Category: Ephemera

Paris at 78rpm

With the advent of Google Street View starting to move beyond the U.S. (creepiness in tow), we can now investigate some of the forgotten locations that long ago were once gramophone record shops, dealers, or labels. Unlike the street views in New York City, Google snapped fairly crisp images on their jaunt through Paris. Here are some present-day locations that once played an important part in the dissemination of folkloric music on 78s throughout Europe. Click on the images for full-sized photos and locations via Google.




Top Row

Left: 26 Rue des Talliandieres, the former hardware shop and home of Le Soleil records, active from the late 1920s through the mid-1930s and owned by Martin Cayla. Le Soleil pressed hundreds of authentic recordings of French folk music from the Auvergne region, played on accordion, cabrette, banjo, and hurdy-gurdy.

Middle: 133 Boulevard Raspail, the former home of the Boîte Á Musique label, who pressed South American guitar music, African ethnographic recordings, and mainly lots of classical 78s.

Right: 30 Rue Beaujon, the home of Decca Records and Le Chant du Monde, among others. (This building might be new.) Decca was huge, of course – and instrumental in recording early West African music, as was Le Chant du Monde.

Middle Row

Left:  34 Rue des Rosiers, the former home of the gramophone shop of one Léon Speiser. Speiser was definitely active at least from ca. 1930-1940, and sold discs of early Algerian and Moroccan 78s. It is now rather fittingly a falafel shop!

Middle: 50 Avenue Montaigne, the former home of Philips. Philips was tireless in competing with the major labels by recording all across West and North Africa in the late-40s/early-50s, producing some amazing recordings.

Right: 48 Rue Pouchet, the humble (in comparison to Philips) former home of the tiny Africa Vox label. Africa Vox and it’s owner’s home were probably one in the same – they recorded and released a number of beautiful ethnographic recordings in rural parts of Western Africa.

Bottom Row

Left: 251-253 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, the location where the French Pathé label and the French offices of Columbia Records used to reside.

Middle: 28 Rue Lesage, the former gramophone shop of H. Artinian, a one-time dealer in “Disques Armeniens, Grecs & Turcs.”

Right: 72 Cours de Vincennes, the former home of Charles Pathé’s first gramophone shop, opened ca. 1895, about a year before he opened the Pathé Frères company with his three brothers.

Broke Down and Busted

This is a gallery of photos featuring the broken records I have received over the past two years – a small percentage of the music that has arrived safe and sound. But still. Some aren’t that rare, some are quite possibly irreplaceable. There’s no point ranting about it again. The winner this year: the record that turned up in the mailbox wrapped once with a paper towel. This visual display should suffice in lieu of outward rage:


First row (l-r):
1. Auvergne cabrette solo, ca. early 1930s, hairline crack
2. Early West African high life, ca. mid-1930s, split in half
3. Spanish folk song from Navarro, ca. 1940s, cracked in half

Second row (l-r):
1. Asturian folk with gaita, ca. early 1930s, shattered
2. Several Brazilian folk records, ca. late 1940s, in pieces
3. Moroccan music, ca. mid-1940s, broken in half

Third row (l-r):
1. Lidya Mendoza record, ca. late 1930s, hairline crack
2. Cousin Emmy country record, late 40s, shattered
3. Canary Islands folk song, ca. 1940s, multiple cracks

Fourth row (l-r):
1. Nyanja music from Malawi, ca. 1940s, hairline crack
2. Flamenco by La Nina, ca. 1915-1920, cracked in half
3. Turkish female song, ca. 1928, hairline crack

Fifth row (l-r):
1. North Iranian/Central Asian music, ca. 1930s, in pieces
2. Galician bagpipe record, 1900s, multiple cracks
3. Tahitian music on Mareva label ca. 1940s, hairline crack

And last:
1. Galician bagpipe music, ca. 1910s, multiple cracks

Ode to the “Istwanat”

sleeve.jpgIf you’ve encountered 78 rpm records from across North Africa including Egypt, you’ve probably run across the phenomena of the spoken introduction. A voice – not the voice of the performer, generally – states the name of the record company and the artist, and then the music begins. The announcement always begins with the Arabic word for Gramophone record, or disc, which I have seen transliterated in CDs as “istwanat” (or “astwanat,” and also “estwanat” depending on the accent), which is then followed by the name of the record company. These brief, sonically beautiful little announcements appear on many – but not all – 78s from the region, and even on mid-century Arab-American 78 recordings on labels such as Alamphon.

Why? Most likely because of the strong oral tradition in North African and Arab culture. I’ve edited a very brief collage of them for download, where you’ll hear announcements for Pathé, Polyphon, Pacific, and others. Loop this, and listen to it repeatedly before sleeping, like The Conet Project. Like voices from outer space, they have traveled long distances especially for your ears.