Category Archives: World music

The first Karnatak music conference

On 27 May 1912 the first Karnatak music conference was convened in Thanjāvūr.

Hosted by the celebrated practitioner of Siddha medicine and devotee of Karnatak music Abraham Pandithar (inset, 1859–1919), the conference’s stated purpose was “to promote an academic interest in and to diffuse a knowledge of all that was best in the science and practice of Indian Music; to correct all conflicting notions in regard to Ragams and determine the precise and scientifically correct methods; to concert measures to the advancement of Indian music.”

At the conference Pandithar established the society Sangeetha Vidhyalaya Mahajana Sangam; the group met five more times between 1912 and 1914.

This according to “A centenary of music conferences” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (Madras heritage and Carnatic music, 25 May 2012). Above, the society’s group photograph, taken after the first morning session; below, Pandithar Thottam, the farm in Thanjāvūr where Pandithar grew traditional medicinal plants.

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Digital Library of Appalachia

Produced by the Appalachian College Association, the Digital Library of Appalachia provides online access to archival and historical materials related to the culture of the southern and central Appalachian region. The database’s contents are drawn from special collections of Appalachian College Association member libraries.

Above, the Bog Trotters Band in Galax, Virginia, in 1937. Below, the legendary Roscoe Holcomb at home in Kentucky.

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Filed under North America, Resources, World music

World & traditional music

Part of the British Library’s Sounds project, World & traditional music features tens of thousands of recordings by ethnomusicologists and collectors, including those of the pioneering Africanists Peter Cooke (b.1930), Kenneth Gourlay (1919–95), Hans-Joachim Heinz (1917–2000), Arthur Morris Jones (1889–1980), David Rycroft (1924–97), and Klaus Wachsmann (1907–84). This online resource is available free of charge for noncommercial research, study, and private enjoyment.

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Filed under Africa, Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music

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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Filed under Curiosities, Ethnomusicology, Humor, World music

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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Filed under Jazz and blues, North America, 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.

Below, the Seegers’ 1964 film Singing fishermen of Ghana.

 

More stories from the American Folklife Center are 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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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Jazz and blues, Opera, Popular music, Resources, World music

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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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, World music

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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Filed under Dance, Europe, World music