Banjo Toss 2015

April 25, 2015 by


NEW YORK (AP) — Several dozen competitors from around the world took turns Sunday hurling a sacrificial banjo into a polluted urban canal to see who could throw it the farthest.

Tyler Frank of St. Louis bested all other male competitors with an 85-foot throw. On the women’s side, Nada Zimmerman of Innsbruck, Austria, tossed the banjo 67 feet into Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. The winners received a new banjo from the event’s sponsor, the Brooklyn Folk Festival.

“This is the only existing throwing banjo on the planet,” said judge Geoff Wiley, holding a well-worn banjo left behind in a folk music venue. A long rope with pre-measured segments is tied around the banjo’s neck so Wiley can retrieve it from the canal. He then measures the distance of each competitor’s toss to determine the winners. Wiley repairs and fortifies the instrument after each year’s competition.

 Event founder, banjo player and radio host Eli Smith, who tossed the banjo a personal best 52 feet on Sunday, conceived the event in 2010, although the first competition wasn’t held until the next year.

“The whole concept is absurd, but people have become enthusiastic about it,” Smith said. “I love the banjo, and yet I have a perverse desire to see it thrown into a body of water.”

Once a major transportation route for the then-separate cities of Brooklyn and New York, the Gowanus Canal was home to coal yards, chemical factories and fuel refineries that left behind severely contaminated water. Years of storm runoff discharges, sewer outflows and industrial pollutants turned the Gowanus into one of the nation’s most contaminated waterways. It was named a Superfund site in 2010, meaning the government can force polluters to pay for its restoration.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, contaminants include PCBs, coal tar wastes, heavy metals and volatile organics. Sunday’s competition gave new meaning to the term heavy metal.


April 24, 2015 by

from and

Timbuktu: 2015 Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film

Few films have aroused more unexpected controversy in recent years than the Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu,” which was released in the United States in January. Lyrical and visually arresting, the movie is set in the storied city of Timbuktu, in the West African nation of Mali.

Timbuktu has long been a center of Islamic scholarship, art, literature, and music—a deposit of cultural artifacts at the southern gate to the Sahara. The film tells a story about occupation, about what happens when Islamist extremists take over the town and impose a grinding interpretation of Sharia law. It’s also a story about resistance, about the people who refuse to submit to fundamentalism.

Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences.

Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants. Timbuktu is Mauritania’s first entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Universal

Music has released a soundtrack album for the drama Timbuktu. The album features the film’s original music composed by Amine Bouhafa. The soundtrack is now available overseas and is available as an import on Amazon.

Ry Cooder and Sleepy John

April 23, 2015 by

ry cooder boomer's story excerpt from Jas Obrecht’s Music Blog:

Ry Cooder Reminisces

Ry: for me, the big deal was to see Sleepy John [Estes] because I liked his records so much. When I got mobile, I got a little older, I went down South to see him, and we used to sit with him. I’d go see him in his house up in Brownsville, Tennessee. Take him money and things. By that time I was kind of doing things. But as a teenager, I used to see him come through here. I had these records, although they weren’t easy to get in those days, but people had given me tapes or some 78s. I used to listen to these things and think, “Well, what could this all be about? Who are these people? What are they saying?”

It’s a mysterious journey here, like Alice in Wonderland. And then, not understanding anything about the historical, social, economic conditions that produces music – there again, being pretty young and all – all of a sudden, in the folk boom, on the scene in Hollywood, in this folk music club, appears these guys. And they walk to the stage, walk through the audience. I was thunderstruck I couldn’t breathe, you know. They got up onstage, sat down, and commenced to do whatever it was they were able to do. And of course that really killed me, because I thought, “This is beyond my understanding.” After a while I began to gather up courage and go up and talk once in a while. You could sit down and say, “Can I understand this?” or “Can you show me this or that?”

It was hard for me, but I did. And then I found out it was good, because they didn’t mind. They liked talking; it was not unpleasant for them. I didn’t bother anybody or badger them, like people do these days. But I was always curious and always trying to understand. Then it became obvious that it wasn’t so much the music as it was the people. If you could figure out where the people were and how they were as beings, why when the music was very clarified. Because what’s totally mysterious on record and inexplicable, why, in five minutes of watching a guy play, you got it. You understand body rhythm and how the instrument is approached, which is entirely different than how I’d seen it done. It was not linear, it was not patterns – they’d play out of patterns.

Music from Saharan Cellphones

April 22, 2015 by


by Chris Kirkley (from and

Music from Saharan Cellphones is a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Saharan desert.

In much of West Africa, cellphones are are used as all purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, the knockoff cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tinny built in speakers, and swap files in a very literal peer to peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.

The songs chosen for the compilation were some of the highlights — music that is immensely popular on the unofficial mp3/cellphone network from Abidjan to Bamako to Algiers, but have limited or no commercial release. They’re also songs that tend towards this new world of self production — Fruity Loops, home studios, synthesizers, and Autotune.

The “Music from Saharan Cell Phones” compilation was this idea that I had when I was doing field recordings. I noticed that there was a lot of other music that people were listening to on their cell phones. West African people use their cell phones like people use their iPods, or iPhones, or iTunes – it’s a way to store and trade your digital mp3s. I noticed that people were listening on their phones to stuff that I had never heard before – crazy stuff, with drum machines, Autotune…

All this really contemporary music that I couldn’t find anything about. You couldn’t Google it- it didn’t exist on the Internet.  Sometimes people didn’t know who the composers were on the music, they just had these unidentified mp3s on their phones. So I started collecting mp3s from people’s cell phones and I brought that back to the states. Over the next couple years, I worked on tracking down a some of my favorite tracks that I collected, finding out who made those songs, contacting them, licensing them, and putting together a compilation. Read the rest of this entry »

Walking in the Light

April 21, 2015 by



John Cohen: Walking in The Light

Published by Steidl
Text by John Cohen.

Hardcover, 9 x 9.25 in. / 96 pgs / PUB DATE 4/28/2015

Walking in the Light is John Cohen’s photographic journey towards and through gospel music. From 1954 to 1964 he photographed in the black churches of East New York, on the streets of New Haven, in the home of blind Reverend Gary Davis, as well as in the darkness of a boxing gym and the blackness of coal shovelers at an industrial site.

Of all these images, those of worshippers at a small church in Harlem form the emotional centerpiece of Cohen’s journey, where music leads to spiritual release in trances and dances. The last destination of this odyssey is Johns Island, South Carolina, where Gullah children connect to African ancestors through games and play.

Cohen’s photographs of musical performances in religious settings reflect the inner sound expressed on the face of a singer, a soulful expression, the quality of light that illuminates the face of a child, or the intensity of a prayer. Sound, song and religious feeling are permanently rendered in black and white.

“The potlikker of human living”

April 20, 2015 by

Robert Cook (with camera) and Stetson Kennedy (with recording equipment) documenting Edith Ogden-Aguilar Kennedy, Ybor City, Florida, 1939

Stetson Kennedy, one of the pioneer folklore collectors during the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1916.  He left the University of Florida in 1937 to join the WPA Florida Writers’ Project, and was soon, at the age of 21, put in charge of folklore, oral history, and ethnic studies.

By Stetson Kennedy (

Whenever anyone asks me what it was like, working with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and recording Florida folksongs back in the 1930s for the Library of Congress, I tell them we were as excited as a bunch of kids on a treasure hunt.

None of us had ever gone hunting for folksongs before, but we were soon able to recognize one the moment we heard it, and to realize that it was truly a bit of cultural treasure that we were discovering and preserving for future generations to enjoy.

And sure enough, here we are, more than a half century later, able to pick and choose in a split second, on our computer screens, from among thousands of items it took us five years to collect. In the 1930s, we traveled backroads the length and breadth of the Florida peninsula, toting a coffee-table-sized recording machine into turpentine camps, sawmills, citrus groves, the Everglades, out onto railroad tracks, and aboard shrimp trawlers — wherever Florida folks were working, living, and singing.

“The Thing,” as we called the machine, looked like a phonograph, and cut with a sapphire needle directly onto a 12-inch acetate disk. Every time we shipped off another batch of disks to the Archive of American Folk-Song (now the American Folklife Center) at the Library of Congress, the newspapers would report, “Canned Florida Folksongs Sent to Washington.”

And now all you have to do is select a can from the Web site shelf, open it up, and enjoy!

The voices you hear singing, talking, laughing, joking, and telling tall tales are those of Floridians who have almost all gone to Beluthahatchee (an Afro-Seminole name for Happy Hunting Ground). As for the songs they sang and tales they told, many are still to be heard, having been passed along as hand-me-downs from one generation to the next, while others survive in the “cans” we put them in — and now on the World Wide Web!

Happily, many of the folksongs recorded by the WPA have also been preserved in books such as A Treasury of American Folklore, as well as Southern, Western, and other regional “Treasuries,” all edited by the man who served as national director of the WPA’s folklore collecting, Dr. Benjamin Botkin.

We are all indebted to Ben Botkin for teaching us, in his seminal treatise entitled “Bread and Song,” about the inter-relationship between life and culture.  A bit later on, another outstanding folklorist, Zora Neale Hurston, gave us a definition that will stand for all time: “Folklore is the boiled-down juice, or potlikker, of human living.”

4 Generations of Congo Music

April 19, 2015 by


from and

Click on the link below to listen.

Afropop Worldwide produced a nice podcast that takes us on a historic trip through four generation of music from the Democratic Republic of Congo. No other country’s music on the African country spread so much like the Rumba or Soukouss which was engineered in Kinshasa and fascinated millions on the continent.

Congo has always played an oversize role in entertaining dance lovers on the continent and beyond–Franco, Tabu Ley, Doctor Nico, Zaiko Langa Langa, Papa Wemba, Pepe Kalle, and others.

We start in pre-independence Congo with the beloved “Papa” Wendo Kolossoy (RIP), the grandfather of rumba, as he talks with us at his home in Kinshasa. We talk to the man and listen in on a recording session. After sitting out most of the 3-decade Mobutu era, Wendo put together a band of veterans with stories to tell, and sweet melodies and rhythms to share.

We also talk with the legendary singer and composer Simaro Lutumba who sat at the right hand of Franco. We catch Simaro rehearsing his band, Bana OK. We also check in with dueling superstars Werrason and JB Mpiana.

There are two countries called Congo—The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of the Congo. While both capital cities have been involved in the musical developments, it is the capital of the DRC, Kinshasa, that has provided most of the Congolese superstars. Kinshasa was Africa’s undisputed musical heart, pumping out and endless flow of dance music and great bands. Each generation brought its own style, but all played music known in the West as rumba or soukous.

Afro-Cuban rumba stormed West and Central African before and after World War II. It was quickly reappropriated by the Congolese who adapted the piano part for the guitar. Unlike Ghanaian highlife, Congolese music was less influenced by European taste and in many ways more African.

The forefathers of Congolese music include Feruzi, often credited with popularizing the rumba in the 1930s. The cross-border popularity of Congolese music was boosted by a number of practical factors. It was ‘non-tribal’, using the interethnic trading language, Lingala. The guitar style was an amalgam of influences from Central and West Africa.

Finally, postwar Belgian Congo was booming and traders were taking advantage of the commercial potential including the sale of records. Early Congolese labels released a deluge of 78rpm recordings and in the early 1940s Radio Congo Belge started African music broadcasts.


Old Time Music of the Wild West

April 18, 2015 by



Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West by Mark Gardner & Rex Rideout

Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout are today’s premier performers and interpreters of the historic music of the American West. Gardner, in addition to his music, is a prolific historian and writer focusing on the 19th-century Western experience.

From the well known fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveller” to obscure pieces such as “Capt. Jinks of the Horse Marines,” Gardner and Rideout’s “Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West” offers a variety of historic popular music rarely heard on one release. A wide selection of period instruments were used in the recording: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bones, and even jawbone!

Review of “Frontier Favorites” by  Jon Chandler:

With Frontier Favorites, Rideout and his musical cohort Mark Gardner have created a stylistically accurate period piece filled with 21 tunes that are historically exact, yet can be appreciated by contemporary sensibilities. Sound, composition, instrumental technique and vocal technique – each is absolutely perfect, a dramatic tribute to our frontier legacy. In essence, the songs of the American Frontier are brought to life in exactly the form they would have been heard a century and a half ago.

It is eerily accurate, performed with skill and devotion by musical historians who could easily be transported to 1850 and not be found out! Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout have done more than just record the tunes of the American Frontier. They have recreated the music through exacting research combined with impressive musical ability. What they bring to the listener is the prototype for Country, Americana, Western and Folk music; before Nashville, before Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Uncle Dave Macon. Its instrumentation was portable and nearly primitive, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and bones taking center stage in an era when guitars were a rarity.

The music on this disc is precisely what your ancestors heard, what they danced to. It encompasses the songs they sang and the tunes they hummed. It’s a musical journey to the mid-19th century that transcends cultural nostalgia; this music is realistic enough in style and content to have been played and sung in its exact form on the Western frontier.
This is an essential recording for those who seek to understand the roots of America’s music. It is rollicking, it is exhilarating, and most of all, it is real.

From Congo to Cuba to Congo

April 17, 2015 by


excerpt from Bob W. White (

How it is that Afro- Cuban records actually made it to African urban centers during the colonial period—this is a history that remains to be written; even specialists of ethnic recordings in the early years of the international record industry lament the lack of information available for the Caribbean and Africa.

Preliminary findings, however, do point in certain directions. We know, for instance, that as early as the 1890s record companies such as Edison (U.S.) and Pathé (France) were recording local artists in Havana. By 1904, larger record companies such as Columbia and Victor (both based in the U.S.) were sending field agents and engineers to Havana on a biannual basis, but as the companies that came before them, they were primarily interested in recruiting and recording classical music, opera, military bands and ballroom dance orchestras .

It was not until later that record companies expressed interest in local popular music: Victor first recorded the legendary son group Sexteto Habanero in New York in 1920 and Sexteto Nacional, their primary rival, was picked up by Columbia in 1926. In 1928 Victor discovered the Trio Oriental in Santiago, Cuba and brought them to Camden, New Jersey to record as the Trio Matamoros. Read the rest of this entry »

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song

April 16, 2015 by



from edited review by Patrick Byrket (

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song: Celebrating The Music of “Papa” Charlie Jackson (Document Records DOCD 7010)

If you have ever wondered about when and where the blues began, this new CD might give you a better idea.  Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song is a great collection of one of the first major stars in the genre of blues.

Before delving into the CD, please allow a little bit of history on Papa Charlie Jackson.  He was born William Henry Jackson in 1885 in New Orleans.

Jackson, who originally performed in minstrel and medicine shows, played a number of instruments including banjo, guitar, and the ukulele. He was also one of the first musicians during that time to have a double career in jazz and blues.  In the mid-1920s he moved to Chicago where he began “busking” at the famous Maxwell Street Market.  In 1924, he started his recording career as “Charlie Jackson” on the Paramount label and had released over 70 sides by 1936.  His career did suffer during the onset of the Great Depression, and he died in Chicago in 1938.

This two CD set, accompanied by a 16 page booklet that has a great biography of Papa Charlie by Jas Obrecht, is a wonderful tribute to one of the pioneers of the blues. The project is the brainchild of Cary Moskovitz. Moskovitz is joined by Jen Maurer, Adam Tanner, Dom Flemons, and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton to perform new interpretations of 15 songs by Papa Charlie–accompanied with various combinations of six-string and tenor banjo, piano, guitar, bass, fiddle, and other instruments.

The second CD presents Papa Charlie Jackson’s original recordings of the same 15 songs, expertly remastered.  The contrast between the two CDs is nothing but outstanding.  To be able to hear the love and the care that contemporary musicians give to the songs is almost like being back in the 1920s, while the remastered versions of Papa Charlie’s recordings are so clear you might think he is still playing his songs on a street corner somewhere.




April 15, 2015 by




(CD available from Elijah Wald)  i

Jean-Bosco Mwenda (known later in life as Mwenda Wa Bayeke) was the
most famous and influential of the virtuoso fingerstyle guitarists who

flourished  in Southeastern Congo, near the Zambian border, in the 1950s.

His first recording, “Masanga,” was imitated throughout sub-Saharan Africa,
and he went on to make more than 200 records, both in the Congo and during
a stay of over a year inNairobi, Kenya, as well as performing in Europe and at
the Newport Folk Festival.

In the late 1950s, both Jean-Bosco and his cousin Edouard Masengo went to
Nairobi, where there was a more active music scene. Bosco got a radio job
advertising a headache remedy, Aspro, but after a little over a year he decided
to go home to Lubumbashi (at that time Elizabethville).

Masengo stayed in Nairobi, where he remained a popular performer through
the 1960s. As a result, although in the Congo he was not considered as important
a figure as Bosco or Losta Abelo, Masengo is far more popular in Kenya.

His style is lighter than Bosco’s, and his guitar work less virtuosic, but there is a
lovely lilt to his singing, and he prided himself on his varied repertoire. The interview
that finishes this CD, apparently recorded in Kenya in the early 1960s, finds him
singing such oddities as “Paper Doll” and a Swahili “Jamaica Farewell” along with
his own compositions.

The other tracks are largely Kenyan commercial recordings from 1959-1960
(I have assigned credits by ear, and welcome corrections). The last three Bosco
tracks are from a tape he had in his home, recorded I believe in the late 1970s,
and I recorded the last pre-interview Masengo track in 1990. Overall, the sound
on these recordings is much cleaner than on the Radio Zaire 78s.

To buy this CD, go here.

Booth Killed Lincoln

April 14, 2015 by



One hundred and fifty years ago tonight, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died hours later, on April 15, 1865. One of AFC’s items relating to this shocking event is the song “Booth Killed Lincoln,” sung by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. For the project “The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America,” Library staff created a video for the song using many of our Lincoln-related images.

See video here.

American Epic

April 14, 2015 by


 Two British filmmakers, Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty, and American Producer Duke Erikson have pieced together this extraordinary story set in the late 1920s when record companies toured America with a recording machine and for the first time captured the raw expression of an emerging culture. It democratized music and gave a voice to the poorest in the nation.

The filmmakers follow the machine’s trail across the United States to rediscover the families whose music was recorded by it, music that would lead to the development of blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk music – without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop today.

Over three episodes the remarkable lives of these seminal musicians are revealed through previously unseen film footage, unpublished photographs, and exclusive interviews with some of the last living witnesses to that era, when the musical strands of a diverse nation first emerged, sparking a cultural revolution whose reverberations are felt to this day.

For AMERICAN EPIC SESSIONS the filmmakers have re-assembled the machine that allowed America to first hear itself. They have replicated the atmosphere of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings down to the smallest detail, with top American artists recording straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era.

This is the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery for over 80 years. Led by producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett, today’s legends are given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to relive the experience of the founding mothers and fathers, their idols, and remake the music that changed America and changed the world.

Producer and co-creator Allison McGourty said, “We traveled the length and breadth of America, from Cleveland, Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, and from New York to Hawaii, in our quest to discover the identities and stories of America’s earliest recorded musicians.  We captured testimonials from the last living witnesses and direct descendants of America’s musical pioneers. This is the last time their story can be told before everyone who was there is gone.”

Ed Haley inducted to WV Music Hall of Fame

April 13, 2015 by


from http://www.herald-dispatch:

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is proud to announce its inductees for 2015 – and celebrate its upcoming 10th anniversary.  Among them,

James Edward Haley (1885-1951),  from Hart’s Creek (Logan County).
Blind from the age of three, fiddler Ed Haley influenced many great artists both before and after his death – including the great Clark Kessinger. Haley traveled widely throughout West Virginia and Kentucky, performing his repertoire of old-time music – which included breakdowns, jigs, waltzes and show tunes – at square dances, fiddle contests, and courthouse squares.

During the ’20s and ’30s, Haley also made and sold his own records, and played on the radio in Cincinnati. His wife Martha Ella Trumbo, also blind, accompanied Haley on mandolin and played on many of his recordings. Martha’s son Ralph Payne recorded Ed and his mother’s playing on a home disc-cutting machine and many of those recordings were eventually released by Rounder Records.

One of those influenced by Haley’s playing was the late John Hartford. Hartford studied and sang about Haley’s life, performed his music and recorded it on his albums. Among those songs is “Hell Up Coal Holler,” in which Hartford sings about Haley’s travels in WV and eastern KY, playing on trains and in smokehouses. He played one of Haley’s fiddle tunes, “Shove That Hog’s Foot Further in the Bed” as well as Haley’s arrangement of “Man of Constant Sorrow” on the “Down from the Mountain concert.” At the time of his death, Hartford was researching and writing a book on Haley’s life.

Ngoma: the Early Years

April 12, 2015 by

L2RhdGEvd2ViL250YW1hL3dlYi9udGFtYS9pbWFnZXMvc3Rvcmllcy9yZXZpZXdzL25nb20xY3YuanBnNgoma, the Early Years , 1948-1960 (Popular African Music CD):

from and

The liner notes tell a fascinating story of a family of Greek import-export traders who started at mines in the then-Belgian Congo, and branched out to open up the Ngoma label in the mid-1940s. Ngoma may have been the very first label recording early Congolese artists, and the label’s unusual push to promote and distribute its music was apparently fundamental in Zairian/Congolese rumba becoming a pan-African sound more than a national one.

The master tapes were lost in a pressing plant fire, and a pristine vinyl collection destroyed in Kinshasa, so the songs here were transferred from old discs, and the sound quality is fairly rough and very compressed. More important, this music is very much pre-full-band-rumba-phase that took off with Franco and others in the mid-’50s, so there aren’t any flashy rave-ups.

It’s dominated by lilting acoustic guitars backing singers, with the Cuban influences pretty implicit. If anything, it sounds like a parallel to pre-electric band pop stages, like mento in Jamaica, or pre-Mighty Sparrow calypso in Trinidad (Some rural Cuban styles would probably fit the profile, too).

The disc is bookended by two versions of Congolese legend Wendo’s “Marie-Louise”: the 1948 track plaintive with guitar, the 1958 one with a full band in cha cha mode. Camille Mokoko contributes two strong songs — “Ekoko Bata” is an ad for Bata shoes — and the first taste of light electric guitar surfaces on “Yen Vavanga,” by Manuel D’Oliveira. There are faint traces of the Franco sound-to-come here, and “Njila Ya Ndolo” features Antoine Moundanda’s high-pitched voice, answering group harmonies, and introducing what sounds like a marimba. Read the rest of this entry »

Treasures from the Archive Roadshow (#2)

April 11, 2015 by


This year’s Brooklyn Folk Festival will include a workshop titled Treasures from the Archive Roadshow produced by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress collections and celebrating the centennial of the birth of folklorist Alan Lomax.

This workshop will take place on Sunday afternoon at 4:15pm that will be moderated by Folklife Center folklorist Nancy Groce. Panelists will include the Down Hill Strugglers, New Lost City Rambler /folklorist/photographer John Cohen, folklorist and musician Ernie Vega, and Grammy Award-winning musician and folklorist Art Rosenbaum.

They will perform songs and tunes that can be found in the various collections at the American Folklife Center. There are plans to have The Roadshow tour the country this year, appearing at festivals, performing arts centers, colleges and universities. The Roadshow will also feature museum-style panel display with more information about the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  Also on Sunday, there will be screenings of rare folk music films created by Alan Lomax.

There are a number of other interesting workshops scheduled over the course of the weekend including one called Folk City!, a look at the folk revival that took hold in 1930s in NYC. This workshop will be led by curator Stephen Petrus, from the Museum of the City of New York. The Museum is planning an exhibition on the folk revival that will open in June.

paleo-acoustic folk music

April 10, 2015 by

Eli Smith


edited excerpts from Scott Borchert (

“I kind of hate the word traditional,” Eli Smith says. “But I like down home music.” Indeed, he named his sporadic podcast (a “hardcore, unreconstructed, paleo-acoustic folk music program”) the Down Home Radio Show. “That’s a term that really has been used by country people and rural working class people to describe their own music. Like, down home, that’s back where I come from.”

Smith is putting together a traveling roadshow for the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress. On top of that, he’s working on his first book, The Oral History of Folk Music in New York City, 1935-1975, recording a new Down Hill Strugglers album, and producing two new CD collections.

One is a compilation of field recordings made by the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax commemorating Lomax’s 100th birthday; the other is an “inverted” version of the famous Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith in 1952, containing all the B-sides of the 78s that Smith used for his anthology.

Smith’s band, the Down Hill Strugglers, insist on giving the music a raw, unpolished quality, the way it might have sounded drifting through some Appalachian hollow or the back room of a trading post. The effect is truly uncanny, in the sense that the music is strange but strangely familiar, as if it were bubbling up from the deeper recesses of American culture.

Even among folk music enthusiasts, The Down Hill Strugglers’ anachronistic approach is not always welcome. “Our booking agent was recently told by the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival upstate that they have a policy of not booking old-time music,” Eli tells me. “I mean, what? You’re a folk festival and… that’s insane!”

“I’m a revolutionary socialist anarchist,” he tells me. “I would probably be characterized as an extremist.” His parents are longtime radicals and former members of the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist group. When Eli was six, they brought him to a Pete Seeger concert. “I remember Pete actually chopped wood on stage, which I was impressed by,” Eli remembers.

“He, like, brought his own log and sang a work song and chopped wood. That was cool.” Eventually, Eli embraced an approach not unlike Seeger’s, one that married enthusiasm for folk music with radical politics. While he learned banjo and dug old 78s out of crates, he also read Marx and Trotsky and hung around with activist groups.

“By promoting and perpetuating the music of America’s rural working class, black and white, you bring honor to them, to the memory of all the people who actually built the country,” he says.

Dan Emmett and “Dixie”

April 9, 2015 by



In 1859 Dan Emmett joined Bryant’s Minstrels. Known as one of the hottest minstrel groups, the Minstrels were the rage of New York. They performed at Mechanics Hall with a large and enthusiastic following from February 1857 until May of 1866. Emmett’s considerable talents were used to full advantage by Bryant’s Minstrels. He wrote tunes, songs, comedy sketches, and walk-arounds, or song and dance routines. He also performed on banjo, fiddle, as well as the fife and drum.

It was during his stint with Bryant’s Minstrels that Emmett composed “Dixie.” Although there were varied and often conflicting versions of how the song was composed, we can probably rely on Emmett’s own version of the song’s origin: “I always look upon the song as an accident. One Saturday night, Dan Bryant requested me to write a walk-around for the following week. The time allotted me was unreasonably short but not withstanding, I went to my hotel and tried to think out something suitable, but my thinking apparatus was dormant; rather than disappoint Bryant, I searched through my trunk and resurrected the manuscript of “I Wish I Was In Dixie’s Land,” which I had written years before. I changed the tune and rewrote the verses, and in all likelihood, if Dan Bryant had not made that hurry-up request, ‘Dixie’ never would have been brought out.”

On the evening of April 4, 1859, Bryant’s Minstrels first performed the song Dixie’s Land on the stage at Mechanic’s Hall. The song was an instant hit, and went on to become the most famous song produced in that era. In looking for reasons for the song’s phenomenal popularity (other than the fact it was a good song, we must remember that the Civil War was fast approaching. The song touched the very heart of the Negro question.

While Southerners and Northerners argued over the Negro’s place, the song affirmed that the Negro longed to be in “the land of cotton” and that he was happy and content there, just like in the old days when “old times there are not forgotten”. Besides allowing Southerners to believe the Negro happy in slavery, the song afforded both sides in the conflict the chance to laugh at the whole situation. As events leading up to the Civil War rapidly worsened, there was little enough chance to laugh.

When the Civil War did break out, “Dixie” played no small part. At the inauguration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Alabama on February 18, 1861, “Dixie” was triumphantly placed. And as Southern soldiers marched into battle, they often marched as they sang “Dixie.” Although the song was intended as harmless entertainment, when soldiers sang, “In Dixie land I’ll take my stand To live and die in Dixie,” they doubtless meant something more than what poor Dan Emmett had intended.


April 8, 2015 by




FRED COCKERHAM “Sunny Home In Dixie” (FC-2014, $ 13.50)
A fine old-time fiddler and fretless banjo player
in his day, Cockerham taught and encouraged many
younger musicians who have helped popularize the
Round Peak style of old time music.
Although Cockerham was past his prime when these recordings
were made, there is enough of interest in the 24 songs
and tunes to make this a welcome release for Fred’s many
friends. The tunes included make up a good part of his
repertoire, with such Round Peak favorites as TEMPY, CHILLY
Cockerham was most likely in his prime in the 1940s, and
interestingly picked up some songs and tunes that were not of the
Round Peak variety, such as NATURAL BRIDGE BLUES (most
likely learned from Tommy Magness, fiddler for the very popular
Roy Hall’s band).
And, as was common among local musicians, he
borrowed from the popular Bluegrass bands of the day,
in this case HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE, which he
The material on this disc ranges from somewhat rough and
choppy (MOLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON) to a smooth
and solid rendering of JOHN BROWN’S DREAM.
Some of the pieces were taken from live recordings.
Various musicians are heard here adding their accom-
paniment: these include Clay Buckner, Doug Hill, Mike
Fishback and Nowell Creadick.

Remembering Hugh Tracey

April 7, 2015 by



In this podcast, Afropop producer Wills Glasspeigel heads to South Africa to reveal the story of the inimitable Hugh Tracey, a field recordist born at the turn of the 20th century in England. A wayward youth, Tracey found himself in Africa in the 1920s where he became fascinated with music from Zimbabwe.

Tracey became a pioneer field recordist, making over 250 LPs of traditional African music for the Gallo label in South Africa. Like John and Alan Lomax in the US, Tracey was instrumental in preserving hundreds of songs that have since gone extinct. Glasspiegel speaks with Dianne Thram, director of Tracey library in Grahamstown, South Africa; Tracey’s son Andrew, a musician and field recordist in his own right; Michael Baird, an expert on the Tracey catalog; and esteemed South African anthropologist David Coplan.

Excerpt from podcast of interview with Professor David Coplan:

“If not for Hugh Tracey, we wouldn’t have any of this music because you can’t go out in the countryside and hear it as you could then. Or, if you do, like with the bow playing lady who’s now become quite famous, it’s been this sort of world music movement that hit everybody and now there’s a great deal of consciousness now about what you’re doing when you’re playing your traditional music. And that there’s a whole – the sort of, I don’t want to call it the naturalness – but the un-self-consciousness about, “Well, here’s this guy with this microphone. We’re going to sing our music,” is no longer there.

Now it’s got to be a contract thing and there’s got to be agreements even to do that. So, it’s very important to have all this stuff and it will be there as one of the great resources and testimonies. Since we’ve thrown it all away, so to speak, it’s important to have it. People have been talking about African culture dying for years and Africans themselves talk all the time about how we are throwing away our culture. Well, they’ve been throwing it away for a hell of long time – I wonder when they’re going to run out because, as I often tell people, 100 years ago, black newspaper writers were writing exactly this. “We’re throwing away our culture.”

Listen to podcast here.

See also here and here.


BBC Radio 3’s World Music Archive

April 6, 2015 by



from and

BBC Radio 3’s World Music Archive

Praises to BBC Radio 3’s World Music Archive, which makes available a decade of site-specific programming from across the globe, compiled and presented by the indefatigable Andy Kershaw  and Lucy Duran. Given the financial resources and massive international audience of which the BBC can boast – and those in an age when nearly every other like minded outlet is hemorraghing both – it’s no wonder that Radio 3 has consistently churned out some of the most well-wrought radio explorations into living vernacular music anywhere, in the spirit of mid-century folk-music programmers like Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax, but far surpassing their geographical breadth.

The  globally-accessible online archive  features indigenous music from some of the world’s most dangerous conflict zones, as well as its most inaccessible states. There are audio clips of singing waitresses performing sea shanties on the coast of North Korea, and harp-playing cowboys in rural Venezuela.

In all, there will be 100 hours of programming on the BBC’s World Music Archive, alongside dozens of photographs of recordings being made in the most remote locations. Essentially the resource – a mix of entertainment, journalism and curation – comprises the output of Radio 3’s world music programmes from the past decade. An index offers the music of 40 countries.

Kershaw, who recently returned to Radio 3 after two years off-air, is especially excited to have his back catalogue given a permanent platform. “There are documentaries here I’d forgotten I’d made, some of which uncover the music and the reality of life in the world’s most extreme, secretive, feared and misunderstood countries,” he said. “I’m amazed some these regimes let me out. Even more amazed they let me in. Since joining Radio 3 in 2001, it seems I have seldom been home. This archive would explain why.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wasn’t That a Time?

April 5, 2015 by

By Mike Ayers (

In 1961, two brothers, Michael and Philip Burton, set out to make a documentary about the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) by examining the citizens that were affected by their witch-hunts. One of their subjects was folk singer Pete Seeger, who granted the two young filmmakers, then in their early 20s, remarkable access.

The Burton brothers pitched Seeger on the project at his Beacon, N.Y. home over pancakes, which ultimately led to the 26-minute documentary Wasn’t That a Time. “He was open to participating in the film from the get-go,” Michael Burton tells Rolling Stone of working with Seeger on this project. “He was self-effacing, wanting to hear as much from us as we heard from him. When he finally saw a rough cut, he momentarily showed a more image-conscious side of himself, but within a day gave us his permission and an endorsement.”

In the clip above – only recently made available online – viewers can watch 10 minutes of footage spliced together, which gives an impressive snapshot of Seeger’s life in very different phases: On his way to being sentenced for contempt of Congress in 1961; on his Beacon homestead; and lastly at a concert he gave at New York City’s Town Hall, where he plays “This Land Is Your Land” and greets throngs of young fans afterwards.

Watch throughout the video as Seeger explains his philosophies on the Constitution and the power of music. But take time to cherish just how cool he was, whether it was staring down time in the slammer or playing in front of 1,000 people.

Wasn’t That a Time premiered in January of 1962 at the New Yorker Theater. Over the years, occasional screenings have been shown at the Anthology Film Archives. Talks about wider distribution occurred, but distributors wanted narration and the filmmakers passed on that option. Still, it’s a fascinating peek inside a small fraction of Seeger’s life that would later become a defining part of history. “His affect was nearly always like the persona he displayed on camera,” Burton says. “Folksy, extremely earnest, idealistic to an unrealistic degree, community-minded, obsessed with curing social ills through music and a model family man.”

Alan Lomax and the civil rights movement

April 4, 2015 by



Alan Lomax – Songs of Freedom
To mark the centenary of the birth of folklorist Alan Lomax in 1915, Billy Bragg presents a new and original thesis. Billy argues that the legendary “song hunter” was a vital, but overlooked figure in the Civil Rights Movement, whose recorded archive would become the authoritative repository of black folk culture in America.

Alan Lomax is a towering figure in the history of music, afforded a front page obituary by the New York Times following his death in 2002. A pioneering musicologist, folklorist and broadcaster, in the 1930s Lomax extensively recorded American folk and blues musicians. Over the course of his career he collected over 3000 hours of music and in-depth interviews.

While Lomax’s influence in sparking the folk music revival of the 1960s is well known, in this programme Billy Bragg tells a story of far greater significance. His central thesis is that Lomax’s mission was to empower black Americans by awakening them to their folk culture. The politically charged nature of Lomax’s work resulted in him being hounded out of the US during the Red scare and the FBI kept a file on him for 30 years.

Interviews include Lomax’s former assistant the folk singer Shirley Collins, singer and Civil Rights documentarian Candie Carawan, Lomax’s biographer John Szwed and Lomax’s daughter Anna.

This programme was made with the help of Alan Lomax’s Association for Cultural Equity and the Library of Congress who have supplied a wealth of stunning archive material – including Lomax’s field recordings, oral history interviews and groundbreaking radio broadcasts.

Listen here.


April 3, 2015 by

index from

This month only we are offering all records in COUNTY’s 3500 series at a SPECIAL SALE PRICE
of just $ 7.00 per CD.  That means a savings of $ 6.50 per CD off our already discounted price!
There is no minimum and no limit as to how many you can buy, and any items you order here
can be applied to your special offer (buy 6 records and get a 7th CD free).
This offer ends MAY 5, 2015.
COUNTY’S 3500 SERIES is devoted to outstanding collections of Old-Time music re-issues
(Most from old recording of the 1925-1935 period, and featuring some of the finest musicians
of our time).
You have heard the warnings about many CDs going out of print these days, and they are real.
Check our list carefully, as most of these albums will not be reprinted when supplies run out.
CO-3501 CHARLIE POOLE & NC Ramblers
CO-3503 DARBY & TARLTON “On The Banks Of”
CO-3505 UNCLE DAVE MACON “Go Long Mule”
CO-3508 CHARLIE POOLE—Volume 2
CO-3515 ECK ROBERTSON Texas Fiddler
CO-3516 CHARLIE POOLE—Volume 3
CO-3517 GRAYSON & WHITTER “1928-1930”

Storyville Stringband

April 2, 2015 by


edited review by Seva Benet (

The Storyville Stringband of New Orleans: My Bayou Home (

When one thinks of a string band performing jazz what will readily come to mind will probably be an ensemble modeled after a Django Reinhardt band. There is, however, an exciting string jazz ensemble that predates the Hot-clubs: the New Orleans string bands that were swinging hot when Louis Armstrong was still in short pants.

Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s band, the 6 7/8 string band of New Orleans. formed around 1911 and modeled itself after the string bands the members heard around New Orleans, especially around the Storyville district where Armstrong delivered coal, sold papers and got his first professional gig subbing for Joe “King” Oliver.

The Storyville Stringband has been picking its way into the 21st century carrying a torch that was reduced to embers after the passing of Souchon in the late 1960’s.  On their 2nd CD “My Bayou Home”, the Storyville Stringband plays all acoustic mostly vintage string instruments including a 1929 National triolian steel guitar, a 1937 Gibson L7, a 2011 Deering V-6 Senator 6 string banjo, a 1927 Vega Little wonder banjo mandolin, a 1930 Martin, 1937 National triolian tenor guitar, violin, mandolin, and upright bass.

The CD was recorded live in two sessions featuring different configurations of the above instrumentation with half the songs featuring a four piece combo of bass, rhythm guitar, mandolin or violin, and lead acoustic guitar or “Hawaiian” style slide. The other half of the CD features, instead of mandolin and violin, a mandolin banjo and/or a tenor guitar. Also, the 6 string banjo is featured on two songs.

“My Bayou Home” is a collection of mostly original tunes that delve deep into New Orleans traditional roots music. Though any one of these songs would be perfect for a complete jazz ensemble, they are presented here in two configurations of string ensembles loosely modeled after the early string bands of New Orleans (most notably the exciting 6 7/8 string band).
“My Bayou Home” includes instrumental and vocal songs tastefully influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Ragtime (there are three rags here), traditional spiritual hymns (the George Lewis inspired title track), New Orleans string bands (with a vocal feature by the rhythm guitarist John Parker whose grandfather was the leader and founder of the 6 7/8 string band), a celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans (aptly titled “Celebrate!” and building on the popular latin cinquillo rhythm) as well as two Hawaiian numbers, including the popular Louis Armstrong hit “Song of the Islands.”

Studs Terkel and Bill Broonzy

April 1, 2015 by



What do you get when you take one of the foremost oral historians of the 20th century, and sit him down with one of the most beloved blues musicians of all time? The legendary interviews of Studs Terkel and Big Bill Broonzy, which took place over a period of several years, between 1954 and 1957.

Luckily for us, some of these were captured for the sake of posterity at the WFMT radio studios (where Studs hosted a daily radio show for almost half a century), finding eventual issue on the Folkways Record label. A box set of his last recording sessions, “The Big Bill Broonzy Story,” also featured music and additional dialogue between these two iconic figures, and fast friends.

As for Studs, he always seems to ever so gently guide the proceedings, while clearly taking delight in what transpires. Although he never appears to be intrusive, he does occasionally stop to ask a question, if it seems that some minor point needs clarifying. As for Big Bill, he seems most intent on telling his story — his truth, as it were — so that the events and details of his life could be shared and remembered.

So that we could know, firsthand, what it was like to be a blues musician or a railroad porter, a short order cook or a plowhand, a janitor or a dishwasher, or to work on a levee camp — in other words, too many to count. But as Big Bill later reveals, to have the blues, you had to have lived that life. And in turn, everything that Big Bill was or ever did, became the very fuel and fodder for the hundreds of blues songs he wrote and sang over the decades.

Although it’s hard to know exactly how to describe what you’re about to hear over the next couple of programs, suffice it to say that we find two men — each of whom has great respect and admiration for the other — engaged in a fascinating and compelling dialogue. One that is coupled with an underlying and ever so faint sense of urgency. To try and get the story out before it’s too late.

The week after Big Bill’s last recording sessions, in July 1957, he underwent surgery for lung cancer. He’d had a rather worrying hunch about it, one that he confided to Studs. He told him he was afraid they were going to cut his vocal cords. Studs tried to reassure him, saying it wasn’t his throat they were after, it was the lung. “But the knife….” he told Studs. But the knife….

Big Bill Broonzy passed away one rainy and stormy August morning in Chicago, in 1958. As Studs later put it, it was just one more storm this Big Man was passing through.

After interviewing thousands of people around the world and authoring countless books, Studs Terkel passed away at the age of 96, in October 2008. And while it’s hard to grasp the enormity of his lifetime of achievement — being, as it were, the ears to the world — there remains something extraordinarily special about those times that two old friends, Studs and Big Bill, sat down in front of a microphone and talked about the blues. One of them had a guitar in his hands. The other kept an eye on the ever-revolving spool of audio tape. And what transpired between them, it’s fairly safe to say, will live on in the hearts and minds of blues fans for all time.

Listen: Studs & Big Bill (Part 1, Hour 1)

Part 1, Hour 2

Part 2, Hour 1

Part 2, Hour 2



Scenes from a Marriage (The Peers and the Carters)

March 31, 2015 by


edited from Barry Mazor (“Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music”):

The act that represented the very image of rural domesticity for so many was being privately pulled apart by domestic tensions.  Sara Carter was tiring of A.P. Carter’s constant absence on song-hunting trips, and his remoteness and lack of involvement in everyday farm and family life when he did come home.

A.P.’s more fun-loving, naturally affectionate, and present cousin, Coy Bayes, had increasingly been attracting he attention, until the worried extended family forced Coy to leave the area entirely.  A despondent Sara absented herself from the farm and her children, moving in with relatives.

A.P. and Sara were now very much separated, as Peer would learn when he brought up getting music and family members together for recording in April 1933;  Sara was refusing to join in, preferring to avoid A.P. altogether.

Anita Peer [wife of Ralph Peer, who recorded the Carter Family for the Victor Talking Machine Company] wrote to Sara Carter,

“Of course it is really none of my business, but I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help things along.  I realize it would be distinctively awkward for both you and A.P. to work again, but on the other hand, the ‘Carter Family’  has become well known and there is the chance to make some more money, even in these days of depression.

I have been divorced once myself, as I think I told you, so I can sympathize with you perfectly…Even if you never live together again you could get together for professional purposes like the movie stars do.  Practically all of them are divorced, or should be…”

In 1936 Ralph Peer wrote to Sara Carter,

“What are your plans now as to A.P.?  He has written me that you are suing for divorce…He apparently wanted me to exert some pressure upon you, but I told him that this was a matter that people had to settle for themselves, and something in which I did not want to interfere…From a business standpoint, it is important that the Carter Family should not be too broken up.”



Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings

March 30, 2015 by



Louisiana Cajun & Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings (Rounder Records)

The Newport Folk Foundation played a pivotal role in the resurgence of Cajun-Creole music when its future looked bleak. At the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, a performance by a Cajun trio that included Dewey Balfa turned out to be a turning point when an audience of 17,000 gave them a thunderous, standing ovation. Since local popular opinion had scoffed at the idea of Cajun musicians playing out-of-state beforehand, the response came as a welcome surprise.

Balfa would go on to become a cultural spokesperson, urging his fellow Cajuns to be proud of their music. Cajun-Creole bands were booked in successive years; Adam and Cyprien Landreneau in ’65, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Canray Fontenot in ’66 and Les Frères Balfa in ’67.

Between 1964 and 1967, the Foundation’s folklorist emeritus Ralph Rinzler visited Louisiana and made these field recordings of the aforementioned plus Austin Pitre and the Evangeline Playboys, ballad singer/fiddler Edius Naquin, and a trio consisting of Isom Fontenot, Preston Manuel and Aubrey DeVille.

Now, in its third generation of reissue, both volumes of Rounder’s historical Louisiana Cajun French Music are combined into one epic, 27-track disc. Though that fact is omitted from the physical packaging, it is mentioned in the vastly expanded liner notes, an 84-page PDF document embedded in the disc. Incidentally, be prepared to spend some time digesting the document’s articles, interviews and lyric translations.

Many of the tunes heard here are sonic signatures of their respective performers, such as the Balfa Brothers’ “Parlez-nous à boire,” Canray Fontenot’s “Bonsoir, Moreau” and Austin Pitre’s “Les flames d’Enfer.” Armed with quality equipment, Rinzler certainly captured the best of his subjects. The performances are often gut- wrenchingly powerful and highly emotive, causing them to resonate within the soul some six decades later.

Hangman’s Reel

March 29, 2015 by

from and


The origins of the tune are somewhat obscure. It was in the repertoire of Albert Hash, a traditional fiddler of Whitetop or Rugby, Va. and identified by him as originally a British Isles tune, though stylistically that provenance is doubtful. Susan Songer and Clyde Curley (1997) report that New York fiddler Judy Hyman (of the Horseflies) believes it originally derived from the Québecois tune “Reel du Pendu” (Hanged Man’s Reel) and that it was rendered in a Southern old-time style by younger upstate New York fiddlers.

According to Hash’s nephew, Albert learned “Hangman’s Reel”  from a 1968 recording by Texas fiddler Bill Northcutt (1935-1992), still remembered as a top-notch musician. Whether the tune was a Southern traditional tune or a “revival” processing, it has since become a very popular “festival tune” among younger old-time fiddlers and frequently heard at square dances.

Wayne Erbsen relates the following:

For many years I’ve been playing a tune called “Hangman’s Reel,” which I learned from the late fiddler Albert Hash, of Whitetop, Virginia. According to this legend, a fiddler was about to be hung. While waiting for his execution he could see workers constructing the gallows outside his jailhouse cell. Just then the prisoner noticed an old fiddle hanging on the jailhouse wall. He called the jailor over and claimed to be the best fiddler in those parts.

After a heated argument, they made a wager. If the condemned man would get up on the gallows before his execution and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the best fiddler, he would be set free. Otherwise, he would get the noose. The jailer gave the prisoner the fiddle to practice on and left him alone in his cell.

Unbeknownst to the jailer, the condemned man had never even touched a fiddle in his life, but he decided this was his best chance at freedom. You can bet he practiced that night. When morning came, the prisoner was escorted to the gallows where he expertly played the tune now known as “Hangman’s Reel.” Unfortunately, history forgot to record if he was set free or instead received the “suspended sentence” he so richly deserved. Nevertheless, it makes a damn good story!


March 28, 2015 by


by Jonathan Ward (

The Congolese version of the cha-cha-cha was born out of the continued influence of Cuban and Caribbean music on the popular musicians of the Congo. And by the late 1950s, that influence was pervasive across Sub-Saharan Africa. The popularity of the hundreds of Congolese rumbas issued on labels like Ngoma, Opika, and Loningisa was so strong that their distribution and influence spread across to Kenya, into West Africa, and to the nightclubs of France, with much success.

The Congolese cha-cha-cha apparently began in the studios of the short-lived but influential Esengo label. In late 1956-early 1957, the Greek-owned Esengo had purloined many of the area’s most popular stars from other labels, essentially creating stellar supergroups with a stock of talent that would become the mainstays of music in the Congo for decades:

Joseph “Grand Kalle” Kabasele, Nico Kasanda (aka “Dr Nico” or simply “Nico”), Nedule “Papa Noël” Montswet on guitar, Tino Baroza, Jean Serge Essous, and Nino Malapet on saxophones, and Moniania ma Muluma, also known as “Roitelet” on bass. This group, with additions and subtractions, in various shapes and forms, became the famous Orchestre Rock-A-Mambo, contributing to or issuing about 250 records on Esengo over approximately 4 years.

The first cha-cha-cha in Congo came quickly – “Baila” written by Essous, and the 7th release on the Esengo label – and it was a major success. The Orchestre Rock-A-Mambo eventually disbanded, and in the meantime members had siphoned themselves across the river to Brazzaville to form the Orchestre Bantou Jazz, another crack outfit continuing the trend of electrified rumbas, merengues, and cha-cha-chas.

This track, “The Moon and the Sun” (certainly it should be “y el” as opposed to “yel” on the label – but I’ve kept the original spelling), was written and performed by guitarist Papa Noël accompanied by the Bantou group sometime in the early 1960s. Nothing is quite as enjoyable as their perfectly timed, overlapping electric guitars – Papa Noël wasn’t quite as adventurous as Nico as a guitarist, but he was refined and perfectly timed. Seeing this band in its prime must have been simply incredible.

Listen: Papa Noël et l’Orchestre Bantou Jazz – La Luna Yel Sol

Acadian All Star Special

March 27, 2015 by


Acadian All Star Special, 3-CD boxed set (LP-size) with 80-page-hardcover Book, 78 tracks, playing time 209:50.
A roots music classic from Bear Family! The dawn of modern Cajun music! Records so rare that just a few copies exist of most of them! Very few of these recordings ever reissued on 45, LP, or CD until now! Songs include the original version of ‘Diggy Liggy Lo’ plus ‘Big Texas’…the song that Hank Williams adapted into ‘Jambalaya’.
This was a set years in the making. It took ages to figure out exactly how many classic Cajun recordings had been made by legendary record producer J.D. Miller in the 1940s and ’50s, and then it took even longer to find them and painstakingly restore the sound. Finally, Cajun music expert Lyle Ferbrache tried to track down as many of the survivors and relatives as possible for the extensive book. But it was well worth the wait! The result is a classic roots music collection done as only Bear Family can do it!
From 1946 to 1959, J.D. Miller released all forms of French language records, from the beautiful fiddle and guitar records of Oran ‘Doc’Guidry and Leroy ‘Happy Fats’ Leblanc to the raucous recordings of Robert Bertrand and the Lake Charles Playboys. Many very rare recordings are reissued here for the first time, and those include the first recordings of Jimmy Newman. Also included are such rarities as ‘War Widow Waltz’ by LauraBroussard, Terry Clement’s original version of ‘DiggyLiggy Lo’, and Papa Cairo’s ‘Big Texas’, the song that Hank Williams adapted into the one Cajun song everyone knows, ‘Jambalaya’. This is a marvelous part of American music that came close to being lost for all time!

Four generations of Tanners keep Skillet Lickers alive

March 26, 2015 by

John Bohn Fleet Stanley, left, plays a Drobo guitar, Larry Holcombe plays bass guitar, Phil Tanner plays guitar and Phil’s son Russ Tanner, right, plays fiddle as members of the Gwinnett County musical group, the Skillit Lickers



James Gideon Tanner — better known as Gid — was a farmer in Dacula and played the fiddle on the side.

By 1926, he and other musicians such as Clayton McMichen on fiddle and Riley Puckett on guitar, created a group called Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, recording country and bluegrass music from 1924 to 1934. The men sold millions of records for their songs, like “Down Yonder” and “Pass Around the Bottle and We’ll All Take a Drink.”

The original group members eventually dispersed while Tanner’s son Gordon took the reins with a new round of performers until he passed away in 1982.  Four generations later, thanks to the younger Tanners wanting to take over, The Skillet Lickers are still alive and well and performing on a regular basis.

“According to historians, they were one of the most famous string bands of that era,” said Phil Tanner, who is a third generation member of the group. “My dad (Gordon) continued the group on. He was 15 or 16 years old when (The Skillet Lickers) recorded their last recording session in San Antonio, Texas, and he was the lead fiddle player.”

Nowadays, Phil Tanner, his son Russ and friends Fleet Stanley, Larry Holcombe, Joel Aderhold and Brian Morgan still meet in The Chicken House — yes, that was once an actual chicken house — behind the Tanner house off of Auburn Avenue in Dacula to pick, string and sing old-time tunes from Gid Tanner’s time.  The men tune their instruments under a tin roofed porch before “jamming.” Before they had this playing space, they practiced in the house.

“I think it got so crowded in the house, (we) had to do something,” Stanley said. “They had quit laying chickens and hens, so we started playing out here. When I’d come home (from living in Washington, D.C.), this is where we’d play.”

“Ran the chickens out and put a floor in,” Phil Tanner said with a laugh.

When the shack was converted in 1955, Phil Tanner and Stanley remember two oil drums that were cut in half with smoke stacks out the roof, which kept them warm during the winter months.

“If you sat too close to the drums, you were too hot and if you sat too far away, you were too cold,” Stanley said. “You’d rather be too hot so you could feel your fingers.”

Now almost 50 years later, the guys don’t really remember how they got in the group — or when, for that matter,  Stanley and Phil Tanner knew each other from high school and had a band together. Holcombe would jam with the guys at The Chicken House for fun and never left. Russ Tanner, well, he’s just part of a family with music in his blood.

“Shoot. I guess I’ve always tagged along. I don’t know when it was an official start or not. Maybe in the ’80s,” Russ Tanner said while holding his hand-crafted fiddle. “I’ve just always been around it, so I guess I didn’t know any different.”

As times are changing, so is the music. The men believe that this old-time genre is being left behind.  “We figure when the older generation is gone, there won’t be any demand for us,” Stanley said. “People don’t know the older style guitar and music.”

But a fifth-generation Tanner has begun to take an interest in the music. Phil Tanner’s 13-year-old granddaughter plays the fiddle for different events.  “She already knows how to play ‘Down Yonder,'” Stanley said of the young musician.


Country Music in Africa

March 25, 2015 by


from Sam Backer’s interview with Uchenna Ikonne about the history of country music in Africa  (

Sam Backer: How popular is country music in Nigeria?

Uchenna Ikonne: Country music has been popular across Africa for a very long time. I don’t know when it became popular exactly, but I know that it’s been in circulation for at least the 1920s or 1930s, perhaps.

So, really the same time that it was coming into widespread popularity in the United States.

Exactly. So Jimmie Rodgers, for example. Jimmie Rodgers was probably the main pioneer of country music in general and he was also one of the first country music artists to find some popularity in Africa.

So his records were distributed and sold?

Not only him, but his records were quite popular. They were on 78s.

Somehow, in a lot of ways, Jimmie Rodgers makes some sense. He–I mean, he yodels! Jimmie Rodgers is kind of intense music. The thing that I find remarkable is that there’s a much smoother sound that was also very, very popular.

I would say that the style that probably achieved the most popularity and has remained popular is the Nashville sound. That is the sound that was pioneered by Chet Atkins and other Nashville musicians and producers and that was a lot smoother than the honky tonk style that had come before; it had rich background vocals and strings. I think that is the style that has endured most of all.

So when that style first came out in the ’60s, was there any particular segment of society that listened to it?

I think that everyone listened to it, because it was played on the radio and it was very appealing to the whole population.  The thing about country music though, despite the fact that its lyrical concerns were very similar to what you would find in 99 percent of Western pop music–which is basically the ups and downs of romantic relationships–people tended to ascribe a kind of spiritual quality to the music. I think there are a lot of reasons for that.

First of all, it’s probably the sound of it: country music always had very curious sounds–whether it’s the nasal vocal style or the yodeling, or whether you are talking about those very high pitched and keening instruments, like the pedal steel guitar or the string sections that came in during the Nashville period, a lot of these sounds had an otherworldly quality that I believe that African artists tended to interpret as spiritually reparative. So despite the fact that they were singing “You done left me and now I’m drinking,” people really felt that there was something about that music that was beyond sensual concerns.

A mix by Uchenna Ikonne  features Nigerian artists like musician/actress Christy Essien-Igbokwe and singer Henry Pedro playing in the folk, country, and rock genres that are typically associated with America and the U.K. Featuring tracks that recall Western classics like Simon & Garfunkel‘s “The Boxer” or Elvin Bishop‘s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” the compilation is at times melancholic, at others hopeful, but always engaging. Listen to it here.

Folk and the Roots of American Music

March 24, 2015 by


 Troubadours: Folk and the Roots of American Music (Bear Family, four 3-disc volumes)

Reviewed by Ed Ward (

As a longtime folkie, my curiosity was piqued by this latest collection, which covers the American folk scene from the earliest songwriters to pass themselves off as folk (or, to be fair, to be passed off that way by their record companies), through, well, through I’m not sure what. To call the overriding concept of this collection, if there is one,  “eccentric” would be an understatement. I was fairly close to the ‘60s folk scene in New York as a teenaged fan, and quite frankly I don’t recognize its picture here, which makes me wonder about the rest of the project.

The first three discs take us from pioneers like the Carter Family (who actually composed most of their own songs, sometimes to traditional tunes) and Lead Belly (whose famous “Good Night Irene” turned out to have been written by a professional songwriter in Cincinnati in the late 19th century) through the political folksong movement epitomized by Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers, who included Pete Seeger.

The story then continues through the early 1950s, the Weavers (who also included Pete Seeger), and the earliest pop-folk group, the Tarriers. The next trio surveys, on its first disc, the collegiate groups like the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and so on, and then moves on to two discs of the New York scene of the early ‘60s, via Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Tim Hardin, and others. So far, mostly so good, although I was kind of shocked that the infamous graffito on Minetta Lane (“Tim Hardin is a bad boy”) in front of which so many folkies were photographed, isn’t even alluded to.

The next three discs show the folk scare in full flower, and the early days of folk-rock. Disc 7 is devoted to three performers, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Buffy Ste-Marie. Then it’s on to a survey of Boston’s scene, and, on Disc 9, something labeled “The East Coast” that, well, starts to make less sense. The Lovin Spoonful, Tim Rose, and…Jim Croce? Melanie? Read the rest of this entry »

Greenwood Sidey

March 23, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 5.41.52 AM

excerpt from interview of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle by Mason Adams (

Elizabeth:  The Greenwood Sidey is in the Child Ballads collection, from the big book of versions from England and Scotland published in the 19th century. In that book, which is sort of canonical, it’s known as “The Cruel Mother.” It’s very dark, one of the darkest songs that I know.

It’s obviously one of the more difficult-to-contemplate crimes, even today. I think the refrain is really poignant and illuminating, that’s she’s all alone and lonely in this situation. You know, there’s no one else: the father of these kids is not even mentioned.

It’s really kind of spooky imagining a woman who has just given birth to two new people, but she’s still alone and is making sure she’s going to remain that way, and I think she’s really haunted by that decision. Even when she gets to talk to those people, they’re imaginary. They’re ghosts, they’re not quite there, so she’s alone throughout.
Anna: It’s a horror story, but in some ways it can feel like a very feminist story. I remember I was learning that song and then watched this movie about the Magdalene Laundries, where people who had babies out of wedlock were shunned by their families and sent to be almost captives in these nunneries.

It went on until the 70s in Ireland. It made sense to me, that there was some sort of weird strength in this cruel mother character. She would escape society because there’s so much shame on her being pregnant out of wedlock. Somehow the forces outside the forest lead her into the forest to do this awful deed.

That’s really intriguing. I don’t know if I totally agree with that reading, but it is one interpretation. Another reading is that she’s totally crazy. I’d be curious to go back in time and interview ballad singers about what they thought about the song: ‘What do you think about the woman? is she a sinful woman and this is a lesson? Do you sympathize with her or not?’

A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, Anna & Elizabeth’s new, self-titled album (via Free Dirt Records) guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for a warm and intimate experience. With minimal guests and arrangements, the focus remains on the rich and subtle interplay between Anna & Elizabeth’s own harmonies and instrumentation. Fiddle and banjo lines intertwine in an age-old dance, and Elizabeth’s powerful vocals are matched by Anna’s softer timbre in their remarkably rich harmonizing.

        Devon Léger

Sam Charters: 1929-2015

March 22, 2015 by

edited from

Samuel Charters, whose books and field research helped detonate the blues and folk music revival of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Wednesday at his home in Arsta, Sweden. He was 85.

When Mr. Charters’s first book, “The Country Blues,” was published at the tail end of the 1950s, the rural Southern blues of the pre-World War II period was a largely ignored genre. But the book caused a sensation among college students and aspiring folk performers, like Bob Dylan, and it created a tradition of blues scholarship to which Mr. Charters would continue to contribute with books like “The Roots of the Blues” and “The Legacy of the Blues.”

Released in tandem with “The Country Blues,” which remains in print, was an album of the same name containing 14 songs, little known and almost impossible to find at the time, recorded in the 1920s and ’30s by artists like Robert Johnson, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Willie McTell and Bukka White.

Equally important, the aura of mystery Mr. Charters created around his subjects — where had they disappeared to? were they even alive? — encouraged readers to go out into the field themselves. John Fahey, Alan Wilson, Henry Vestine, Dick Waterman and other disciples tracked down vanished performers like Mr. White, Mr. Estes, Skip James and Son House, and their careers were revived. Their song catalogs were soon injected into folk and pop music.

“I always had the feeling that there were so few of us, and the work so vast,” Mr. Charters told Matthew Ismail, the author of the 2011 book “Blues Discovery.” “That’s why I wrote the books as I did, to romanticize the glamour of looking for old blues singers. I was saying: ‘Help! This job is really big, and I really need lots of help!’ I really exaggerated this, but it worked. My God, I came back from a year in Europe and I found kids doing research in the South.”

Mr. Charters had himself succumbed to the lure of field work. In 1958 he went to the Bahamas to record the guitarist Joseph Spence (who would influence the Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal and others), and a year later he helped revive the career of the Texas guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins. He pursued overlooked music and artists on four continents for the next 50 years.

Mr. Charters had long been involved in the civil rights movement and left-wing causes, and the Vietnam War infuriated him. He moved to Sweden with his family in 1970 and acquired Swedish citizenship. For many years he shuttled between Arsta, a suburb of Stockholm, and Storrs, where his wife, who survives him, taught American literature at the University of Connecticut.

Mr. Charters wrote about jazz and blues until the end of his life. His book “A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora,” a series of essays on the evolution of music in places like the Caribbean, Brazil and the Georgia Sea Islands, was published in 2009.

Two other books, “Songs of Sorrow,” a biography of Lucy McKim Garrison, who in the mid-19th century compiled the first book of American slave songs, and “The Harry Bright Dances,” a novel about roots music set in Oklahoma, are scheduled for publication next month.

“For me, the writing about black music was my way of fighting racism,” Mr. Charters said in his interview with Mr. Ismail. “That’s why my work is not academic, that is why it is absolutely nothing but popularization: I wanted people to hear black music.”


March 21, 2015 by

Manfila “Dabadou” Kanté was the lead singer of Keletigui et ses Tambourinis, from Guinea, and appears on all of their early Syliphone recordings.  He is not the same guitarist as Kante Manfila of Les Ambassadeurs.  This video is from the early 1990s.

“Toubaka” is a  West African love song of the Malinké people, traditionally played on the kora (harp) or balafon (marimba).

Radio Africa offers a large selection of Guinean music, including many more videos of Manfila “Dabadou” Kante.

View video here.


Touba ka literally means “a man from Touba”. He is the symbol of trust and he loves to travel. Anytime he arrives in a village it is an occasion to celebrate. But the village members are also eager to know when the Touba Ka will leave so that they can give him messages to bring to family members living far away.

“Toubaka stands apart from the bulk of the jeli’s (griot’s) repertory not only because it is a love song, but also because of its extended harmonic scheme of four chords that unfold over a relatively long stretch of time. It probably originated in Upper Guinea, perhaps from Kankan, on the guitar or accordion in the 1930s if not earlier. It is a favorite of guitarists from Upper Guinea, who excel in playing it.

Some verses of “Toubaka”:

The oldest word Is undoubtedly the word “love”, Forgive me, my beloved one, If I have hurt you.

I am coming to you, my beloved one. Not in order for you to give me anything, I am coming to you, my beloved one, Simply because I love you.

And may you know, o my beloved one, That the first characteristic Of nobility Is the respect for one’s pledge.

And since people are not all alike Do not rank me, o my love, With those who deny their promises.

Tou left. Oh, the Toubaka, living in Touba, Tou left.

Tou, I pray thee, I beg you, Take my letters to my children and parent.

Do everything to see me again. Do not go without me.

St. James Sessions (#2)

March 20, 2015 by

st_james from

St. James Sessions is a very welcome website dedicated to the recording sessions held at Knoxville, Tennessee’s St. James Hotel in 1929 and ’30. It might seem obscure at first glance, but from this modest collection of dates came some of the greatest records of the pre-war period.

Curiously (and frustratingly), the best records to come from St. James were by artists who only made one record a piece: Alex Hood and his Railroad Boys’ “L&N Rag” and “Corbin Slide” and Hayes Shepherd’s (as the Appalachia Vagabond) “Hard for to Love” and “The Peddlar and His Wife.”

These records have more style and personality than 18/20ths of their hillbilly contemporaries. Also made here were the two sides of Howard Armstrong (Louie Bluie) and Carl and Roland Martin’s Tennessee Chocolate Drops: “Knox County Stomp” b/w “Vine Street Rag.” Carl Martin’s later records in the early ’30s don’t come close to comparing to the Drops’ tunes from St. James; Louie Bluie’s 1934 dates with Ted Bogan get closer, but we’d take these first.

See also: the four sides of the Perry County Music Makers – with Nonnie Smith Presson’s lonesome yodelling and autoharping – and the killer religious piano blues* of Leola Manning. Her “Arcade Building Moan,” about a fire which killed several children in Knoxville, was included on one of Dick Spottswood’s Folk Music In America volumes, and has long haunted us. This site gave us our first chance to hear her topical murder ballad “Satan Is Busy In Knoxville.”

See also here.

New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949

March 19, 2015 by



Seva Venet, Revisiting New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949 (Threadhead Records)

In addition to playing hundreds of gigs in his 15 years in the Crescent City, guitarist/banjoist Seva Venet has done some serious study of the early string bands of New Orleans.

Like the mandolin orchestras which used to populate the land, this is a nearly extinct genre: How often today do you hear, for instance, a quartet of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass playing ragtime and early jazz?

For this listener, the disc is most exciting when it touches on music that’s tangential to what we usually consider the prime elements that made up early jazz. These include “El Zopilote Mojado” (a Mexican Polka), which clarinetist James Evans, violinist Matt Rhody and Venet pull off with a superb brio; and the medley of “Creole Belles/Aloha Oe/My Bucket’s Got a Hole in it.”

It’s great fun to hear “Belles” played with a tango rhythm (as it undoubtedly could’ve been back in the day) and to realize that “Aloha Oe” (the “Saints” of Hawaiian music) was part of the New Orleans mix in 1884.

This disc also presents Seva’s reimagining of what a quadrille might have sounded like by an 1880s New Orleans string band—an ambitious undertaking. By taking on this project, Venet has delved into areas where not many musicologists have wandered (though at the same time he gives credit to those who’ve done important research).

Fifteen pages of notes accompany the CD, and Emilie Rhys’ beautiful translation of a photo of an old-time trio into her singular ink-drawing style is the icing on this cake.

Big Bamboo

March 18, 2015 by

In the Pines

March 18, 2015 by


excerpt from Shaleane Gee (

My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me —
Tell me where did you sleep last night?

As Norm Cohen notes in Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, the most frequently found elements in “In the Pines” are a verse about a long train, and a line or two about a decapitation. Sometimes there is an accident, sometimes not. Sometimes the accident involves a train, sometimes not.

Sometimes the pines become the central image, in various versions representing solace, pain, innocence, shame, life, death, taboo sex, or pious abstinence. Sometimes a specific crime is identified and the train serves as avenging angel, swooping down to decapitate the sinner. Sometimes the interrogator shifts from first to second or third person. Almost all versions do include some sort of interrogation, and the person being interrogated is always a woman.

That the dialogue takes the form of an interrogation, and begins by assuming a lie, suggests that something sinister as well as violent has happened here. But what? The dialogue hardly explains. The overall effect is one of stumbling onto haunted ground, or a crime scene, or both. Writing in the hefty Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, Alan Palmer puts it this way:

What was the girl doing in the pines? What’s the connection between her being in the pines and the death of her husband? The listener can either safely or tentatively attribute certain states of mind to the narrator (anxiety, possessiveness) and the girl (fear) and can guess at others (guilt)…Is she shivering in the pines because of the death of her husband?

If so, what is the nature of this causation? Is there some element of guilt involved on the part of the woman? It seems unlikely that she was in any way responsible for his death from a train crash, so the most satisfying explanation is that her sense of guilt arises from her being unfaithful to her husband, presumably with the narrator, at the time of his death. In turn, his anxiety may arise from his awareness of the depth of her feelings of guilt and his concern that she may harm herself.

After all, there’s not necessarily a train crash in this song — who is to say that the woman didn’t push her husband onto the tracks? Perhaps in self defense, or just to get rid of him? Perhaps she’s on the lam, literally or metaphorically or both, hiding out in a forest as well as in a spiritual wilderness.

If she is guilty, perhaps she is remorseful, but maybe she is defiant. Perhaps her husband was the adulterer. Perhaps she is a liar, even a murderer. Perhaps the narrator is a man of the law trying to find that out, or a man of God trying to do the same. Perhaps the interrogator is her husband, back from the dead to haunt her and get his ghostly revenge.

If you are a fan of mysteries and thrillers, then you are familiar with the moment when the detectives enter the suspect’s room.  Listening to “In the Pines” is a bit like peering into that room and lifting your foot to step across the threshold. You know you’ve found what you’ve been looking for, but you also know that you haven’t yet come close to knowing just what it is.

The Mississippi

March 17, 2015 by

CMJN de base


THE MISSISSIPPI (2CD), Accords Croises (AC156/57)

Big Jack Johnson, Zion Harmonizers, Spider John Koerner, Leo Welch, Kermit Ruffins, L. C. Ulmer, Rebirth Brass Band, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, Magnolia Sisters, Little Freddie King, Como Fife And Drum Band, South Memphis String Band and more…

The Mississippi River flows from the Great Lakes region all the way to the Gulf Of Mexico and passes through a wide variety of cities, towns and rural communities, In doing so, it interacts with a whole cornucopia of people and, by extension, has influenced, and continues to influence, many musical styles and idioms.

Across this massively impressive 28 track compilation, the extent of this musical variety is given full expression. It includes representative, as well as wonderfully impressive and enjoyable, slices of many of the divergent styles that have made up American music for generations. Furthermore, the offerings are almost all of a relatively recent vintage, demonstrating that the musical traditions that evolved around the Mississippi over many years continue to be vibrant and relevant to this day. Incorporated herein are tremendous examples of delta blues, Cajun and zydeco, New Orleans jazz, gospel, folk, swamp pop and much more besides.

The set gets off to a thumping start with an electric blues number (and near-Howlin’ Wolf pastiche) about Hurricane Katrina from Big Jack Johnson And The Cornlickers. Some other corking inclusions that dedicated Red Lickers may already be familiar with are the North Mississippi gospel blues sides from both Leo Welch and Reverend John Wilkins (both courtesy of Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess albums), contemporary juke blues from Big A &  The All-Stars (from Broke & Hungry’s superb We Juke Up In Here) and the contemporary delta blues of Little Freddie King (from Messin’ Around The House on Madewright) and Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes (Broke & Hungry).

Moving beyond blues related numbers, other highlights can be found anywhere you look. Kermit Ruffins Treme Mardi Gras is an enlivening stew of New Orleans jazz, funk, rap, soul and rock and is guaranteed to get your butt rockin’, as will the Rebirth Brass Band’s more traditional, but no less lively, New Orleans street jazz on I Like It Like That. Mixing traditional folk with Cajun, Cedric Watson’s La Vieille Chanson de Mardi Gras is another up-tempo number that hits the spot every time.

On the quieter and more reflective numbers, Afrissippi’s Nduumandii/Hands Off That Girl beautifully blends Mississippi delta blues stylings with African blues patterns across six gorgeous minutes. The Jones Sisters acapella gospel  singing on Talk With Jesus and The Magnolia Sisters old-time Cajun harmonies on L’Annee de Cinquante – Sept are both subtle delights that end far too soon.

The oldest track included here, both in terms of the musical traditions and the date of recording, is the Como Fife And Drum Band’s on Punky Tony (recorded in  in 1967 and previously available on the sensational George Mitchell Collection, a 7CD set on Fat Possum). The atmosphere evoked by this spine-chilling music encourages reflections on the Mississippi’s influence on the creation and operation of the slave trade so many years ago.

And rounding off this special offering is the packaging, set within a nice hardback book format is a 28 page booklet that provides (in English and French) a short introduction to the concept of the set and short informative individual portraits of each featured artist.

Songhoy Blues

March 16, 2015 by



Songhoy Blues is a four-strong “desert blues” band, based in Mali. It is made up of musicians who fled northern Mali after a loose assortment of militant Islamist groups captured the territory and implemented strict sharia law – including the prohibition of secular music – in spring 2012. The musicians first met at a wedding in Bamako, Mali’s capital city, and started playing together to help recreate the rich tradition of northern Malian music for the growing population of refugees in the south.

Musicians had long been important social figures in Mali. They occupied a specific, revered cultural class, called the “griots”, and their role encompassed entertainer, reporter, historian, and political commentator. Their unique power and influence explains why the invading Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, the largest of the fundamental Islamist groups, were particularly keen to block their activities in August 2012.

The official sentence for breaching the music ban was a public whipping, although Songhoy Blues’ founding member and guitarist Garba Touré was threatened with having his hand cut off if he continued playing. Radio stations were burned down, musical instruments were smashed, and there were reports of people being beaten by the occupying militia just for having polyphonic ringtones.

The Malian military stepped in to counteract the Islamist groups’ advance in February 2013, with the help of troops from France and surrounding African countries. But emotional residue from the conflict lingers, and – despite the lifting of sharia law – many musicians continue to self-censor, fearful of the Islamist groups’ return and retribution.

Garba Touré left his hometown of Diré, upstream from Timbuktu along the river Niger, once his safety in northern Mali had become untenable. He settled in Bamako, 1000km away, alongside thousands of other refugees. Here he met two more musicians from the Songhoy tribe (a North Malian ethnic group), Aliou Touré and Oumar Touré, and local drummer Nathanael Dembélé.

As a band the foursome played rough and rowdy blues-rock anthems, the lyrics of which called for an end to the conflict. Their audiences, which packed out Bamako bars and restaurants, were a mix of refugee Songhoys and Tuaregs – long-feuding northern Malian ethnic groups united against the insurgent Islamist groups.

In September 2013, documentary filmmaker Johanna Schwartz wrote for Index on Censorship magazine on the censorship and persecution that musicians in Mali have faced since the ban on music: “There is a fear that freedoms may not be so easily restored,” wrote Schwartz. Today, although the ban has been theoretically lifted, the fear remains. “Because of the violence, it is still impossible for me to play music in my hometown,” said Touré, who is from the northern city Gao.

The band is now based in Bamako, where the members long for the weekend to perform in local bars. But as music was being driven out of the country — even those with musical ringtones on their mobile phones faced crackdowns — many musicians fled Mali. They Will Have to Kill Us First, Schwartz’s feature-length documentary, follows the story of Mali’s musical superstars as they fight for their right to sing.



Global Breakfast Radio

March 15, 2015 by

from and

The sun is always rising somewhere; breakfast is always just about to happen. And in the background of breakfast is radio, soundtrack to a billion bowls of cereal or congee, shakshuka or api, porridge or changua.

Global Breakfast Radio aggregates radio stations from across the world, constantly streaming
broadcasts from wherever it’s breakfast-time right now. It’s the equivalent of a plane flying west
with the sunrise, constantly tracking the chatter and music of people across the planet.
In some small way, Global Breakfast Radio hopes to be a way of traveling globally through the
medium of radio.

It’s about the leap of imagination you make when you tune into a broadcast from a station hundreds or thousands of miles away – and for a time you hum the same song as a
butcher in Memphis, a taxi driver in Jerusalem, or a lawyer in Jakarta.

“Whether or not you eat breakfast, the start of a new day embodies a certain optimism and freshness — it’s almost like a period of free time, when you’ve not quite shaken off the fug of sleep and not yet started to get bound up by the stresses of the day,” explains co-founder Daniel Jones.

“As the sun rises on the Greenwich Mean Line, you’ll hear breakfast programmes from around the UK, Iceland and West Africa; the broadcast then moves westwards, following the sunrise across the Atlantic islands, sweeping over America and then into the Pacific.”

“The effect is that of following the sunrise around the planet, but in radio form,” adds co-founder Seb Emina. “You get to explore some of the tens of thousands of stations, big and small, that are broadcasting at any given moment. I’ve always been fascinated by internet radio and the ability it gives me to listen to radio stations from places I have never visited and only have the tiniest (or no) inkling of.”

The pair has carefully curated a list of more than 250 stations from every time zone on the planet — a process that’s taken more than 12 months and involved listening to a lot of breakfast radio. “There’s something magical about eavesdropping on a local radio station from Nepal or a small town in South Carolina, something that reminds me of the early promise of the web, that it would allow us to explore in quite an unfiltered and open way,” says Emina.

The station draws from over 250 stations in more than 120 countries, broadcasting in over 50
different languages, from Letio Tongo 89.5 in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, to Pop Latino and Ranchera music program La Chimalteca 101.5FM in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, a traditional “oompah” station from Germany called “Alpenmelodie”, a kids’ broadcaster from Novosibirsk in Russian Siberia, and a Chamorro music station from a small village in Guam which has been broadcasting since 1954.

You can listen to Global Breakfast Radio at

New Orleans String Bands at the Turn of the Century

March 14, 2015 by

New Orleans String Band. From Left: Youman Jacob, Coochie Martin, Unidentified, Wendell McNeil. Photo from University of Connecticut.

From Left: Youman Jacob, Coochie Martin, Unidentified, Wendell McNeil. Photo courtesy of Samuel and Ann Charters Archives, University of Connecticut.

edited from  Seva Venet (

During the last two decades of the 19th Century, string bands with skilled Creole musicians were in high demand all around New Orleans. They performed at various functions, including picnics, parlor room parties and balls. Between 1884 and 1917 there were major changes in how the music was played, brought on by the changing demands of dancers and the changing attitudes in response to the implementation of the Black Codes (U.S. laws limiting civil liberties of blacks) in the late 1800s.

There were three main types of ensemble performing around New Orleans from the 1880s to 1917: brass bands (for funerals), society orchestras and string bands. Being smaller and in demand in more diverse settings, the string ensembles had more flexibility and were expected to entertain with up-to-date songs and dancing music.

In 1897, the Storyville District opened, and at Tom Anderson’s Annex on the corner of Basin Street and Canal there was a string band that played every night that, over the decades, featured musicians such as Wendell McNeil (pictured above), Bill Johnson and, probably, Lorenzo Tio, Jr. The location of this venue, at the border of the uptown and downtown areas, is highly symbolic, as pioneers of the new musical concepts arose from the cultural interaction between uptown and downtown groups.

The concept of a swinging ensemble dominated by a rhythm section of strings was picked up in the 1920s by the Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his peers. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Western Swing bands and Bill Monroe’s bluegrass groups followed suit in string bands tinged with New Orleans jazz.

It isn’t until the late 1940s that we have recordings of a New Orleans string band, a quartet formed around 1910 and modeled after the bands the players had heard in Anderson’s Annex. This band, Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s 6 7/8 String Band, with rhythm guitar, mandolin, “Hawaiian” slide guitar and bass, may be the best surviving evidence of a string band in the style of collective improvisation on early ragtime, society, pop and novelty tunes played around the turn of the century.

Devil in the Seat

March 13, 2015 by


The Foghorn Stringband
Devil in the Seat

The Foghorn Stringband is the present day shining gold standard for American string band music, with eight albums, thousands of shows, over a decade of touring under their belts, and an entirely new generation of old-time musicians following their lead. Through all this, they’ve never let the music grow cold; instead they’ve been steadily proving that American roots music is a never-ending well of inspiration.

The music of The Foghorn Stringband today, as heard on their new album Devil In The Seat, revolves around four master musicians: Portland, Oregon-based Caleb Klauder (vocals, mandolin, fiddle) and Reeb Willms (vocals, guitar), and Yukon-based Nadine Landry (vocals, upright bass) and Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind (vocals, fiddle, banjo).

Each member of The Foghorn Stringband comes not only from a different part of the American roots music spectrum, but leads the pack in their field as well. Caleb Klauder’s wistful, keening vocals and rapid-fire mandolin picking are as influenced by Southern roots music as much as by his upbringing in Washington State.

Also from Washington, Reeb Willms grew up in the state’s Eastern farmlands singing hard-bitten honky-tonk with her family. Nadine Landry’s roots lie in the rural backroads of Acadian Québec, but she cut her teeth as one of the best bluegrass bassists in Western Canada. Minnesotan Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, simply put, is one of the best old-time fiddlers of his generation and has a voice that sounds like it’s coming from an old 78.

Onstage, The Foghorn Stringband gather around one microphone, balancing their music on the fly, and playing with an intense, fiery abandon. To make their new album, Devil in the Seat, the band retreated to the island paradise of Kauai, where, surrounded by coconut palms, beachside views and margaritas, they blazed through a set of old favorites and new discoveries.

The music on Devil in the Seat reaches from roots in Appalachia, like Clyde Davenport’s fiddle tune “Lost Gal,” the old square dance song “Stillhouse,” or “Mining Camp Blues” which comes from their friend Alice Gerrard, all the way to the early neon lights of Nashville (“90 Miles an Hour” from Hank Snow). It touches on old gospel (“Longing for A Home” from The Cooke Duet), newly composed fiddle tunes (“Jailbreak”), even British folk (“What Will We Do”). Throughout, the honest intensity of the music remains the trademark of The Foghorn Stringband. They see no reason to polish this music, or to deviate from the roots which first inspired them.

To Foghorn, this music is as relevant today as it was a century ago. They see themselves not as revivalists, but as curators and ardent fans, and their music is a celebration of these roots.  From their origins in Portland Oregon’s underground roots music scene in the late 90s and early 00s, when members of today’s hot bands like The Decemberists and Blind Pilot were gathering to explore the roots of American folk music, The Foghorn Stringband have spread the old-time string band gospel all over the world.

Along the way, they’ve brought in influences and inspirations from their many travels and late-night jam sessions. Old-time square dance tunes now rub shoulders with Cajun waltzes, vintage honky-tonk songs, and pre-bluegrass picking. This is the kind of bubbling musical brew which first intoxicated the American mainstream in the days when “country music” was just being invented.

John Schwab Guitar Workshop: NYC, 3/15/15 and 3/28/15

March 12, 2015 by




Saturday, March 28, 1:00PM-3:00PM, Jalopy School of Music, Brooklyn, NY

John Schwab is teaching two workshops at an intermediate to advanced (not beginner!) level, with an emphasis on traditional backup styles. The first one will cover at least 4 different styles of backing up straightforward tunes in the key of G (or A). Learn approaches used by Hub Mahaffey, Luches Kessinger, Asa Martin, Ernest V. Stoneman, and others. This “G-tune toolbox” is loads of fun and really useful, too. Details about the second workshop coming soon!

John Schwab has been playing old-time backup guitar since the early 1970s. He’s played with loads of different fiddlers and banjo players, at fiddlers’ conventions and music camps, concerts and community dances, and in kitchens and living rooms.  His approach to teaching backup guitar has evolved over the years, but it’s always been rooted in his reverence for the master backup guitar players of the 1920s and ‘30s.

Here’s a review of  John Schwab’s Old-Time Backup Guitar: Learn from the Masters.  It’s a 102-page book (plus an accompanying CD with more than 120 mp3 files) teaching a traditional approach for playing backup guitar.

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Old Time Travelers on Wax Cylinders

March 11, 2015 by


by Joshua Pickard (

For Old Time Travelers, Chattanooga’s foremost purveyors of folk and bluegrass antiquity, the chance to bury themselves in the history of the music that has so completely captivated them was an opportunity too good to pass up.

The band (composed of Matt Downer and Clark Williams) is currently working with an engineer in Nashville to record their fourth record onto a handful of wax cylinders, which will then be digitized and pressed to CD—and subsequently released online for download. Each song would be recorded to its own wax cylinder, with the band looking to finish 10 songs in total.

To help fund this project, they’ve taken to Kickstarter and given people the opportunity to share in this unusual recording. They’ve completely funded their campaign, but there is still time to donate. On their Kickstarter page, they say they’ll use the excess funds to make more CD copies of the album.

“I think wax cylinders are just cool,” Williams said. “This was one of the earliest successful recording technologies, and [they] are interesting historically. For instance, they couldn’t be copied, so each cylinder contained a unique performance, kind of like pre-Gutenberg books.”

Downer added:

I’ve always been drawn to old recordings, the older the better. Old-time music to me is live music, a live experience. The modern recording mindset of auto-tune and “we’ll fix it in the mix” doesn’t really make sense to me and many times can make the recording process a cold, clinical experience. I hear plenty of life in the old string band recordings; some are so wild they are almost scary. For musicians and listeners, technology can sometimes kind of suck the life out of the music. When recording to wax cylinders came around, there was a great sense of mystery and wonder about the recording process. Being able to record and play back sound was like magic, and we now take it for granted. We’ve always recorded live to one microphone; it is exciting to take it even further back and record in front of a horn and watch the needle dip into the wax and cut it live as it happens—no mixing, no overdubs, you get what you’ve got.

Mali: Culture at Risk

March 10, 2015 by

Photo by Molly Raskin

The Northern part of Mali in West Africa has come under attack repeatedly since 2012, when al-Qaida-linked militants seized two-thirds of the country. French and Malian forces re-took the north in 2013, but the violence continues. This weekend, terrorists launched two separate attacks, killing eight people and injuring more than 20. It was the first-ever attack in Bamako, Mali’s capital, sending the city into shock.

Watch a PBS report from Bamako and Timbuktu on efforts to restore their rich culture.

Yesterday, unknown attackers fired rockets at a U.N. base in Kidal in the far north, killing at least three. And, Saturday, gunmen killed five people, including two foreigners, at a restaurant in Bamako, the country’s capital city, that’s been largely free of such attacks. An Islamist group claimed responsibility.

Chief PBS arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown is writing from Mali, where he is reporting for his series “Culture at Risk,” exploring the problems and solutions to arts and culture threatened by war, natural disasters and demographic and technological change.

BY Jeffrey Brown  February 20, 2015 (

There’s no easy way to fly to Mali from the East Coast of the United States. No non-stop flights from Washington to the land-locked, very poor West African country. The route most taken (is there such a thing?) is through Paris, but it comes with an eight-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport — not something I looked forward to — followed by another six-hour flight to Mali.

I was happy, then, to find an alternative, faster route: Washington to Dakar, Senegal (just seven hours to the western-most part of Africa), an hour-and-40-minute layover, an hour-and-a-half flight to Bamako, Mali. Total travel time of just around 12 hours. It only flew on certain days, though. So I adjusted my trip.All good, all fine. But we calibrate our lives so precisely these days, right? At least I seem to. That’s how the daily news is: No moments to be lost, everything based on timeliness. What’s happening right now? When do we go on the air and when do we come off?

We are a live television program; the director’s voice in my ear counts down the amount of time for an interview. If your segment comes early in the program, you can go over a bit (though that puts at risk the timing of everything to come). But not if you’re at the end of the show, then it’s “3-2-1, gotta go.”

The people we interview are asked to arrive at a given studio, at a given hour and minute, so they’re ready to go at the ‘hit’ time. We hope — pray — such things aren’t disrupted by traffic, weather, a driver getting lost. All that does happen, but not so often. Somehow, it works, most of the time.

It’s the same with travel, right? Who likes to live on planes and in airports? So we look for the best connections, the quickest trip from here to there. Most of the time it works. But then, there I was at Dulles Airport, sitting on board a South African Airways flight at the gate that was all ready to go. Except we had to wait for several passengers. I don’t mind that — I’ve been one of those passengers plenty. But the wait went on.

There was a bit of confusion about why exactly we were waiting. Then there was the snow that had started to fall and fell harder the longer we waited. When we finally did pull back from the gate we were told we had to get into line for de-icing. Good, let’s be safe. You know the rest.

We left two and a half hours late, I missed my connection in Dakar — in fact, I saw the plane I was supposed to be on taxi-ing past us in the other direction when we landed. Missed it by, oh, 10 minutes. Is that a long time?

Only then you learn that there are no other flights on to Bamako — just an hour and half away — that day. Enjoy your day in Senegal. Which I did, as much as I could, wracked with frustration. I went downtown, sat having a coke while looking out over the Atlantic Ocean back toward home, took the ferry to Goree Island, the famous slave trading site that’s now a memorial and pilgrimage trip for many people.

But the 10-minute missed connection grew into a greater disruption.

Flying the next morning, I wouldn’t make the plane we’d lined up to take us to Timbuktu. The ancient “city of gold,” the “end of the earth,” was overrun by militant groups two years ago before the French army came in and pushed them out. It’s safe to visit — we were told — but there are still no commercial flights in, so we’d arranged to fly with a UN mission plane. Now we were missing that.

Could we go the next day? Well, no. The protocol requires filling out all these forms. But we’ve done that already, right? Yes, but they must be reprocessed, which takes at least 72 hours. What? We’re not getting to Timbuktu because South Africa airlines held my plane for a few strays, if that’s what it was? Mild panic sets in.

In the meantime our very resourceful fixer (a local producer) in Mali is working every angle he can to get us to Timbuktu. And there is another flight, he learns, also overseen by the UN, but this one is for NGO aid groups. Might there be seats? Maybe, we will let you know. When? Later. And, if not? Then, not. Oh, and we might be able to get you there, but then there’s the question of finding seats on the plane the next day to get you back to Bamako.

Disaster looms for us, though we try to not to talk of it. For these trips, these stories, we calibrate the details so finely – the days away, the money spent, the interviews to be done, the shots we have to get, the places we have to get to. Take out one thing and it can all unravel.

We start our work in Bamako, wait, checking for emails or calls all day. Finally, an email: we can confirm seats on a flight tomorrow. Great! The email continues … but at that moment the phone goes dead, out of power. Wait, what else? Do we have a flight back? Will we ever get back? (There’s that transatlantic flight pending once again, of course.) We wait a few minutes for the phone to power up to learn that the return trip “looks good,” but will have to be confirmed later. Perhaps I won’t live out my days in Timbuktu after all – but I might.

I write this on a small 12-seater plane as we head to Timbuktu. “Head” that way, that is, slowly. This plane goes where it goes and where it’s needed and we go with it. We’re just lucky to be on board. First stop, an hour and 50 minutes away, we’re told, is Mopti. After that, another stop in Gao. And I just learned that that flight is another hour and 40 minutes. The distances aren’t great — the plane is slow. Then, sometime this afternoon, we’re supposed to land in Timbuktu. I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, the earth below has turned brown and parched and looks extremely dry, with very little vegetation. We’re heading north, following the Niger River, toward the Sahara.



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