Some stickers and stamps from ancient 78rpm record shops, found on records and sleeves…
In terms of geography, the Victor company handled all of North and South America at that time, with divisions in Canada, Mexico, and Argentina – while His Master’s Voice (HMV), Victor’s larger sister company (for lack of a better descriptor), handled the rest of the world. Interestingly, Brazilian recordings were released by HMV as well, but I don’t know the exact reasons behind this. By 1933, all record companies that were still lucky enough to exist in one form or another were doing whatever it took to stay afloat, which in many cases meant merging, consolidating, or just plain selling off their catalog. Victor was the only American record company to make it out of the Depression. Surely, sales in the southern hemisphere had something to do with that, but again, this is conjecture on my part.
The lead singer of this track seems to be a well-known samba pioneer in Brazil, Luiz Barbosa. Barbosa recorded throughout the 1930s and appeared in some of the earliest films to feature Carmen Miranda. He died in 1938, at the young age of 28.
Some Barbosa material appears to be available on this CD, but as usual, I can’t vouch for the quality of the transfers.
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 25969
Matrix Number: 80377-1
This is a rare occurance, but I am briefly going to vent about the knock-down, drag-out, laugh-in-the-face-of-death world of collecting “ethnic” 78rpm records. It will not happen often – maybe never again – and if you don’t want to hear it, move on and check out all the music below. But, you see…
I received a broken 78 today. Shouldn’t be a surprise, no? Yeah, well. Fine. But, it was rare. Oh, damn, it was SO rare, I can’t even tell you. It would have been a standout jewel in my collection, a superb example of rarely heard and painfully scarce regional music. The historical import was sky-high. Possibly, it was the only known existing copy. And it was in pieces. Despite the expensive (yet nominal when considering it’s rarity) price this record cost, I’m not worried about that loss. That’s the least of it.
What’s strange is that it was not the Post Office that destroyed the record. My beefs with them have been limited. No, it was the 78 seller – a good person, too – who packed my record so poorly, it wouldn’t have made it from his door to the mail truck, let alone reach me thousands of miles away. And what’s upsetting me more is that this is a trend…
I buy lots of 78s, nearly all the time, from all over. I love them. It’s ridiculous. I constantly, and considerately (I hope) ask if sellers know how to properly ship these items. And 95% of the records I receive arrive in fine shape. But last year I received a broken 78 of rare Haitian music. I received a stunning Gallotone 78 of Chopi music from Mozambique – in pieces. I received a Ugandan 78 on the Tom-Tom label – cracked to the center. A French regional dance tune from the late 20s – cracked. A cheap, but lovely, Cousin Emmy record on Decca – broken in pieces. A brutally scarce Ngoma 78 from Congo – cracked to the center. And in just the past few months I received a broken Ghanaian high-life 78 from the 30s, a cracked Lidya Mendoza 78 (aah!) and now this. Fine music! Some real would-be stunners. Done in.
78s are like glass – you have to pack them very carefully, following a pretty much agreed upon packing standard, if you want to guarantee their safety. You can’t wrap them in one layer of bubble wrap, dump them in an LP mailer, and figure you’re set. They will break within seconds. THIS is EXACTLY the way to ship 78s. Nothing else will suffice, and there’s no reason for me, or anyone else, to suffer the wretched goddamn consequences. I’ve even taken to shipping my OWN packing materials to sellers to make life easier for the both of us. A good, rare 78 with unique music unavailable in any other format is something that deserves some respect.
Anyway, that’s my rant – hitting my head against the wall, with ears that will never hear the music on that record. Those lost sounds are lost, yet again.
An mp3 post will follow the day after tomorrow.
While I definitely have some appreciation for the early practitioners of the Argentine tango and its singers (Carlos Gardel being the most well-known), I prefer the folk music from Argentina which was being played pre-tango, and during the same early years of the tango’s rise to international fame. In particular, folkloric guitar music brought from rural areas into the urban center of Buenos Aires.
A fine example is performed here, by Rafael Iriarte and Rosendo Pesoa, recorded for Odeon in the mid-1920s. Iriarte (whose nickname was “The Rat”) recorded a number of duets during this period both with Pesoa and with Jose Maria Aguilar, another master of the acoustic guitar. He also had a career as an accompanist for numerous tango vocalists, but again, for me it’s the folk material that stands out. He died in 1961.
If you’re interested in more work by Iriarte, check this CD.
Label: Disco Nacional
Issue Number: 9610
Matrix Number: E 1901
North Africa was a busy hub of early recording, with nearly every major label conducting numerous sessions in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia throughout the late 1920s and 1930s. (Because of its independence in 1951, 78s recorded in Libya remain a little bit of a mystery, although some do exist.) Interestingly, most of HMV’s Moroccan sessions appeared on their amazing, catch-all “K” series, which featured material from locales as disparate as Algeria, Cuba, Madagascar, and Auvergne, just to name a few places of interest.
This fantastic and spirited jam was recorded between July 22nd and July 24th, 1929, by Gramophone engineer Harold Fleming on a trip to Casablanca. The title is more of a literal designation – the term “aita” referring to the song style (literally: “the cry”), and “baidaouiya” meaning “Casablanca” – so, aita from Casablanca. The female singers are accompanied by violin and percussion (bongos or a dumbek).
(Thanks to Abdelali for the title translation.)
Coupling Number: K-4631
Face Number: 50-2114-G
Matrix Number: BS-4219
Krontjong (in relatively equal amounts spelled kronjong, kroncong, keroncong, and kerontjong) is slightly over a century old, and is an urban folk music. Ethnomusicologists would call it a syncretic music, as it developed over time from a variety of cultural influences, such as Portuguese, Batavian, African, and Malay – all of which were present in one form or another in turn of the century Indonesia.
Known for its languid rhythm, Hawaiian “walking guitar,” and partially improvised violin runs, the style was first recorded in 1904, but musically hit its stride and popularity in the 1930s. By the 1940s, independent Indonesian labels began to appear such as Dendang (pictured here), Irama, and Serimpi, and hundreds if not thousands more krontjong records were released, joining the large amount already available from HMV, Odeon, and other companies.
In my personal experience, I’ve found it difficult to track down much krontjong on 78 outside of Indonesia, nor has much, if any, early krontjong music been re-released on CD. I’ve always found it unique – it often sounds like two bands playing completely separate arrangements of the same song, and somehow landing on their feet.
For more information on the history of krontjong, take a peek at pages 207-210 of Peter Manuel’s essential text, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World, as well as the always entertaining Paul Vernon, and his article Kronjong Silver.
Issue Number: XBK.007
Matrix Number: IMC.302
My earliest recording. This single-sided, 7″ record was made in Singapore by recording engineer Fred Gaisberg and his assistant George Dillnutt, on a lengthy trip through Asia for the Gramophone Company in 1902-1903, where thousands of recordings were made. Specifically, this was recorded in May, 1903. It was the very first time in history a recording company had visited and recorded in these regions. On the same trip, Gaisberg visited and recorded artists in Bangkok, Rangoon, and Japan. The wax masters were shipped to Gramophone’s plant in Hannover, Germany, where they were reproduced, then exported back to Asia.
Gaisberg (1873-1951) is a giant in the history of recorded sound. Not only was he one of the very first “producers” of music on record, he also helped standardize the speed (78, or more precisely, 78.26) at which the music was to be played back. He made the first recordings by tenor Enrico Caruso, in 1902 – one year before he became the first engineer to produce records for emerging Asian markets.
At this early stage in Malaysia, very few people could afford Gramophone discs, much less a player. Those who could afford them included British officers and business owners, those who worked for the British (called “Babas”) as well as local merchants and traders who were particularly well-off. That said, the presence of numerous record companies in the region by 1920 proves the market was widening substantially. As if it even needs to be said, however, comparatively few of these recordings have survived.
If you are interested in the life of Fred Gaisberg, check out this book. If you are interested in the history of recording in Malaysia, check out Tai Sooi Beng’s article “The 78 RPM Industry in Malaya Prior to World War II,” published in Asian Music, Fall/Winter 1996/1997.
Issue Number: 2-12050
Matrix Number: E 1860
Much has been written about the Portuguese “song of fate” and there is little chance that I could add anything new to the subject. However, some brief notes for those interested: the origins of the fado are muddy – some say it originated from Portuguese sailors and their songs of longing for home (there are theories that the rhythm of the fado evolved from the lurching, rolling waves at sea). Others claim that the roots of the fado came from Brazil, and made their way to Portugal in the 19th century. Some claim it came from the Moors, although other musical styles from the same general area, such as flamenco, seem more obviously connected to North Africa.
Several qualities are evident: a true fado is performed accompanied by a guitarra and a viola da franca. The viola da franca or violão is another name for the Spanish guitar. The guitarra is the name for a lute with a rounded sideboard and six double strings of wire. Perhaps most importantly, the fado is always accompanied by the inexpressible feeling of saudade. As folklorist and ethnographer Rodney Gallop put it in 1933*:
The true fado is always sad. Usually in the minor, it retains even in the major the melancholy character associated with the minor. It may be wild, finely exultant in its sadness, seeming to revel in tragedy; or, more often, striking a note of pathetic and almost languid resignation. Its sophisticated cadences breathe a spirit of theatrical self-pity combined with genuine sincerity. It is emotional, passionate, erotic, sensuous, one might say meretricious, and yet, like some rustic courtesan, fundamentally simple and unpretentious.
This fado, uncollected on any CD, was recorded ca. 1929, in Lisbon by the German Polydor company. I could find little written about Maria Alice, a genuine fadista if there ever was one. (She is NOT to be confused with a Cape Verdean singer of the same name.) I’ve been able to find imported recordings of fados by Alice that were released in the late 1920s in the United States on the Brunswick label. Unsurprisingly, little of her work has seen the light of day since. One track can be found here, although I cannot vouch for the transfers.
Issue Number: P 44233
Matrix Number: 2758 BK
*Gallop, Rodney. “The Fado (The Portugese Song of Fate).” The Musical Quarterly 19/2 (1933): 199-213.
At first, this baile vasco starts off with a typically enjoyable folkdance melody featuring the pandareta, the Basque tambourine, and the regional diatonic accordion, the triki-trixa.
But it’s the beautifully jolting vocal performance by Ms. Narbaiza that’s the real stunner. Whether Columbia’s engineer, who recorded these musicians from Eibar in what seems to me to be the early 1930s, had the microphone up a little too close, or whether Ms. Narbaiza’s energy simply couldn’t be contained is something we’ll never know. The music obviously speaks for itself.
Issue Number: A 5181
Matrix Number: C 8156-2
The Zonophone label was the first to begin large-scale recording of records by and for Africans, with their classic EZ series which began in 1929, and featured primarily West African artists (they had tiptoed into these waters some years earlier with a “Zonophone Native Records” series). HMV started not soon after, beginning a massive spate of recording on the continent until the end of the 78 era. By the 1940s and 1950s, there were at least two dozen other labels producing 78s for the African populace. Thousands of historic, beautiful recordings were made in nearly every single existing country and region. The history of African music on 78rpm, as well as – of course – the music itself, is rich and fascinating. It’s some of my favorite music in my collection. Needless to say, African 78s are very difficult to find today.
This track by Kwaku Addae is sung in the Twi language, and was recorded in Nsawam, Ghana, ca. 1954-1955. It features lovely vocal harmonies, and some classic West African guitar picking.
For more information on the early history of recording in Africa, I recommend the excellent article by Paul Vernon, Savannaphone.
And if you’re interested in more early guitar music from West Africa, this CD from Heritage is also top notch, and thankfully still in print.
Issue Number: JLK.1069
Matrix Number: OAB 4203-1
Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt!