November 23, 2016
Nationalism, patriotism, and cultural romanticism in its various forms have been present in all manner of global recorded music, including vernacular and folk music. Ask many outside the United States and surely they’ve observed examples of America’s juggernaut of musical pride, whether it’s the plainly stated “do or die” patriotism of George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Boy” (commonly known as “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy”), or the symbolic folk populism of “This Land Is Your Land.” To clarify, I’m not really talking about topical songs that merely reference current events, but instead, musical styles and songs that are meant to evoke cultural and/or national pride.
Of course it’s true that nationalistic music can sometimes be brutal and offensive, purely propagandistic, and even hurtful to other people – the WWII-era German “Charlie and his Orchestra” recordings are an extreme example. That said, this is not to say that nationalistic or patriotic songs can’t be musically interesting. The fact remains that they can sometimes be uplifting to both those for whom they were intended to reach, or even to outsiders, despite their complex baggage.
A glaring aspect to consider whenever discussing the tricky topics of patriotism and nationalism is perception. Whether or not a musical work is patriotic or nationalistic, completely inspiring or utterly repulsive, might be up for righteous debate depending on whom you ask, at what point in history you ask them, their background, and their viewpoints. It’s a fascinating topic to me (and one that has been written about by many experts) as someone who likes to explore music I’m unfamiliar with, and to learn a little about how it was consumed, and the different forms that appeared on record during the 78 era. I’m especially interested in how my own mind reacts when confronted with something that immediately sounds deeply traditional from my admittedly Western standpoint, yet upon examination may also be viewed, directly or obliquely, as some form of propaganda.
People’s Record, or Renmin Changpian, was based in Shanghai, and was formed after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and the subsequent nationalization of the Chinese record industry. Foreign companies that were active in China prior to 1949, such as EMI and Victor, had been sent packing. The 78s issued on People’s Record were varied, and many of them were in effect paeans to the new CCP and its leaders, as part of the larger effort to unify the country. On the other hand, some material issued by the China state-run imprints were master pressings of classic vocal performances by Chinese opera stars such as Mei Lanfang, taken from previously existing discs.
Perhaps taking a cue from Stalin’s Soviet Union, which made it a point to record varied folk music from regions with minority populations in the USSR, People’s Record also issued compelling traditional music performed by China’s ethnic minorities, the likes of which had never been commercially recorded before. This piece is sung by two Miao women of Guizhou Province. “Miao” is a broad term used for several ethnic groups in the mountainous areas of China and parts of Southeast Asia, including the Hmong. The title of the piece is descriptive and listed as “Minzu quyu zizhi xiaochang,” which loosely translates to “Little song about Regional National Autonomy.” It is sung in a local language (not Mandarin), and is a praise song to Chairman Mao (the first sung words of the song) and the CCP, suggesting that everyone gather together and build up their community. A Pao, one of the singers of this piece, was documented as having met Chairman Mao numerous times, and having recorded this praise song in 1953. She was born in 1930, yet died young in 1966, one month after the official start of the Cultural Revolution. People’s Record was operational until about 1955, when it was merged to form “China Record” (Zhongguo Changpian).
The gusle is the one-stringed fiddle of the Balkans made of maple wood, and the “guslari” is the Serbian term for the people who play it, singing epic poetry in an emotional, droning wail, quite unlike other music from the region. One writer in 1913 described it as “a sighing-forth of sound.” The gusle is used as a backdrop for the singing of epic poetry, usually about the historical struggle of Serbs against Ottoman rule, and by extension it has been a powerful instrument for national identity.
Ian Nagoski, in his Black Mirror CD release, re-introduced the contemporary public to Petar Perunović Perun (born 1880), a Serbian nationalist of Montenegrin birth, veteran of the Balkan Wars and World War I, and a gusle player both on and off the battlefields. Perunović toured the United States regularly, playing for Balkan communities in order to stir national pride. Based in Saint Paul, Minnesota for some time, he recorded several discs privately in the summer of 1927 at the famed Marsh Laboratories in Chicago – noted for being the first studio to make electrically recorded discs (albeit primitively). These discs were issued under the label name Srpske Gusle (Serbian Gusle). This topical and patriotic piece is from a hitherto undocumented 12″ recording from the same session, whose title translates to “Warfare for Liberation and Unification of Yugoslavia.” Perunović died in Montenegro in 1952. A monument dedicated to him exists in the town of Tunjevo.
Not all patriotic or nationalistic music is overt – some is by its very nature simply pastoral, wistful, or a deliberate tribute to cultural tradition. Countries as different as Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Switzerland all had recorded folk song types that were more like scenes played out in an imagined mountain air, with musicians acting as shepherds in the recording studio, ringing bells, making animal noises, shouting joyful banter…until a music break, which in this particular example is a group yodel with string instruments.
The group here is the Streichmusik “Edelweiss” Trogen, named for the town of Trogen in the aforementioned Appenzell Innerrhoden Kanton. Formed in 1913, the group featured Hans Rechsteiner (1893-1986) conducting and playing the cello, brother Jakob Rechsteiner on bass, Ulrich Graf playing the hammered dulcimer of the Appenzell region known as the hackbrett, Emil Fürstauer (1891-1975) on bowed bass, Josef Inauer yodeling, and Jakob Neff on violin (the lineup on this track could be slightly different). This track, “Appenzeller Alpauffahrt” is an imitation of an annual, festive event known as the Alpauffahrt. Dressed in traditional costume, locals in Appenzellerland honor the customary migrating of cattle and goats from protected winter enclaves, to pastures higher in the Alps when spring has officially arrived. Thousands of Swiss folk 78s were recorded, yet it’s precisely these nostalgic outdoor scenes that deliberately imitate and evoke a romanticized vision of an older, rural way of life, perhaps even creating the mood that the shepherds in the Alps continue tradition in the face of modernization. The Trogen group is now based in Herisau, about 30 minutes further west.
Despite my point that this broadly defined phenomenon was, and remains, global, it feels disingenuous to not provide an American example. Every morning in my little grade school we had to face the American flag, put our hands over our hearts, and sing “America the Beautiful.” However, I don’t collect American jazz, blues, country, R&B, popular, or classical music on 78, so I can’t offer anything “new” from my collection. I’ll just settle for a link to a clip of one of the most painfully overused pieces of musical Americana, sadly co-opted and abused by people on all sides of the political spectrum in the decades after it was written, to invoke their concept of “freedom.” It’s especially important to remember that this piece of music was written by a progressive, gay, anti-militant agnostic of Lithuanian Jewish heritage, who was inspired by a speech made by New Deal liberal Henry Wallace.
Label: Renmin Chiangpan (People’s Record)
Issue Number: 53356-1
Matrix Number: n/a
Label: Srpske Gusle
Issue Number: 5668
Matrix Number: n/a
Label: Edison Bell
Issue Number: F576
Matrix Number: BK369
A photo of the Edelweiss group, thanks to reader Reto. Note the phone number is simply “9”!
Householders Shen Yunsheng, Tan Rongguang, Lin Zhongfu and group – Sanskrit Mantra of Scattering Flowers, Pts 1 & 2
July 29, 2014
Alright, well, it’s been a while. It’s no secret that I sometimes take extended breaks. That doesn’t mean the collecting stops. Over the past few months I’ve had all manner of guests make a pit stop at Excavated Shellac headquarters to share sounds, from super-collectors to researchers to designers to dear friends. Amanda Petrusich’s book was released, in which I play a really small part, but was surprisingly quoted (almost at my most sarcastic – hey, I was on a roll) in the Wall Street Journal and LA Times. And I’ve also done a lot of work on projects that should see the light of day in the next year if I can swing it. My point is, sometimes it’s good for me to just take a break, take stock of why the hell I’m doing this, collect without that obsessive “need” and without impending, unwieldy projects looming overhead (real or imagined), and just listen to music for a while.
Well, it was fun while it lasted!
I’d realized it’s been about five years since I’d posted music from China. This disc, recorded ca. mid- to late 1928, is an unusual example as it does not feature a type of Chinese opera or popular music, probably the most overwhelmingly common types of music recorded in China at the time. Instead, it’s a recording that features chanting from a Buddhist sutra – specifically from the Vimalakirti Sutra.
I make no claims to scholarship in Buddhism. It seems to be well-documented, however, that the Vimalakirti Sutra has a lengthy history of reverence and popularity in China, having first been translated into Chinese from Sanskrit in 188 CE. In a 2014 paper on the Vimalakirti by Professor Jonathan A. Silk, he quotes Sinologist Erik Zürcher in his book The Buddhist Conquest of China as stating that “this scripture may be regarded…as a real compendium of Mahayana doctrine,” and “one of the most venerated and influential works of the Buddhist canon in the Far East.”
In the sutra, a goddess visits the room of the layperson Vimalakirti and proceeds to scatter flowers over both enlightened bodhisattvas and disciples, all gathered in the room. The flowers immediately fall off the bodhisattvas, yet they stick to the disciples. The goddess explains (quoting one easily obtainable English translation): “It is only because the latent influences [of your afflictions] are not yet exhausted that the flowers stick to your bodies. For those in whom the latent influences are exhausted, the flowers do not stick.” This seems to be the precise reference in the title to this piece, the “mantra” sung by three “householders” (laypersons, or “retired scholars” per Prof. Silk).
The Victor Talking Machine Company was one of the most prominent companies recording in parts of China in the early part of the 20th century, although all major labels were quite active. Their first one-sided recordings of Chinese music, on their Monarch label, were made ca. 1902, likely in San Francisco, and are quite rare and in demand. They eventually began recording onsite in China in 1905. In the meantime, they continued their trading arrangement with their “sister” company in Great Britain, the Gramophone Company, who had recorded in China before Victor, in 1903, by repressing some of those earliest recordings on their own Victor label. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Victor was recording Chinese music in all manner of dialects and styles including Amoy, Mandarin, Fuzhou, Shantou, Teochew, and especially Cantonese. Victor recorded thousands of Chinese discs before World War II. I’ve broadly and extensively documented Victor’s activity in a paper that will soon be published online, which I will eventually provide a link to.
I’ve included both sides of this record. For help with all our “latent influences.” Enjoy.
Issue Numbers: 42742 A1/B2
Matrix Numbers: n/a
Thank you to Sun and the research of Du Jun Min.
January 12, 2009
My friend Dave at Haji Maji posts the best vintage Chinese opera in town, but I thought I’d present another from my own collection. Before I prepped this track, of course I went to Dave and his helpful translators for assistance, and they came through with even more information than I had hoped for.
There are always some barriers when trying to find out information on old records besides what might seem the most obvious barrier: language. There is no giant resource in a library somewhere that contains everything you’d need to know about record label activity in all the continents, dates of releases, or perhaps more importantly, the style and history of some of the music itself. A huge portion is a secret history. In the case of the rich and long history of Chinese opera, about which I know only a smattering, I am grateful for any information anyone can give me, or directions to be pointed in.
This is an example of Wai Jiang Opera (also known as Gua Gang, or Goa-Kang as it’s spelled on the label), which is related to Teochew Opera, popular in Southeastern China. Wai Jiang was popular with elites apparently, and generally tends to be about heroes, battles, and the like. This piece seems to be Part 1 of a finale in a 13-part opera translated as “The Execution of Wei Hu.” The Wei Hu of the story is the second brother-in-law of the famed Tang Dynasty general Xue Ren Gui. In short, Wei Hu tried to sabotage his brother-in-law’s rule, and this excerpt is the confrontation and subsequent killing of Wei Hu, at the hands of Xue Ren Gui.
It’s a wild and wonderful piece, apparently typical of Wai Jiang opera, with classic examples of blood-curdling screams, the everpresent clashing gongs, and soft, delicate interludes. Thanks to reader ChrisZ, we know it was recorded ca. 1926-1927 by engineer Max Birckhahn, likely in Singapore. Xin Tian Cai Ban, the troupe performing the opera, was from Chaozhou (aka Teochew) in Guangdong Province, and was popular during the very early part of the 20th century.
Many thanks to Dave Murray and Ms. Javier Li Yong-En of the Thau Yong Amatuer Musical Society.
Issue Number: 17-1 (6)
Matrix Number: 26371