Category Archives: World music

Pete Seeger, filmmaker

Seegers 2006

The world knows Pete Seeger as an activist and a performer of traditional and original songs; fewer know of his work as a filmmaker. With his wife Toshi, Seeger documented music and dance performances on hundreds of reels of film between 1955 and 1965.

Having started with a self-produced film of how to play the 5-string banjo, Toshi and Pete branched out into filming the musicians and dancers they came in contact with in their countrywide and worldwide tours. Their subjects include the final performance of Big Bill Broonzy as well as the Irish fiddler John Doherty, the sitār player Imrat Khan, Ghanaian fishermen singing rowing songs, and Indonesian court dancers. The Pete and Toshi Seeger Film Collection was acquired by the American Folklife Center in 2004.

This according to “The incompleat filmmakers: The little-known career of Pete and Toshi Seeger” by Todd Harvey and Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXVIII/28 [winter/spring 2006] pp. 3–8). Above, the Seegers in an interview at the Library of Congress in 2006; inset, at the 2009 Clearwater Festival.

You can watch the Seegers’ film of Ghanaian fishermen here.

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National jukebox

In May 2011 the Library of Congress launched National jukebox: Historical recordings from the Library of Congress, an Internet resource that makes historical sound recordings available to the public for free. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. These recordings were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.

At launch, the Jukebox already included over 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other U.S. labels, including Columbia, Okeh, and some Universal Music Group-owned labels. The selections range from jazz and popular styles to ethnic traditions to Western classical works, including opera arias.

Above, a Victor acoustical recording session ca. 1920.

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Kronos and controversy

The Kronos Quartet has been politically engaged since its founding in 1973, and their forays into world music carry political messages as well as aesthetic ones. Inevitably, these ventures have enmeshed the group in the anxious narratives surrounding the world music phenomenon.

Critics cite the appropriation and alienation of non-Western musics and techniques as economic and cultural capital for first-world performers, entrepreneurs, and recording companies, while admirers cite sensitivity and homage, cultural exchange, and a faith in the intercultural transcendence of aesthetic values that enacts a basis for peaceful cooperation.

Although the group’s continuing commitment to crossing cultural borders and raising political issues has been branded as hypocritical in the context of their signing with Nonesuch Records, which is owned by the media giant Time Warner, their efforts should command respect from those who seek to discredit the myth that music can—and should—exist in an autonomous world apart from that of society.

This according to “Postmodern eclecticism and the world music debate: The politics of the Kronos Quartet” by David Bennett (Context: A journal of music research 29–30 [2005] pp. 5–15). Above, the quartet performs with the pipa player Wu Man; below, with the Azerbaijani muğam singer Alim Qasımov and his ensemble.

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The Caffè Lena Collection

Founded in Saratoga Springs by Bill and Lena Spencer in 1960, Caffè Lena is the longest continuously running folk coffeehouse in the United States. With its longstanding tradition of nurturing new talent, the venue hosted some of the first performances of Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Ani DiFranco, as well as some of the last appearances of the legendary Delta bluesmen Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt.

In August 2009, just in time for its 50th anniversary, the Caffè Lena Collection arrived at the American Folklife Center. This collection—a collaborative effort of the Center, the Caffè Lena History Project, and the Saratoga Springs History Museum—includes vintage photographs, articles, and letters; rare reel-to-reel recordings of performances; and oral history recordings with musicians, patrons, and staff members. The Center is making plans for digitizing the materials.

This according to “Celebrating 50 years of American folk music history: The Caffè Lena Collection arrives at the Library of Congress” by Jocelyn Arem (Folklife Center news XXXII/1–2, pp. 3–6). Above, Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Spencer, and Pasha, 1962. (All rights reserved by the Joe Alper Photo Collection LLC; may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Joe Alper Photo Collection LLC.)

Related articles:

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The female accordion

The first concertinas to arrive in County Clare, Ireland, were inexpensive German instruments, a far cry from the elegant parlor instrument invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829 and popularized among the social elite of Victorian England. They were disseminated by traveling peddlers and local and more distant shops—and probably by maritime traffic, given Clare’s position at the mouth of the Shannon estuary, the last port of call for tall ships about to cross the Atlantic.

By the end of the nineteenth century the concertina had all but replaced the uilleann pipes in popularity there, and Clare had already developed a reputation as a treasure-trove of concertina music and the home of some of the instrument’s finest players. After its completion in 1892 the West Clare Railway carried concertinas into formerly inaccessible rural areas, and before World War II the instrument became particularly popular among women musicians, earning it the nickname bean-cháirdin (female accordion).

This according to “Clare: Heartland of the Irish concertina” by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (Papers of the International Concertina Association III [2006] pp. 1–19). Above, Ó hAllmhuráin learns a tune from the 101-year-old Clare concertina player Molly Carthy in 1997. Below, the Clare concertina player Kate McNamara plays two reels: Sergeant Early’s dream and The plough and the stars.

BONUS: Read about the gendering of another traditional Irish instrument in The female harp.

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Surva: Dancing for the unripe year

On 14 January, which is both New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. Basil according to the old Orthodox calendar, villagers in Bulgaria and Macedonia perform the costumed ceremonial dance known as  Сурва (Surva, “unripe year”). Children between 4 and 14 years old participate in the малечка Сурва (small Surva), while adults between 15 and 35 perform in the голема Сурва (big Surva).

small surva 3On the eve of the event, youths go from house to house collecting wood for the ceremonial bonfire. In the morning the participants choose their roles and don the corresponding masks and sheepskin capes. The stock characters may include a groom, a bride, a devil, a priest, a gypsy, and a dancer with a bear. To the accompaniment of drums and shawms, the dancers parade through the village with abundant comical antics. The ceremony culminates with a spirited dance around the collective bonfire.

This according to “Сурварските обичаи од неколку струмички села” (Old customs performed on New Year’s day in villages of the Strumičko region) by Ivan Kotev, an essay included in Rad XIX kongresa Saveza Udruženja Folklorista Jugoslavije (Skopje: Združenie na Folkloristite na Makedonija, 1977, pp. 207–212). Below, Surva in Krupnik, Bulgaria.

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Analytical approaches to world music

Founded in response to the excitement generated by the First International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music in 2010, Analytical approaches to world music (ISSN 2158-5296) brings together disciplines including music theory, ethnomusicology, musicology, cognitive psychology, computer science, and mathematics for a cross-cultural dialogue that aims to promote and enhance understanding of the diverse collection of traditions that is commonly referred to as world music.

Edited by Lawrence Shuster and Rob Schultz, the inaugural issue of this peer-reviewed online journal includes articles by Robert Morris, Sarah Weiss, David Locke, Richard Widdess, Jay Rahn, and Michael Tenzer.

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Sephardic music: A century of recordings

Sephardic music: A century of recordings showcases and discusses over 100 years of recorded Sephardic music, from the 78 rpm era to the present. Created by Joel Bresler, this resource includes information on repertory and performance practice and a comprehensive discography of Sephardic 78s in Hebrew and Ladino ordered by label, song, or artist. Numerous illustrations are provided, including reproductions of record labels and covers.

Above, the label from Haim Effendi’s 1907 recording of the popular Sephardic song A la una; the recording can be heard here.

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The Dunn Family Collection

Although he never mentioned it in his published writings, the collector and compiler of traditional Irish tunes Francis O’Neill (1848–1936) made wax cylinder recordings of some of his fellow musicians in Chicago, probably in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Once believed lost, 32 of these recordings were discovered in 2003 when David Dunn opened a suitcase that had belonged to his grandfather, who had been a friend of O’Neill. Dunn brought them to the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, which contacted the American Folklife Center for help in digitizing them. Several recordings by the renowned uilleann pipe player Patrick J. “Patsy” Touhey (1865–1923) are included, along with performances by four other luminaries of the Chicago Irish music community.

The recordings now comprise the cornerstone of The Dunn Family Collection, an online exhibit hosted by the Ward Archives that also includes manuscripts, artifacts, photographs, and sheet music collected by the instrument maker and repairer Michael J. Dunn (1855–1935). Dunn was also a captain in the Milwaukee Fire Department, while O’Neill—when he was not pursuing his passion for Irish traditional music—served as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

Thanks to Patrick Hutchinson for alerting us about this collection! Patrick plays the uilleann pipes with Bento Boxty.

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Black music reference series

African Diaspora Press, a scholarly imprint specializing in bibliographies about expressive culture of Africa and the African diaspora, launched its Black music reference series in June 2010 with From vodou to zouk: A bibliographic guide to music of the French-speaking Caribbean and its diaspora by John Gray, the director of the Black Arts Research Center in Nyack, New York. The book’s nearly 1300 entries cover all of the French-speaking islands—in particular Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana—as well as their overseas enclaves in France, the U.S., and Canada. Biographical and critical information on over 350 of the region’s leading musicians and producers is also provided.

Above, Perle Lama demonstrates the basic zouk steps.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, New series, Popular music, Resources, West Indies, World music