July 19, 2015
I hurriedly started to prep this little post this morning during a loud thunderstorm that set off car alarms and set a park on fire a few blocks away. Things have been a little apocalyptic in Los Angeles lately, what with the brutal drought, and wildfires jumping four-lane highways and burning up dozens of cars. Amid the weirdness, I’m in one of those periods where there isn’t enough time time in the day, vaguely overextended, working on various side projects, all music-related.
In the meantime, here’s something brief, extremely rare, and powerful – a folk song from Mongolia, sung by a singer credited only as Dolgar-Zab. I’ve no idea of the title – it shares a side with another folk song performed by “Cok-Dzolma.” I can say that it’s a wild vocal performance, with surprising falsetto and yodeling, accompanied by a musician on the morin khuur, the horsehead, two-stringed fiddle of Mongolia (one string is made of mare’s hair, the other of stallion’s). The instrument itself is recognized by UNESCO as one of the masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. You can bet I believe that list of masterpieces should be expanded.
Supraphon is arguably the most important Czech record label, and first made its appearance in 1932. State-run, the contents of Supraphon and the related Czech label, Ultraphon (operated by Telefunken), were predominantly classical. However, while uncommon, they did issue some important recordings of folk music from politically friendly nations including North Korea, countries in Central Asia, and Mongolia. On the label of this disc, you’ll see a little insignia for what was the First World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Prague in 1947. While I have my doubts that the production of this disc has anything to do with that festival, I do believe it gives us a good idea of the date – 1947-1948 or so.
Mongolian music on 78 is brutally scarce. Several discs were issued by Japanese Columbia and Japanese Victor, as part of folk music box sets organized by ethnomusicologist Tanabe Hisao. Mongolian music was also issued later on the Chinese Zhongguo Changpian label, as well as the Russian Melodiya-associated labels, for those keeping track. There was also a local, Mongolian 78 label named B.N.M.A.U. (Bügd Nairamdakh Mongol Ard Uls). Its history has yet to be scrutinized in the west.
Issue Number: B 15002
Matrix Number: 45225