Category Archives: Ethnomusicology

A Chinese painting in the Louis Armstrong House

Louis Armstrong House and garden.

Last year, I visited New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz music and the legendary Louis Armstrong (1901-1971). Known as the “Father of Jazz,” Armstrong began his musical journey in New Orleans and later moved to Chicago and New York. Through his tours, Armstrong also brought jazz music to audiences worldwide.

Upon returning to New York, I discovered that the Louis Armstrong House was in the nearby Corona neighborhood in the borough of Queens. Coincidentally, an extension of the House, the Louis Armstrong Center had just opened, so I decided to explore it.

Corona is a working-class community, and it’s quite unusual for a celebrity like Louis Armstrong to have lived there. It’s worth noting that by that time, Armstrong had already achieved a high social status, so his residence in Corona was somewhat unique. I learned from the guide that Armstrong’s wife, Lucille, grew up in Corona and had purchased the house before they got married. Lucille had initially planned to move to a different house after their marriage, but Armstrong had a special affection for this place. He liked it because it wasn’t as formal as upscale neighborhoods, and at the same time, it offered him a good amount of privacy.

Louis and Lucille Armstrong, 1949.

The Armstrong couple lived here for over twenty years, right up until Louis Armstrong passed away in 1971. Influenced by Armstrong, another renowned jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie, later moved to this community as well.

Today, the Louis Armstrong House continues to contribute to the cultural life of the community. There are regular outdoor concerts in the yard during the summer, and across from the residence, inside the Louis Armstrong Center, there is a performance space where concerts will be held after summer.

Armstrong rose to fame in his early years as a trumpet player, but later became a renowned jazz singer with his distinctive gravelly voice, even winning the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance in 1965. Armstrong had a famous song called What a wonderful world, and he mentioned in an interview that he often felt this way while living in hisj Corona home.

Coincidentally, he had a Chinese painting in his home depicting four musicians playing the xiao, pipa, guqin, and sheng, along with a dancer. The accompanying poem reads, “A fairyland on earth exists; why search for Penglai (a place in Chinese mythology where immortals live)?” The sentiment of this artwork aligns with the message of What a wonderful world. Armstrong never visited mainland China, but he did visit Hong Kong, and it is possible that he acquired this painting during this visit in 1963.

Research on Armstrong is abundant, but it seems there has not been much study on this Chinese painting in his possession. If Chinese scholars are interested in researching Armstrong, this painting could serve as an excellent starting point. However, before embarking on this study, it’s advisable to consult existing literature. Below are ten English books about Louis Armstrong that are included in Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) Abstracts for reference.

–Written and compiled by Mu Qian, Editor, RILM.

Armstrong, Louis. Swing that music (New York: Da Capo, 1993). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1993-3006]

Abstract: English: Originally published in 1936 (London: Longmans; New York: Green), this is Louis Armstrong’s first autobiography and the first autobiography by a jazz musician in history. Armstrong’s life living in the South Side of Chicago with “King” Oliver, his marriage to Lil Hardin, moving to New York in 1929, forming his own band, European tours, and the success he achieved internationally are chronicled.

Armstrong, Louis. Satchmo: My life in New Orleans (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1954-00411].

Abstract: “In all my whole career the Brick House was one of the toughest joints I ever played in. It was the honky-tonk where levee workers would congregate every Saturday night and trade with the gals who’d stroll up and down the floor and the bar. Those guys would drink and fight one another like circle saws. Bottles would come flying over the bandstand like crazy, and there was lots of just plain common shooting and cutting. But somehow all that jive didn’t faze me at all, I was so happy to have some place to blow my horn”. So says Louis Armstrong, a tough kid who just happened to be a musical genius, about one of the places where he performed and grew up. This raucous, rich tale of his early days concludes with his departure to Chicago in August 1922 to play with his boyhood idol King Oliver. Armstrong was a man of minimal formal education who was born on a dirt street in the poorest section of New Oreleans, very close to the House of Detention. From the age of five until his departure for Chicago he lived mostly at Liberty and Perdido in the heart of the black vice district–a world of pimps, hustlers, prostitutes, saloons, and gambling joints. His unique mix of personal attributes–toughness, sensitivity, drive, and strength of character–helped make possible a truly inspiring rags-to-riches story told by a discerning critic of human nature.

Cogswell, Michael. Louis Armstrong: The offstage story of Satchmo (Portland: Collectors, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-03459].

Abstract: A pictorial biography of the jazz musician, much of which is drawn from the Louis Armstrong House and and the associated archives at Queens College (Flushing, New York).

Willems, Jos. All of me: The complete discography of Louis Armstrong (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2006). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-01901].

Abstract: Listing of all known recordings, both studio and live performances of the jazz musician. Entries include a complete description of the recording session, the date, its location, the personnel involved, titles of tunes, and lists of commercial releases in various formats.

Collier, James Lincoln. Louis Armstrong: An American genius (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-01371].

Abstract: To millions of fans, Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”) was just a great entertainer. But to jazz aficionados, he was one of the most important musicians of our times–not only a key figure in the history of jazz but a formative influence on all of 20th-century popular music. Set against the backdrop of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York during the Jazz Age, the saga of an old-fashioned black man making it in a white world is re-created. Armstrong’s rise as a musician is chronicled, along with scrapes with the law, his relationships with four wives, and frequent relationships with fellow musicians including Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, and Zutty Singleton. Light is also shed on Armstrong’s endless need for approval, his streak of jealousy, and perhaps most important, what some consider his betrayal of his gift as he opted for commercial success and stardom.

Riccardi, Ricky. Heart full of rhythm: The big band years of Louis Armstrong (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-01371].

Abstract: Nearly 50 years after his death, Louis Armstrong remains one of the 20th century’s most iconic figures. Popular fans still appreciate his later hits such as <Hello, Dolly!> and <What a wonderful world>, while in the jazz community, he remains venerated for his groundbreaking innovations in the 1920s. The achievements of Armstrong’s middle years, however, possess some of the trumpeter’s most scintillating and career-defining stories. But the story of this crucial time has never been told in depth, until now. Between 1929 and 1947, Armstrong transformed himself from a little-known trumpeter in Chicago to an internationally renowned pop star, setting in motion the innovations of the swing era and bebop. He had a similar effect on the art of American pop singing, waxing some of his most identifiable hits such as <Jeepers creepers> and <When you’re smiling>. However, as this book shows, this transformative era wasn’t without its problems, from racist performance reviews and being held up at gunpoint by gangsters to struggling with an overworked embouchure and getting arrested for marijuana possession. Utilizing a prodigious amount of new research, the author traces Armstrong’s mid-career fall from grace and dramatic resurgence. Featuring never-before-published photographs and stories culled from Armstrong’s personal archives, the book tells the story of how the man called “Pops” became the first “King of Pop”. An excerpt is cited as RILM 2020-61930.

Riccardi, Ricky. What a wonderful world: The magic of Louis Armstrong’s later years (New York: Pantheon, 2011). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2011-04068].

Abstract: A comprehensive account of the final 25 years of the life and art of one of America’s greatest and most beloved musical icons. Much has been written about Louis Armstrong, but the majority of it focuses on the early and middle stages of his long career. This in-depth look at the years in which Armstrong was often dismissed as a buffoonish, if popular, entertainer, demonstrates instead the inventiveness and depth of expression that his music evinced during this time. These are the years (from after World War II until his death in 1971) when Armstrong entertained crowds around the world and recorded his highest-charting hits, including <Mack the knife> and <Hello, Dolly!>; years when he collaborated with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck; years when he recorded with strings and big bands, and, of course, with the All Stars, his primary recording ensemble for more than two decades. During this period, Armstrong both burnished and enhanced his legacy as one of jazz’s most influential figures.

Armstrong, Louis. Louis Armstrong in his own words: Selected writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-05124].

Abstract: Drawn from the archives of the master trumpeter, band leader, and entertainer, a collection of ARMSTRONG’s own writings presents his life as a musician, entertainer, civil rights activist, and cultural icon. These writings, many of which were previously unpublished, include some of his earliest letters, personal correspondence with one of his first biographers during 1943 and 1944, autobiographical writings, magazine articles, and essays. This work presents the jazz musician’s own thoughts on his life and career–from poverty in New Orleans to playing in the famous cafes, cabarets, and saloons of Storyville; from his big break in 1922 with the King Oliver band to his storming of New York; from his breaking of color barriers in Hollywood to the infamous King of the Zulus incident in 1949; and finally, to his last days in Queens, New York. In his writings ARMSTRONG recorded revealing portraits of his times and offered candid, often controversial, opinions about racism, marijuana, bebop, and other jazz artists such as Jelly Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins.

Berrett, Joshua. The Louis Armstrong companion: Eight decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-05125].

Abstract: An anthology compiled using the rich resources of the Armstrong Archives, including Armstrong’s autobiographical writings from the 1920s, letters to friends and family, interviews with others about Armstrong, and more, many of which have never been published. The reprints articles, interviews, and reviews stem from 1927 to 1999.

Meckna, Michael. Satchmo: The Louis Armstrong encyclopedia (Westport: Greenwood, 2004). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-07292].

Abstract: Details every aspect of Armstrong’s life and music, along with a discography, chronology, film listings, a guide to online resources, a bibliography about Armstrong, and more.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, North America, Performers

Central America’s vast dance and musical heritage

The music of Central America tends to borrow heavily from the music of Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, and the Caribbean Islands to the east, and, in the case of Nicaragua, from the politically motivated nueva canción (new song) movement. Additionally, some traces of the ancient Mayan culture can still be found in Nicaragua and Belize, and more strongly in Guatemala. People of Mayan background form around half of the population of Guatemala. Their cultural heritage has been preserved to an extraordinary extent because of their great reverence for their cultural heritage, mythology, and rituals. Their instruments include various slit-drums, gongs, rattles, and cane flutes that sometimes have the rattles of rattlesnakes enclosed in a hollow space above the embouchure. This is then closed off with a thin membrane, and the resulting menacing buzz is heard in the music of the Baile de venada (dance of the deer).

Along with Indian traditions in Guatemala is the equally thriving music of the Ladino population, which is Hispanic in origin and is found mostly in the country’s urban centers. The instrument that is central to Ladino music, namely the marimba de tecomates, which has a keyboard of wooden bars with gourds suspended underneath, is thought to be of African origin. Although Ladino groups have now adopted more contemporary marimbas, there is still a great variety among them. The largest, the marimba grande, has a range similar to a piano and is usually played by four players.

The son guatemalteco is the national dance of Guatemala, and dancers bring out the son rhythm with zapateadas or foot stamping. These indigenous rhythms and themes have also been incorporated into classical music. The brothers Jesús and Ricardo Castillo were Guatemalan classical composers of the early 20th century. Jesús wrote a treatise on the Mayan music of the country, and both brothers wrote pieces using Indian themes (Suites indigenas) and even operas such as Quiché Vinak. In Nicaragua, composers such as Luis Delgadillo (1887–1962) included Inca themes and other indigenous Nicaraguan music in their work.

The country furthest south in Central America, Panama, was previously part of Colombia until 1903, and is considered by some to be the source of Colombia’s cumbia genre. Its musical traditions are a mix of Spanish, Indian, and African, but as one of the most cosmopolitan countries of the region, folk music is now mainly the preserve of schools and folklore societies.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by reading through the Latin America section of the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Below is a performance of son guatemalteco and a piece entitled Fiesta de pajaros composed by Jesús Castillo.

Previous related Bibliolore posts to check out:

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Filed under Central America, Dance, Popular music, World music

The burning of musical instruments in Afghanistan

Sometime during the last weekend of July 2023, previously confiscated musical instruments were collected and publicly burned in the Afghan province of Herāt. The head of the local office of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Aziz al-Rahman al Muhajir, justified the burning by saying that music leads to moral corruption. Apparently string instruments, a harmonium, a tabla, and electronic amplifiers were burned. Performing music in public has been banned in Afghanistan since 2021.

Music has long been a controversial topic in Islam. Although the Islamic world has birthed rich and brilliant musical cultures, some Muslims nevertheless believe that music, especially instrumental music, causes people to go astray by indulging in sensual pleasures. The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic nationalist and pro-Pashtun movement founded in the early 1990s, rose to power in 1996 and subsequently banned the public performance of music and imposed numerous other restrictions on musical life. The group ruled around three-quarters of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before being overthrown after an invasion led by the United States. The group regained power over the entire country following the August 2021 departure of coalition forces.

Speaking in July 2023, Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, likened the Taliban’s actions to “cultural genocide and musical vandalism”. Now living in Portugal, Sarmast says, “The people of Afghanistan have been denied artistic freedom . . . The burning of musical instruments in Herat is just a small example of the cultural genocide that is taking place in Afghanistan under the leadership of the Taliban.”

Read on MGG Online.

Below is a performance of the Afghani rabāb accompanied by tabla at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Read a previous related posts on Bibliolore:

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Filed under Asia, Instruments, Politics, Religion

Margaret Rosezarian Harris: Conductor, composer, musical director

Margaret Rosezarian Harris (1943–2000) was the first Black woman to conduct the orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and 12 other U.S. cities. Harris played solo piano recitals in the U.S. and abroad and served as musical director for the Broadway production of Hair. She was a composer of ballets, concertos, and an opera, and served as a U.S. cultural specialist for a production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in Uzbekistan in 1995.

Harris was a child prodigy: she first performed in public when she was three years old and played a Mozart concerto movement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was ten. She received her musical education in the public schools of Chicago, Illinois; at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. During the 1960s, Harris was active in New York as a musical director for the Negro Ensemble Company and the New York Shakespeare Festival Company and as a teacher at the the Dorothy Maynor School of the Performing Arts. She made her concert debut as a pianist in 1970 at Town Hall in New York, including some of her original compositions on her program.

The same year she made her debut as a conductor-musical director with the Broadway musical Hair. She also conducted several musicals, including Two gentlemen of Verona (1971) and Raisin (1973). In 1971, she made her debut as a symphony orchestra conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in its Grant Park Concert Series. Harris toured widely at home and abroad as a guest conductor, appearing in concert halls, on college campuses, and at festivals where she frequently performed two roles, conductor and pianist-composer, playing her own piano concertos. She was active in radio and television music and served as the music director for Opera Ebony, and her honors include appointments to national advisory panels and an award from the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1972.

Today is Margaret Rosezarian Harris’ 80th birthday! Read more in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Below is her second piano concerto.

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Filed under Black studies, North America, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Mike Seeger’s influence on Bob Dylan

Mike Seeger in 1964

As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Seeger played an important role in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Although Seeger was generally less known than his politically outspoken half-brother, Pete, he helped found the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958 and throughout his career recorded and produced dozens of albums of American music that he called “true vine”, which combined British and African storytelling traditions. Although only eight years older, Seeger had a strong influence on Bob Dylan. Recalling him in Chronicles. I (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), Dylan wrote:

“Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary type all at once—had chivalry in his blood…”

“He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for—the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, the guitar, even harmonica in the rack….He played on all the various planes, the full index of old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered—Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel—being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them.”

Mike Seeger would have celebrated his 90th birthday on August 15. He passed away in 2009. Learn more about Seeger in Country music: A biographical dictionary–find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Watch Seeger perform the song Freight Train and a performance on fiddle and banjo from the 1960s.

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Filed under North America, Performers, Popular music

Sara Gonzalez and the Cuban nueva trova movement

The name Sara González is synonymous with the history of the Cuban nueva trova. The genre differed from the traditional trova mainly because of its political lyrics but some have described nueva trova as “a field of multiple, generic-stylistic confluences” (Gómez 2021:272). Many songs incorporate elements from jazz, pop, concert music, and protest songs–in nueva trova, these resources communicate the poetic message of the song.

Along with the male trovadores such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicola, and Eduardo Ramos, Gonzalez helped to found and develop the nueva trova movement in the late 1960s. Born in Havana, she began singing as part of the Los Dimos group and later enrolled in Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte (the National School of Art Instructors) with the intention of becoming a music teacher. However, her interest in nueva canción, a genre of pan-Latin American popular music, led her in other directions. In 1972, Gonzalez joined other Cuban musicians on a project that allowed for the institutionalization of the nueva trova, specifically in the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) Sound Experimentation Group–Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC (GESI). Between 1970 and 1978, she wrote songs that explored political themes and integrated ideas of the GESI into nueva trova. In this sense, GESI was important for the establishment of the genre and fundamental in shaping its stylistic features musically. The group also shaped Gonzalez’s musical and political identity. As she described at the time,

“[The Group] has been decisive for who I am. To have ideas of my own, [and] of what I was going to do with my life. . . And as for artistic accomplishment, it was decisive. For everything I have done afterwards, I have always had to resort to what I learned there. . . A school, a method, a way of being, of facing, also, my own creation, my own life. It defined me in every way. I left there with the seed, with the base, firm and secure, that I did not have. And from there everything can come out (González, cited in Sarusky 2005:81-82).  

The trajectory of Gonzalez’s career also demonstrated interconnections between a deep knowledge of Western classical music and her devotion to Cuban music and pedagogy. She became an icon of what some considered “the new woman” in the context of the Cuban nueva trova. In this regard, Gonzalez negotiated the gendered political spaces of femininity and masculinity as a woman troubadour.

Read more about the life and work of Sara Gonzalez in Ivette Janet Céspedes Gómez’s chapter Sara González: A different song in the The Routledge Handbook of Women’s Work in Music (2022) and in Lorena Valdebenito Carrasco’s article ¿Hombre nuevo y Mujer nueva? Lo femenino y lo masculino en la Nueva Trova Cubana de Silvio Rodríguez y Sara González in the journal El oído pensante 8.2 (2021). Find the publications in RILM Abstracts and RILM Abstracts with Full Text (RAFT) respectively.

Watch a video of Sara Gonzalez performing Su nombre es Pueblo.

Other Bibliolore related posts to check out:

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Filed under Performers, Politics, Popular music, West Indies

Debapriya Adhikary: A torchbearer of the Benarasi Tappa

“Oh, Beloved! I am honey trapped in your love. Make me hear you!”

As the musicologist Ranjana Saxena writes, lyrics like these illustrate the essence of the tappa, a florid, passionately romantic vocal art form of India. Inspired by the undulating motions of camel-riding Arab tradespeople, the word “tappa” originates from the Punjab province of India and Pakistan. Its root word tappana refers to the bouncing and jerkiness of a camelback ride and the mercurial, melismatic singing that these rides have inspired.

Unlike khayal—the serene art music from the Hindustani tradition of India—the tappa is volatile, unfolding rapidly throughout a single tala (rhythm) cycle. The sung text is usually very brief, consisting of not more than two to four lines. However, tappa singers use this brevity to their advantage. They deftly weave in the frenetic melismas through the scant lyrics, finessing the diction to facilitate speed while maintaining comprehensibility. Unlike other forms of Hindustani art music, where the melodic framework for the piece, encapsulated in the raga, is first outlined, this foreshadowing is summarily eschewed in the tappa. Instead, the emotional content emerges over the course of the presentation, which, due to the extreme physical demands it places upon the singer, does not last for more than ten minutes.

At the heart of tappa virtuosity is the zamzama taan, a circuitous vocal gyration employing short patterns of four to five notes that move through the notes of the raga, often cut with notes that are sung in faster subdivisions to create a sense of drama and unpredictability, or to make abrupt changes in the patterns used even more apparent, according to Debapriya Adhikary, one of the torchbearers of the Benarasi tradition of tappa. “Unlike khayal”, he adds, “tappa singing does not allow for nyaas (resting) on any one note. It is a tireless, intricate pursuit of passionate beauty.” Chhuut taans also find a home in the tappa; these taans start with a wide, upwards jerk and descend rapidly, taking a pliable view of tempo, accelerating and then slowing down for effect, underscoring tension and release. However, sapaat taans—linear runs through the notes of the raga—are avoided to ensure that tappas are never confused with faster khayals, which can be equally dizzying.

The demanding nature of the tappa tends to overshadow its nuanced inner workings in scholarship on the genre, both by Indians and cultural outsiders. Colonial collectors such as William Hamilton Bird and Sarah Plowden described tappa as “wild”. At the same time, orientalists such as William Jones and Augustus Willard considered it a “rude style”. Although it can be hard to look past the virtuosic element of tappa singing, a subtle richness emerges once you do. For starters, there is the curious case of the languages used in the tappa texts. The tappas that have endured in pre-partition India (the longest have Punjabi texts), were sung in various languages, including Sindhi, Multani, Bannochi, Derawali, and Saraiki. The poetry of the tappa speaks beseechingly of love, depicting a traditionally demure view of separation and longing. Most importantly, tappa embody the feminine voice irrespective of the gender of the performer; whosoever sings the tappa has to use female pronouns and embody birhaa and shringar, the emotions most closely associated with the feminine in the Hindustani tradition.

Due to its somewhat limited emotional landscape, tappas tend to be composed in a few ragas, such as Khamaj, Kafi, Bhairavi, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, Sindhura, Des, Jangla, Pahari, Maand, and Sohini. Tala (time cycles) used include Punjabi (adha theka), Pashto, and Sitarkhani, used for their uneven accents that further reinforce the off-kilter feel at the core of the tappa.

The rhythmic gait of the tappa is as complex as its origins, which are contested to say the least. The most common view is that this art form was created by Ghulam Nabi Shori (1742-1792), a genius hereditary musician at the court of Awadh in Lucknow, India, patronized by Nawab Asafuddaulah. Tappas attributed to him bear his nom de plume, Shori Miyan, in the last line of the text. As the story goes, he inherited not only knowledge of dhrupadand khayal, the two most prominent genres of art music in the Hindustani tradition, from his father but also a ceaseless innovative spirit. Nawab’s father, Ghulam Rasul, had adapted some of the qawwali taans to enhance his dhrupad singing. At the height of his prowess and frustration, Shori traveled across India until he finally found inspiration after a chance encounter with the aforementioned camel riders and used their simple folk songs as a base for his melismatic vocal virtuosity. 

However, authors like Katherine Schofield have brought this theory under greater scrutiny, suggesting that tappas were sung in Delhi nearly a hundred years before Shori Miyan brought them to Lucknow. Considering that Delhi was also the seat of the Qawwali, it is easy to surmise that this conjecture may carry some weight. Besides Schofield, musicologists Fakirullah and Mirza Khan also have identified famous love songs called “tappay” at the time of the Mughal Emperor Shahjehan in the 17th century. Gokul Nath traced tappay sung by courtesans on the streets of Agra even earlier, sometime during the 16th century. Ranjana Saxena notes that some scholars credit the Besara Geet of dhrupad as the source of the tappa. However, due to the oral tradition of music in India, it is hard to say with certainty how any of these compared with the modern-day tappa popularized by Shori Miyan.

Shori Miyan’s is not the only stream of tappa that can be sampled in India. While a contemporary of Shori Miyan, Ramnidhi Gupta, created a variant of the tappa in Bengal that evolved into something completely different due to the sociocultural climate of its new home in Eastern India, from the mainstream, Northern tappa as practiced in Gwalior and Benares. Famed musicologist V.D. Paluskar also composed tappas, but these were settings of mystical poetry and explicitly Hindu devotional, unlike mainstream tappas with their lovelorn turn of phrase. Shori Miyan’s presence in Lucknow, and the spread of his students eastward, virtually ensured that the tappa never gained prominence in Punjab, the land of its origin, as it did in Central and Eastern India. Gamun Miyan (Shori’s disciple) passed the tappa to Benares, and several excellent tappa singers arose there, most notably Girija Devi, who ultimately passed it down to Debapriya.

“I was fascinated by how intricate her singing was, yet how easy she made it seem,” Debapriya says of his illustrious Gurumaa. “She saw that I had an aptitude for the tappa and a love for learning difficult things, so she started to instruct me in it.” Hearing Debapriya sing the tappa, it is easy to see what may have impressed Girija Devi. His cultured, lyrical, and expressive voice not only exhibits the athleticism required for tappa but is also full of pathos and emotion, which is rare nowadays. Debapriya has cultivated a complete mastery of the four baans of tappa singing–laari daar, guthaao daar, khudi daar, and phande daar–overcoming the many challenges these present both anatomically and conceptually to an outstanding degree. He explains that his gurumaa taught him to avoid excessively heavy oscillations to conserve his voice and to find an appropriate balance between vocal gymnastics and the prosody hidden in the text. “I spent a lot of time trying to connect the notes of any given raga in a series of slow glides, which I could eventually speed up to produce the many scintillating effects that the tappa demands,” Debapriya says, “but in doing so I realized that the onus of hard work has to be upon the student. The teacher can only take you to the fountainhead; it is up to you to put in the hours required to claim knowledge as your own.” Debapriya performs his wide repertoire, including tappa, with his cousin and musical partner, Samanwaya Sarkar, who happens to be one of the few contemporary instrumentalists able to render the tappa on his Sitar faithfully.

–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.

Watch a video of Debapriya performing with Samanwaya Sarkar below.

Here Debapriya sings one of his favorite Shori Miyan tappas, and explains the salient features of the Benarasi tappa.

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Filed under Asia, Performers, World music

Astrud Gilberto, bossa nova cool

Astrud Gilberto, born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and German father, was the voice of bossa nova. As a genre, bossa nova combined Brazilian samba rhythms and U.S. cool jazz elements while featuring an understated vocal style that complemented an acoustic guitar technique that featured plucked chords with jazz-influenced harmonies and chord progressions. Her rendition of The girl from Ipanema was sung quietly and melancholically without vibrato, in complete contrast to the extroverted rock ‘n’ roll numbers of the time. The song was composed in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and two years later appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto by singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. On the album–which marked the peak of the bossa nova craze, sold millions of copies, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year–Astrud sang two of the songs: The girl from Ipanema and Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars).

As a young woman, she moved with her family to Rio de Janeiro in 1948 where she worked in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Astrud married João Gilberto in 1959 after meeting at a friend’s house with whom she had sung as an amateur in bossa nova shows. In 1963, she traveled to New York City and performed an English version of the song Garota de Ipanema on João’s LP with Stan Getz. The English release of The girl from Ipanema marked her international breakthrough, making both the song and bossa nova known throughout the world. Although The girl from Ipanema is one of the most covered songs, it was Astrud’s English version with a Brazilian accent that was first associated with the song.

Astrud continued her career with Getz Au Go Go (1964, with Stan Getz), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965, nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Female Vocal Performance), and Look to the Rainbow (1966, with Gil Evans). Her hits included Água de beber (1965), The shadow of your smile (1965), and Desafinado (1966, with George Michael). Her final album, Jungle, was released in 2002. She received a Latin Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Although Astrud never enjoyed massive success as a soloist, she was a prolific artist and collaborated with other major musicians throughout her long career as a vocalist.

Astrud Gilberto passed away on 5 June 2023 at the age of 83.

Read her obituary in MGG Online and locate information on her life and career in the Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, folclórica, popular (Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular, 2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Watch the video of Astrud Gilberto performing Corcovado below!

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music, South America, World music

Hip hop at 50—Part 1: Beats and breaks

By the late 1970s, hip hop’s five core elements had emerged, namely deejaying, emceeing, breaking, graffiti, and beatboxing. The first two originated primarily in New York City hip hop parties led by DJs (disc jockeys) who revolutionized the practice of record spinning through the art of turntablism, and MCs (master of ceremonies) who performed rhythmic call and response with audiences. Breaking (the dance element of hip hop), graffiti (the visual art of hip hop), and beatboxing (the ability to create beats with one’s mouth) also formed in tandem with early hip hop culture at these parties.

Emceeing, which later known as rap, had cultural roots in the Black verbal arts of the United States and the Caribbean region. Mainland U.S. traditions that remained visible in hip hop include “jive-talking” radio personalities of the 1940s and 1950s, oral traditions of storytelling, and “playing the dozens“, a competitive and recreational exchange of verbal insults. Jamaican traditions include toasting, mobile disk jockeys, and sound systems. Many hip hop pioneers were Caribbean immigrants who brought musical practices from their native countries and adapted them to new social and sonic contexts of New York City.

Jamaican Mobile DJ

The mingling of Caribbean immigrant and native-born African American and Latinx communities in the United States set the stage for the development of hip hop and rap music. A large Caribbean community had developed in New York, where the first rap and dance parties were said to have begun, as early as 1972 in the Bronx. Rapping as a distinct musical form developed in New York as a cultural expression encompassed by hip hop. Socioeconomic conditions in the Bronx and Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s profoundly shaped the aesthetics and activities of hip hop culture. The construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1959 accelerated the deterioration of buildings and led to the displacement of communities of the south Bronx–in many of these areas, youth gangs and gang violence emerged. Despite the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s, Bronx youth developed popularized expressions that eventually came to be associated with hip hop culture, then consisting primarily of graffiti and competitive dancing. Hip hop became a powerful cultural symbol of urban youth. Within a few years, it had spread far beyond the Bronx.

Rap largely incubated outside of the pop mainstream during the 1970s. Although commercial success eluded him, Kool DJ Herc is widely considered to be the godfather of rap. His ideology ultimately defined hip hop culture–he was a record collector, dedicated to finding jazz, rock, or reggae discs possessing a funky drum break ideal for dancing. When asked in an interview about how many times he would play a break, Herc replied, “I wouldn’t go too far. Two times. I’ll just extend it two times. And James Brown says “Clyde” [for drummer Clyde Stubblefield]–that’s my name. So James Brown shouted me out. Oooh. Then the break comes in. I used that to start me off, and then go into the Isley Brothers and [Babe Ruth’s] The Mexican. Oooh, I like this. And then Jimmy Castor Bunch. Them were the records, man. I lay claim to it: That’s a Herc record. I’d say, “You never heard it like this before, and you’re back for more.” That’s it.”

Spinning records at local venues, Herc attracted Black audiences largely from the Bronx and Harlem where so-called “b-boys” dominated club dance contests until Puerto Rican youth developed a new dance vocabulary of power moves known as breaking (or break dancing). “Some say hip hop some begins with the DJ. But actually hip hop culture itself begins with the b-boy. We’re the x factor,” says Cholly Rock (Anthony Horne), a first generation b-boy. Cholly traces breaking back to the 1960s when Latinos across New York started “rocking” or “uprocking,” creating moves inspired by mambo music to contemporary soul and rock. Rocking was inspired by battle dances and performed as type of showdown. Some dancers latched on to its more aggressive components referring to the elaborate dance-disses as “burning.” Provocative styles emerged among feuding New York City gangs, especially in the Bronx.

B-boy breakin’

Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) provided the final impetus in making rap an art form. After moving to the Bronx from Barbados with his family as a child, Flash learned about electronics in a high school vocational class and quickly applied his knowledge to turntables and his father’s record collection. He extended and refined Herc’s breakbeat technique by incorporating a cross-fader system to monitor the mix on headphones and switch channels quickly–essentially inventing the turntable/mixer setup used by many hip hop DJs today. Flash specialized in playing breaks, the point when a DJ rapped, or a b-boy displayed his flashiest moves, and was adept at extending breaks and abruptly shifting records to the next break beat (or “cutting”). He also perfected “scratching” (see video below), the technique of taking the beginning of the beat, holding the record with your finger and making it go backward and forward with your finger.

Grandmaster Flash cuttin’ and scratchin’.

Look out for upcoming posts celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary in the Hip hop at 50 series on Bibliolore. Find out more about the history of hip hop and contemporary scenes in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME) and RILM Abstracts.

Read earlier posts on hip hop in Bibliolore:

Hiplife and indigenization

Electro hop and Afrofuturism

Need to learn more about turntablism? Let San Francisco Bay Area legend DJ QBert show you how it’s done.

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Filed under North America, Popular music, West Indies

E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR)

The E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR) is an open-access journal from Ghana that publishes academic articles, conference papers, dissertation and thesis chapters, and book reviews in music. EJOMUR was first published in August 2020 and since then, their readership has grown to include academics, musicologists, composers, historians, musicians, and those interested in music research. All research articles submitted to the journal undergo a double-blind peer-review process, and issues are subsequently published online monthly.

EJOMUR publishes original articles on a wide range of topics in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, music education, and music literature.

Find this journal in RILM Abstracts. Listen to Kwesi Gyan, a 21st-century chamber orchestra piece that combines Apatampa rhythms and folk music with contemporary compositional techniques. The piece is featured in an article in the July 2023 issue of the journal.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, New periodicals