for Ion Ionescu-Ardeal (1894-1935) on the small Ardyal label. It’s likely Haţegan played either clarinet or saxophone. There were several people named John/Ioan/Joan Haţegan/Harţegan/Hartigan in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio, around the same period. Laborers, all; some listed as “aliens” on official paperwork, but no definitive match to our musician. While Haţegan’s Columbia recordings stayed in print until the 40s, his Victors were never reissued.

Orchestra lui Harţegan şi Zmed – Învârtita din Detroit

Special thanks to: Paul Gifford, Sergiu Sora, and Alexander Afzali.

Label: Victor
Issue Number: V-19011
Matrix Number: BVE-57203

Quintin Duarte and Salvador Rodriguez – La Resbalosa

Joropo is the music, but in Venezuela it is more than that – it’s also the name of the couples dance, as well as, at least for a time, the event itself where the music is played. First and foremost it is now an expression of regional pride. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of joropo music is that it features the harp.

It’s likely that the European harp was introduced to Venezuela in the 18th century by Spanish missionaries, but over time it was modified and adapted to play local music. There are two types of Venezuelan harp: the arpa llanera (harp of the plains) and the arpa aragueña. The latter is played in the central states of Aragua and Miranda. The music featured on this track, by vocalist Quintin Duarte (1890-1955) and harpist Salvador Rodriguez (1920-1992), precisely features this kind of harp and is known as joropo tuyero, from the central states of the country. Joropo tuyero (sometimes called joropo central, though there is a difference) has a more stripped-down style with the vocalist playing maracas and accompanied only by the harp (as opposed to other types of joropo, which can be accompanied by a larger band). The piece featured here, “La Resbalosa,” is a rapid style, a golpe. Both Rodriguez and Duarte were highly regarded at the time. They recorded this piece, along with five additional songs, in 1952.

The Turpial label, named after the national bird which is akin to the Baltimore oriole, was one of Venezuela’s first independent record labels (perhaps the first). It was founded in 1948 and began 78 rpm production in 1951. It was owned and run by the Sefaty Benazar brothers, Rafael and Nemias (or Nehemías), who also launched a production and distribution company called Comercial Serfaty. My most recent release contains another example from Turpial featuring the seductive, languid Venezuelan waltz with cuatro in the style of the older waltzes by Lionel Belasco and the music from Trinidad as well as Curaçao. This disc, issued around the same time, proves that Turpial had a wide-ranging repertoire. They appear to have issued several hundred 78s and ceased production of 78s in 1959. Rafael Serfaty eventually became a politician after imprisonment by the subsequent Jimenez dictatorship.

Prior to the emergence of Turpial, recordings of Venezuelan music can be divided into two camps: 1) the pre-World War II 78s recorded in Caracas, and 2) the pre-World War II recordings featuring Venezuelan songs by Venezuelan performers and recorded in the United States. Both are rare, but especially the former, which are nearly absent from archives, collections, and compilations. Furthermore, many of the recordings made in the US by Venezuelan performers such as Lorenzo Herrera are quite different.

It appears the only label that gave Caracas attention in the first few decades of the 20th century was Victor, who had significant control in South and Central America as far as recording and distribution was concerned. Their first session in Caracas was in January-February of 1917, where Victor recorded the equivalent of 23 discs (although they waited at least three years to issue many of them). At the session were larger bands like the Estudiantina Venezolana and the Orquesta Carabeña, some guitar troubadours and duets, a military band…and one joropo group with maracas, harp, and cuatro. They were billed as “Cuerpo de Francisco López y Salvador Florez” and they recorded six sides.

There are some surviving notes about this group by the recording engineer: “Caracas. […] this AM: T. went to the country for harp player to acc. singers of yesterdays date – for this. Could not get Harp player, because player wanted a job himself to put in this particular style. Engagement made.” Three cheers to the harpist for insisting on bringing his own band to play his own music. One of these sides can be heard here.

These 1917 discs appeared to sell respectably, with existing statistics listing sales of 1,800-3,000 copies sold. However, Victor did not return to Caracas for eleven years. Perhaps to make up for this drawn-out lapse, in the interim bandleader Nat Shilkret recorded a number of Venezuelan arrangements in New York, for export to dealers in the country. When the company finally returned to Caracas in July of 1928, their modus operandi was more or less the same, though they managed to record only a few more discs than last time, a skimpy total of 28 1/2 discs’ worth of material. In this batch were, once again, orquestas and estudiantinas performing waltzes, paso dobles, and even an orchestrated joropo or two, or a tumba; there were more guitar trios and duos; there were some comic monologues and another military band. And, once again, there was one harp duo: Augusto Motta and Nerio Pacheco, who recorded a grand total of just four joropo sides spread across four discs (Victor was really fond of issuing “split sides” in South America – a different artist on each side).

In 1930, history repeated itself. Victor re-appeared in Caracas in March of 1930 and recorded the equivalent of 30 discs, and gamely captured another harp and maracas duo. But this time, artists José Tremaría and Pablo Hernández only recorded two songs. One was even a golpe aragueño, just like this piece. That was the end of recording in Caracas for Victor.

America-based Lorenzo Herrera and the “Grupo Venezolano” recorded a number of sides in New York in 1935, but it seems that it wasn’t until the Serfaty brothers and the Turpial label appeared almost twenty years later that more local Venezuelan music, and specifically the exciting joropo, would once again become pressed into shellac.

Quintin Duarte and Salvador Rodriguez – La Resbalosa

Label: Turpial
Issue Number: 049
Matrix Number: 113 SER

Many thanks to Víctor Márquez for information. Much additional info gleaned from the abiding and ever-expanding DAHR.

Qurban Ali – Raag Asavari

In the spring of 1925, engineer Douglas “Duggie” Larter began a lengthy recording expedition in Asia for the Gramophone Company. He started recording in June of that year in Lahore, in what is now Pakistan, and over the next two years would record all across South Asia in places like Calcutta, Delhi, Mysore, Colombo, and Karachi, and as far east as Singapore and Jakarta, recording the rough equivalent of 1,800 78s.

During those two years, he returned to Lahore multiple times for sessions. In June of 1926, while in that city, Larter did something historic: he helmed the first significant recording session of Afghan musicians and Afghan classical music. A total of 59 discs were recorded and released. A small group of musicians traveled from Kabul to Lahore for these sessions. Not all of their names are known, but the primary artist was Ustad Qasem Afghan (1878-1957), considered the father of Afghan classical music. Accompanying him was a rubab player named Qurban Ali, and additional performers who were listed on records and catalogs as the “Kabul String Band.”

Ustad Qasem Afghan appeared on 56 of those discs (except for one instrumental side by the String Band). Qurban Ali, on the other hand, appeared as a rubab soloist on just three discs (again, except for one instrumental side by the String Band), with tabla accompaniment. The track featured here is a performance in the raga Asavari, and while the recording is a bit thin (it is a late acoustic recording, made without the use of microphones), the performance is still resonating.

I’ve asked rubab player Mathieu Clavel to help explain the significance of this performance.


The style of “classical” rubab (also known as Kabuli; the urban rubab, as opposed to the folk rubab of the countryside) is said by scholars to have emerged as early as the late 19th century (see the works of Prof. John Baily). The progress of instrumental music accelerated when Amir Habibullah forbid the performance of dancing girls for the men of the court, as most of the musicians’ performances relied on accompanying dance performances. This legacy of Afghan art music actually began when Amir Sher Ali Khan, Habibullah’s grandfather, invited groups of nautch dancers (court dancers) and related musicians to settle in Kabul after being entertained while on a diplomatic invitation to India in the mid-19th century. Many of today’s professional Afghan classical musicians descend from them.

As the rubab player in the group of Ustad Qassim Afghan at the royal court, and one of the very first Afghan musicians to play on air when radio first launched in the country, Qurban Ali was known as one of the best rubab players of Kabul in the first decades of the 20th century. He also fathered several noteworthy artists, one of them being the late Ustad Ghulam Dastagir Shaida, one of the most wonderful Afghan classical singers of the century.

Raag Asavari is a melody rarely if ever heard on the rubab. It is related to raag Darbari, the “sultan of ragas,” and shares with it a solemn mood. Qurban Ali is showing nicely the character of the raag, setting the mood with a few notes of shakl (the Afghan version of the Indian alap) before getting into the composition. He does incorporate the major 7th, which is out of the raag’s rules; it is however not rare to see such minor digressions in Afghan compositions for the sake of beauty. 

The composition is played with the kharj (tonic) set in Rekap, the 3rd fret of the low string; a typical, historical yet beautiful feature of classical rubab, which gives room to explore the lower octave a little bit, down to the lower 6th, since the rubab does not have the extensive range of Indian classical instruments to perform the same modal material. Nowadays, classical music is quite often played with the tonic set in the 1st fret of the low string, which is sometimes called “chapa”  or “gauchely” as opposed to having the tonic set in the 3rd fret, “rasta” or “straightforwardly” – while folk is originally played with the tonic in one of the open strings.

The rhythmic cycle is the 16 beats tintal, and to my opinion the composition sounds rather “Hindustani,” as in more complex, with different right hand patterns or bols within the composition, similar to sarod material heard from recordings of this time (the sarod having evolved from the rubab). And what a sweet and impressive composition, which two parts he is playing with subtle variations: the asthai, main and opening theme, and the antara, a second melody that goes higher in range. He plays the latter starting at 0:30, comes back to the asthai at 0:50, and again to the antara at 1:30 before moving to a bridge till 1:45 and then a second composition (another Hindustani gat rather than a typical Afghan Abhog and Sanchari section) in faster tempo (drut tintal) for the second half of the recording. From 2:10 until the end he’s basically just playing one phrase, full of rhythmic variations. At this point from the tabla we can only distinguish some loud strikes, but we get the feeling that they work nicely with each other. 

Interestingly, while the compositions within this track have a stronger, more complex Hindustani feeling to them, they are mostly presented with rhythmic variations, a distinctive feature of the Afghan style, and without paltas (melodic variations). He really is playing it so elegantly, the flight of a bird. In the drut part from 1:50, he is playing some typical “parandkari” or stroke pattern variations of a high pitch drone string within the composition. Nowadays, this string is raised above the others on the bridge of the rubab to be singled out easily, which wasn’t yet the case at the time of Qurban Ali.

The rubab has one well known legend who replaced Qurban Ali at the radio orchestra upon his untimely passing, the unmatched Ustad Mohammad Omar who is credited with many innovations of the instrument, and its advancement into classical music. Yet, in this recording one may recognize the most distinctive features of Ustad Mohammad Omar’s school shining already, with high-class compositions subtly elaborated, the fine ornaments and flowing rhythmical variations…

One of the aspects I find the most admirable is the mastery of dynamics, clearly discernible through the noise (powerful accentuated strokes or qamchin (horsewhip!), followed by soft passages) which was also a distinctive feature of Ustad Mohammad Omar’s aesthetics. The rubab is known as the “lion of instruments,” and Qurban Ali superbly knew how to make it roar.

There are very few vintage rubab recordings out there, and this present treasure opens a sonorous new window in time on the history of rubab, amazingly demonstrating how developed it was already a hundred years ago, by the time of Qurban Ali. As someone passionate about the instrument, words can’t describe the emotions elicited upon listening to it. 

Qurban Ali. Photo from Dr. Enayatullah Shahrani’s Music in Afghanistan.

Between this recording session in June 1926 through the late 1950s, when Radio Kabul began issuing 78s via the Soviet recording industry (see this earlier post), recording of Afghan music was only sporadic, and often simply nonexistent.

In April of 1928, Mirza Nazar Khan, an amateur musician and diplomat based in Paris, made a handful of recordings in London after having been flown there on behalf of the Secretary to the Amir of Afghanistan (then Amanullah Khan, who was traveling throughout Europe at the time). These were unaccompanied recordings. They were first pressed in the UK and then repressed in 1930 in India for distribution in the region.

In July of 1928, Ustad Miran Bakhsh recorded five discs worth of Afghan selections with his ensemble, in Lucknow. One year later, he recorded another five discs in Lahore, although those later discs were not issued until 1932 for some reason.

Julien Thiennot, on his excellent website, has noted the presence of several additional Afghan performances on 78. Firstly, a disc by Akram Khan, who recorded at least once for the Afghan market in the same series as Bakhsh’s. Secondly, an additional disc from ca. 1933 by Qasem Afghan (as “Ustad Qasim Khan”) containing a topical piece about the assassination of the King of Afghanistan, Mohammad Nadir Shah. In late 1946, HMV apparently issued three 78s from, I believe, the soundtrack to Afghanistan’s first fim, “Ishq wa Dosti” (“Love and Friendship”) which was produced by an Indian film company based in Lahore known as Huma Films. Further, there was also Ustad Muhammad Hussein Khan “Sarahang” of Kabul, who recorded at least one disc for Indian HMV in the 1950s (in Hindi).

From the early 1930s until after World War II – the years when major labels had drastically reduced their recording expeditions in many parts of the world due to the Depression and the War – there appear to have been two independent labels issuing Afghan music on a semi-regular basis. In part this is likely due to the fact that they were located in Peshawar, in what is now Pakistan. These were the Banga-Phone label, run by the Frontier Trading Company, and the Gulshan label, run by Bajaj & Company. At the time, Peshawar was the capital of the “North-West Frontier Province,” once a province of British India. The region (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) bordering Afghanistan is ethnically Pashtun, which is also the majority ethnic group of Afghanistan (“Afghan” used to be a synonym for Pashtun or Pathan) and its culture and history are inseparable with that of the country. Both Banga-Phone and Gulshan issued discs that were classified as Persian, Afghani, and Multani, as well as Kashmiri and Gurmukhi. These discs are not common. After World War II, the Indian branch of the Gramophone Company acquired the catalogs of these two labels, and reissued a group of their better-known selections in 1949. They are all extremely rare today.

It could be that other discs exist on smaller labels or within the larger repertoires by major labels, we just don’t know yet. It was common, for example, for early Afghan performers to have their discs listed as “Persian” on the record labels themselves, but they actually appear as “Afghan” in catalogs, therefore there are likely discrepancies here and there, and additional Afghan recordings were probably produced during this time.

In the meantime, Qurban Ali from June of 1926.

Qurban Ali – Raag Asavari

Many thanks to Mathieu Clavel and the Michael Kinnear Collection.

Discographic notes
Label: Gramophone Company
Issue Number: P 7558
Coupling Number: 9-17901
Matrix Number: BL 2077

The “Ali Orchestra” – probably a young Qurban Ali, center (undated).

Nikolay Dontzoff – Kozlik

Comic songs were the bread-and-butter repertoire for so many early entertainers, whether they were well-known popular American songsters like Billy Murray, or obscure, often forgotten immigrant performers in the United States. Thousands were recorded, without question. A few have caught my ear over the years, such as those by Finnish fiddle player Erik Kivi. Recently I was delighted by the rustic voice of Russian-Ukrainian accordionist Nikolay Dontzoff.

Nikolay, or “Nicholas” as he was often credited, was born in 1881 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He immigrated to the United States in 1922, getting onboard in Constantinople on the ocean liner Braga, which ran a route from Beirut to New York. With him was his wife, Lucy Dontzoff, who was twenty years his junior. They lived mostly in what is now West Harlem in Manhattan, and both worked the vaudeville circuit.

So far as we know, Dontzoff’s career on record was brief, and separated by extensive lags. He first stepped into a recording studio in New York in late 1922, almost as soon as he was settled, accompanying baritone Mikel Wavitch on a session for Victor. Those recordings, however, were never issued. Five years later, in October 1927, he was back – this time for Columbia, where he would record two records under his own name, including this one featured today.

Dontzoff accompanied his wife Lucy on four discs in 1929, and one disc accompanying Lucy and then-famed Russian “gypsy” singer Vera Smirnova. Then things go dark. He and Lucy were divorced by 1935. Nikolay moved downtown to the Eastern European neighborhood in the East Village. He was still performing both as a solo act, and with Russian music and dance troupes, often touring the country. He performed in the Russian revue Chauve Souris on Broadway, which ran for twelve performances in 1943.

At some point, probably in the late 1940s, Dontzoff issued a 78 on his own imprint, “Nicholas Dontzoff” – but there seems to have only been one issue. It was likely an offshoot of the Argee label, which was a small, Russian-language label based out of a music shop on Lexington Avenue and owned by a Latvian immigrant named Jack Raymond. That record, and the two discs he made in 1927, appear to be Dontzoff’s only moments on record as a solo performer. By 1953, he was working at the Tompkins Square Tavern on 7th Street. He died that year.

“Serenkiy Kozlik,” or “The Little Grey Goat,” is a well-known Russian children’s song about a goat that is loved so much by a grandma that she naturally ends up cooking the dear goat in her homemade soup. The earliest recording of the song I could locate was one made in Saint Petersburg in 1908 by the Gramophone Company, and performed by G.L. Lebedev’s accordion troupe. In September 1910, another version was recorded in Vilnius, Lithuania, also for the Gramophone Company, and performed by a group listed as “Detskiy Khor Vilenskago Pervago Nachalnago Uchilisha.” Another was recorded one year later by Maria Emskaya for the Syrena label of Poland. I suspect there are many other versions, both earlier and later.

This version, however, is not standard – Dontzoff’s version of this song is a parody of the original. Here, he makes it an ironic song for adults.

Nikolay Dontzoff – Kozlik

(translated and transliterated by Diana Tarnavska)

Once upon a time there was an old lonely babushka
And she was very bored, alone
That’s right, that’s right, she was alone

Babushka went along the bazaar
She looked but there were no products
That’s right, that’s right, the product was hunger

But it was her lucky day
‘Cause she met a shaggy cute goat
That’s right, that’s right, a shaggy cute goat

She noticed the goat
And brought it right home
That’s right, that’s right, she brought it home

The goat was dirty, besides, and unshaven
And apparently had not washed at least for ten years
That’s right, that’s right, at least for ten years

Babushka took the goat to the bath
Babushka washed it with soda
That’s right, that’s right, she washed it with soda

Goat was for sure all native Russian
But he was flirting in Franco-Russian
That’s right, that’s right, in Franco-Russian

Babushka didn’t like the beard at all
She shaved off the beard at the hairdresser
That’s right, that’s right, she shaved the beard

Babushka called the goat “Dusya”
They were living together, the goat and
That’s right, that’s right, goat and

As soon as the morning brightens up
Our goat hits the bottle with loaf of bread
That’s right, that’s right, with loaf of bread

Our goat was horrifically comic
He registered her house in his name
That’s right, that’s right, registered in his name

He took almost everything from her
He left his babushka with horns and legs
That’s right, that’s right, just horns and legs

Dear babushkas, don’t lose yourself
Falling in love with some young goats
That’s right, that’s right, with some young goats

They will disappear at the first occasion
And you will sit lordly in a galosh
That’s right, that’s right, sit in a galosh

Original Russian

Как-то старушка одна проживала
И в одиночестве очень скучала
Вот так ведь так очень скучала

Отправилась бабушка вдоль по базару
Глянет там нет никакого товару
Вот так ведь так голод товару

Значит счастливый денек ей задался
Встретил лохматый козлик попался
Вот так ведь так козлик попался

Бабушка козлика вмиг залучила
И на квартиру к себе притащила
Вот так ведь так к себе притащила

Козлик был грязный к тому же не бритый
И уж лет десять как видно не мытый
Вот так ведь так видно не мытый

Бабушка козлика в баню сводила
Бабушка козлика содой помыла
Вот так ведь так содой помыла

Козлик конечно был наш и всерусский
Но щеголял он по русско-французски
Вот так ведь так просто французской

Бабушка бороду страх не взлюбила
У парикмахера бороду сбрила
Вот так ведь так бороду сбрила

Бабушка козлика звала всё “Дуся”
Зажили в мире козел и бабуся
Вот так ведь так козел и бабуся

Утро едва только зорко взоймётся
Козлик наш в копыт уж с булкой напьётся
Вот так ведь так булкой напьётся

Козлик наш был проужаснейший комик
Взял перевёл на себя бабкин домик
Вот так ведь так бабкин уж домик

Взял у бабуси почти все до крошки
Оставил он бабушке рожки да ножки
Вот так ведь так рожки да ножки

Милые бабушки не увлекайтесь
И в молодых козелков не влюбляйтесь
Вот так ведь так вы не влюбляйтесь

Козлик исчезнет по первой пороше 
Вы же усядитесь важно в калоше
Вот так ведь так важно в калоше

Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 20119-F
Matrix Number: 108381 (A-1)


Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music

I am proud to announce that my latest compilation has been released by Dust-to-Digital:

Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music

Six years in the making, this is an online release: 100 tracks, a 186 page illustrated book with an introductory essay, extensive notes on each track, and many translations, from Maltese to Sranantongo.

It is entirely global and an extension of, and companion to, all the work I’ve done with the Excavated Shellac site since 2007. It’s all “new” material, compiled from my collection.

It begins with a song about police brutality. It ends with dreamy innuendo.

It is a labor of love. Like all labors of love, it is eccentric. It is written for those who have been coming to Excavated Shellac for a fix, and those who haven’t yet found that crystalline musical spark, but wish to find one.

It was produced by April Ledbetter, Lance Ledbetter, and me, who wrote the notes and compiled it from my collection. Michael and Joy Graves of Osiris Studios did the restoration and remastering. Barbara Bersche was the designer. Good friends Jed Lackritz, Nathan Salsburg, and Arshia Haq helped with some brutal proofreading. Many people were especially supportive and they are thanked.

As ever,

Danilo Katalanić with Jove Jareta – Poskočica

In the earliest days of the gramophone industry, the small handful of major players producing and distributing records were greatly concerned with maintaining their market share, keeping their technical practices secret, and expanding their recordable horizons. In Europe, the rapid establishment of the Favorite label in 1904 must have seemed like a shot across the bow. Based in Hanover, where the Gramophone Company had their pressing plant and a thriving office, Favorite began by pilfering an engineer, Otto Birkhahn, from that company, giving him more than double his normal salary. This was no joke; there were only a small number of people on the planet familiar with this newfangled technology in 1904. Within a short period, Favorite had also acquired a disgruntled engineer from the Beka label, Willy Bielefeld, who had previously offered his comparatively inexpensive services to the Gramophone Company but was summarily rebuffed. Not only that, but Favorite also managed to abscond with Carl Dietsch, a leading employee of the German branch of the Gramophone Company. By 1905, this budding label was issuing new double-sided records and the race was on.

Favorite would thrive for the next nine years. Naturally, they were competitive in their repertoire of European popular and classical musics – they had to be, to survive. But – and here is the catch for Excavated Shellac readers – as early as 1905, they were also recording in Cairo. They recorded in Turkey that same year and returned multiple times. They recorded a session in Bangkok, at least one session in China, multiple sessions in Brazil, Argentina, and even recorded in two locations in Ecuador (with records released under a sub-label, Precioso), probably the first commercial label to do so. They had 40 record presses at their factory in 1908 and had expanded their plant again in 1911. The following year, they were offering 25,000 titles.

But, the German record industry found itself in tumult during the run-up to World War I. By late 1913, what was left of Favorite moved to Berlin, and the company soon liquidated. The Carl Lindström AG concern, a gramophone producer who had only recently gotten into the disc business with their Parlophon label, effectively usurped Favorite, as it had with the Lyrophon, Beka, Odeon, and Dacapo labels. Lindström would continue marketing the Favorite label after the War, reissuing their material, until about 1926. They also loaned some Favorite masters to Columbia Records in the United States, notably their Turkish and Greek material.

This particular track was recorded 109 years ago, in mid-1911, during a session in Belgrade by Favorite recording engineer Wilhelm Winkel. The artist, Danilo Daniel Katalan, was born in 1880 and specialized in humorous folk songs such as the bećarac and the svatovac, as well as uptempo dance tunes such as this, “Poskočica”: literally a “jumping song” for dancing, stemming from the word poskočiti, which means to jump up and down. Katalan recorded under the name “Danilo Katalanić,” as well as “D. Katalanović,” and also the pseudonym “Mirko Katić” when he recorded for the Gramophone Company in 1910. He’s accompanied by the Romani orchestra led by Jova Jare (literally “Jove the goat”; likely a nickname).

Sadly, Katalan, a Sephardic Jew, was murdered at the Topovske Šupe concentration camp in 1941, located outside of Belgrade on a former military base. The camp was in existence for only a few months and run partly by the collaborationist government of Milan Nedić. It was the site of the murders of approximately 4,300 people during that short time. A terrible tragedy to consider set against the sheer joy of this early track.

Danilo Katalanić with Jove Jareta – Poskočica

(Favorite 1-107031; matrix 5076-t)


Lotz, Rainer E. with Michael Gunrem and Stephan Puille. Das Bilderlexikon der Deutschen Schellack-Schallplatten. 5 vols. Holste: Bear Family, 2019.

Lotz, Rainer E. “On the History of Lindström AG.” In The Lindström Project, Contributions to the history of the record industry / Beiträge zur Geschichte der Schallplattenindustrie, Vol.1, edited by Pekka Gronow and Christiane Hofer, 11-20. Vienna: Gesellschaft für Historische Tonträger, 2009.

Strötbaum, Hugo. “Favorite Revisited: An Update.” Recording Pioneers. (accessed 25 September 2020).

Strötbaum, Hugo. “Favorite: the story of an independent German record company (1904-1914).” In The Lindström Project. Contributions to the history of the record industry / Beiträge zur Geschichte der Schallplattenindustrie, Vol. 2, edited by Pekka Gronow and Christiane Hofer, 121-136. Vienna: Gesellschaft für Historische Tonträger, 2010.

Big thanks to Nikola Zekić and Will Hancock.

The Chakmakchi Story

I’m happy to introduce a guest post today, with loads of photos, by Moneer Cherie. Moneer is an Assyrian from Iraq, born in Baghdad. He collects Assyrian, Kurdish and Iraqi Arabic records. He is a moderator at, an Assyrian music website and radio/streaming station. He also was one of the contributors for a 2015 Assyrian discography published in Germany titled Modern Assyrian Music. As he states, “My aim has been to collect original Assyrian records and preserve them for a future archive.”

Images courtesy of the Chakmakchi family relatives. Several also appear in this book:
Malāk, Qaḥṭān Ḥabīb al-. Nās min baladinā. Baghdād : Iṣdārāt al-Malāk al-Adabīyah, [2001]-.

The patriarch of Chakmakchiphon, Haj Fathi Chakmakchi (center), with his two sons.

Haj Fathi (pronounced Fat-he) Yahya Qasim Chakmakchi was born in Mosul (1888-1969). He was neither a musician nor a singer, but specialized in repairing guns that were mainly Turkish made, and used by the Ottoman army during their occupation of Iraq. The Chakmakchi family comes from Bedouin Arab tribes in the region. The name means “maker or repairer of flintlock guns” or “gunsmith.”

Haj Fathi Chakmakchi did not realize that his hobby of collecting the limited number of Iraqi shellac discs available at that time would one day lead him to become one of the most important sources of the heritage of Iraqi music and song.

Chakmakchi founded his company in 1918̇, and at its start it was located at Ghazi Street in Mosul. Initially, the business was limited to the import of electrical appliances, especially gramophones (and later TVs). His eldest son Muhammad Aref assisted him until 1940, when Mohammed Aref moved to Baghdad to open a branch of the Chakmakchi business in Ghurairi Square. In 1942, the family moved from Mosul to Baghdad to join him.

Haj Fathi Chakmakchi’s second son Abdullah took over the management of the shop in Mosul in cooperation with his cousin and brother-in-law Mohammad al-Najm, but in 1944 he, too, moved to Baghdad and opened another branch of the company in the Haydar Khana area (opposite Khalil Café) in the middle of Al-Rasheed Street.

Abdullah eventually left Iraq and travelled to England to study music recording and production techniques. After he returned to Iraq he focused on his favorite hobby, which was the recording of Arab and Iraqi singers and concerts, and the import of record players.

Haj Fathi decided to build a recording studio in the mid-1950s and began recording local singers at a time when there was no other recording studio in Iraq except the studio at the radio station. This is roughly when the Chakmakchi 78 rpm label began. He invited top Iraqi musicians to record in his studio, and masters were sent to Greece or Sweden to be pressed, then shipped back to Iraq to be distributed by his local outlets.

Al-Rasheed Street, Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Haj Fathi’s third son Sami opened yet another branch of the family business in 1951 at the entrance of Al-Rasheed Street in Baghdad. This became the famed Chakmakchi shop in Iraq. Haj Fathi and Sami were in charge of the record production side of the business, in addition to building relationships with Arab artists such as: Um Kulthum, Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Abdul Halim Hafez, Muharram Fouad, Sabah, and Faiza Ahmed; with Iraqi artists, such as Al-Ghazali, Hudayri Abu Aziz, Zohour Hussein, and Salima Murad; and with Kurdish singers like Muhammed Aref Jazrawi, Hassan Jazrawi, Taher Tawfiq, and many others.

It seems that approximately 200 78 rpm discs were issued on the Chakmakchi label were produced before the company began manufacturing 45 rpm records in approximately the mid-1960s. Abdullah kept master copies of his recording sessions (including alternate takes, such as one where Um Kulthum made a mistake and repeated a song more than once) as well as his tape recordings of events and concerts, as part of his huge audio library, which is now with his grandchildren. The grandson of Chakmakchi refuses to sell the archive despite large amounts of money being offered to him by wealthy Arab collectors. The family understands the Chakmakchi recordings’ value as a national treasure and cultural asset, and part of Iraqi heritage.

The first recording company in Iraq had for many years survived the winds of change. They could have adapted to new technology and the emergence of digital formats, but the primary reason for the disappearance of the Chakmakchi label was the indifference of officials at heritage institutions that left the company to face various abuses of their copyrights, which forced the family to finally close its doors in the mid-1990s. However, today the name is still embedded in the minds and memories of music lovers and old singers of Iraq, and the entire region.

Muhammad Aref Jazrawi (Mihemed Arif Cizîrî in Kurdish) was born in the Cizîr (Cizre), Turkey, in 1912. He later moved to the city of Duhok in northern Iraq and recorded a large number of folk songs for Kurdish radio in Baghdad, and then for Kurdish TV in Kirkuk. He played the tanbur (tembûr), the long-necked string instrument originating in Mesopotamia. His songs were distinguished by their simplicity of words and the sweetness of the melodies. He died in Duhok in late 1986 and was buried there.

The song featured here is titled “Leh Leh Khafshi” (Lê Lê Xifşê). Khafshi is a small type of deer or gazelle, (a common reference in folk songs to a beautiful girl). The song is in the pasta style, which is a type of metered song that is sung after completing the maqam. It’s in the same key as the maqam and meant to connect harmoniously with it.

Yusef Omar Daoud Al-Bayati was born in 1918 in the Hasan Pasha district in Baghdad. He studied maqam under the best singers of that time, namely Mohammad al-Qubbanchi, and was nicknamed “the prince of Iraqi Maqam.” His first recorded concert was in 1956. He was also featured in films and dramas. He died in 1986.

Maqam is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music. The word “maqam” in Arabic means place or location. Each maqam is a semi-improvised musical recitation of poetry, performed within formal structures that govern the use of melodies, rhythm, and poetic genre. This song is performed in the Iraqi Maqam of Urfa. This maqam is named for the famous Anatolian city, located in modern day Turkey and thus may have Turkish origins.

Muhammad Aref Jazrawi – Leh Leh Khafshi (Pasta)

Yousif Omar Daoud Al-Bayati – Maqam Urfa, Pts 1-2

Chakmakchiphon catalogs:

Chakmakchiphon advertisements:

Muhammad Aref Chakmakchi in their store, 1952, with famed singer Eliyya Baida, and Suaad Muhamed:

The Chakmakchi studio band:

The same photo, annotated:

The company car:

The shop (on right) on Al-Rasheed Street:

The same corner, 1960:

Chakmakchiphon sleeves: