Tag Archives: Traditional music

Carnival in Monastīraki

Arapīdes, also known as Carnival, takes place on 5 and 6 January (Epiphany Eve and Epiphany Day) in Monastīraki, Greece. Rooted in ancient Dionysiac worship, the ritual involves performances by four groups: arapīdes, masked men in black capes holding wooden swords; gkiligkes, men wearing women’s local dress; pappoudes, men wearing men’s local dress; and tsoliades or euzōnoi, men dressed as guards.

Starting in the morning, the assembled troupe visits each house in the village and dances with the head of the household, who then presents a donation. In the afternoon the troupe performs in the village square; then all of the villagers join in the dancing, which lasts into the night.

This according to “Ritual acts and dance: The case of the Arapides in Monastiraki” by Ioannis Prantsidis (Studia choreologica VIII [2006], pp. 81–120). Below, the troupe dances in the village square in 2011.

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Filed under Dance, Europe, World music

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections is a multiformat ethnographic field collection documenting traditional cultures throughout Florida in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This free online resource is part of the Library of Congress American Memory series.

Undertaken in conjunction with the Florida Federal Writers’ Project, the Florida Music Project, and the Joint Committee on Folk Arts of the Work Projects Administration, the collection features folk songs and folktales in many languages, including blues and work songs from fishing boats, railroad gangs, and turpentine camps; children’s songs, dance music, and religious music of many cultures; and oral histories.

The website provides access to 376 sound recordings and 106 accompanying materials, including recording logs, transcriptions, correspondence between Florida WPA workers and Library of Congress personnel, and an essay on Florida folklife by Zora Neale Hurston (inset). A new essay by Stetson Kennedy reflects on the labor and the legacy of the WPA in Florida, and an extensive bibliography, a list of related Web sites, and a guide to the ethnic and language groups of Florida add further context to the New Deal era and to Florida culture.

Above, construction workers gathered around the stove in the craftsmen’s barracks at Camp Blanding, Florida, in 1940.

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Le fonds Brăiloiu

Established in 2009 by the Archives Internationales de Musique Populaire at the Musée d’Ethnographie in Geneva, Le fonds Brăiloiu is an open-access collection of 3028 recordings by the Romanian ethnomusicologist Constantin Brăiloiu (1893–1958) and his colleagues. The collection has also been issued by VDE-Gallo as Collection universelle de musique populaire/The world collection of folk music: Archives Constantin Brăiloiu, 1913–1953, a set of four CDs.

Above, Brăiloiu records Gheorge Musuleac in Romania in 1928. Below, one of Brăiloiu’s 1941 recordings of the Serbian flute player Milan Trandafir.

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Charles Seeger and folkness

The folk revival movement is the result of the common folkness of the folk and the supposedly non-folk surfacing in cities. In the meantime the folk has been doing what it has always done: appropriating all of the non-folkness it could.

Perhaps non-folkness is that which tries not to be folkness, while folkness is that which has not discovered more non-folkness than it could assimilate. The two categories may not be mutually exclusive; they may be two aspects of the same entity.

This according to “The folkness of the non-folk vs. the non-folkness of the folk” by Charles Seeger, an essay included in Folklore and society: Essays in honor of Benj. A. Botkin (Hatboro: Folklore Associates, 1966, pp. 1–9).

Above, Charles plays the harmonium for a family musicale in 1921, with his son Pete on his lap. Below, Pete’s half-sister Peggy Seeger performs The foolish frog, a traditional song with a story that Charles made up to entertain his children.

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Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro

When he was growing up in Catania, Sicily, Bellini undoubtedly heard the peasants from the far side of Mount Etna who came to town every Advent with their zampogne (bagpipes). The young prodigy was influenced by these traditional musicians in several ways.

The bagpipers’ improvisations helped to shape the seemingly meandering and unpredictable melodies that Bellini became famous for. Also, the balance between the drones and the chanters influenced his handling of accompaniment and melody. Finally, the music of the bagpipes found its way into Bellini’s uses of modality, his chromaticisms, and his oscillations between major and minor keys. The Mediterranean vibrancy of his slow music was particularly grounded in the traditional music of his youth.

This according to Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro del melodramma by Salvatore Enrico Failla (Catania: Maimone, 1985). Today is Bellini’s 210th birthday! Below, a modern-day incarnation of the Sicilian Advent zampognaro.

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Robert Garfias: Ethnomusicology

Robert Garfias: Ethnomusicology is an open-access collection of the digitized field recordings and films of the ethnomusicologist Robert Garfias (b.1932). Over a career spanning nearly seven decades, Garfias has documented musical traditions in Afghanistan, Alaska, Arizona, China, Burma, North and South India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Nubia, The Philippines, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, and Zimbabwe—a strikingly broad range of study.

Above, Garfias records Burmese musicians in 1973; below, one of his 1970 films of the Nubian `ūd player Hamza el Din.

Related post: Afghanistan at peace

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How Cooke heard America singing

A great mystery surrounded I Hear America Singing, the 13-part series that Alistair Cooke produced in 1938: How had the BBC managed to borrow recordings from the Library of Congress when no other broadcaster was allowed access to them?

The circumstances were extraordinary. First, Cooke wrote an eloquent and charming letter to Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress. “When I first became interested in American folk songs,” he wrote, “I had no idea so little had been done in recording, and how desperately hard it is for an amateur to get within earshot of the music he is interested in and excited about….I found that the Library, and only the Library, has recorded a score or more of the songs which can make my series possible.”

Moved by Cooke’s letter and the goal of the series, Putnam agreed to grant one-time rights with notable restrictions: the BBC would send the Library any copies that were made when it returned the recordings; the series would be broadcast live, and only once; and no recordings of the series itself would be preserved. As a result of this arrangement, many recordings were broadcast that had never before been heard by anyone outside the Library.

This according to “Alistair Cooke: A radio and TV icon in the Archive of folk culture” by Stephen D. Winick (Folklife Center news XXVII/1–2 [winter/spring 2005] pp. 6–8). Above, Cooke interviews an unknown singer for the series in 1938. Below, Vera Hall (1902–64) sings Trouble so hard, recorded by John Lomax for the Library of Congress in the 1930s.

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Old MacDonald’s ancestors

The earliest known ancestor of Old MacDonald had a farm is A charming country life in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to purge melancholy (1719–20); while the verses have no resemblance to the later song, the chorus of “Here a ___, there a ___, everywhere a ___” is structurally identical.

Further eighteenth-century versions appear in other collections, and in the nineteenth century others, always with the same stock chorus but differing in other particulars, emerged in blackface minstrelsy. A version from a 1917 book of soldiers’ songs produced in London gives the first direct predecessor of the modern version, with a similar tune for the chorus and an identification of the farmer as “Old MacDougal”; it also explains the nonsensical “ee-i-ee-i-o”—Old MacDougal’s farm was “in O-hi-o-hi-o.”

This according to “Farmyard cacaphonies: Three centuries of a popular song” by Vic Gammon (Folk music journal XI/1, pp. 42-72). Above, D’Urfey, who claimed—perhaps unreliably—to have written the original song. Below, Sesame Street’s justly neglected Old MacDonald cantata.

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A rediscovered Scottish folk manuscript

Renovations of Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2000 involved dismantling a “robust but not particularly beautiful cupboard” and storing its contents—mostly old sheet music—for later inspection.

Entirely by chance, the librarian and scholar Karen McAulay discovered therein three manuscript collections of traditional Scottish flute tunes notated by one James Simpson. Her subsequent research enabled her to establish some details of Simpson’s identity, including his residences, occupation, and birth and death dates (1806–73).

This according to McAulay’s “From Dalfield Walk, Dundee, to Renfrew Street, Glasgow: The James Simpson manuscripts” (Brio XL/1 [spring-summer 2003] pp. 27–37). Above, Simpson’s notation of the Strathspey Maggie Lauder with variations.

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Traditional Ghanaian sampling

The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions. Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.

This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.

Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming

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