Festival Sur le Niger 2015

May 24, 2015 by
L'Ensemble Instrumental du Mali

L’Ensemble Instrumental du Mali

from http://www.nytimes.com:

In early 2012 an alliance of Tuareg separatists and jihadists from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb occupied the north of Mali and imposed sharia law. Jihadists smashed guitars, burned studios and threatened to kill musicians. Half a million people, including many performers, fled to the south of Mali or to refugee camps in neighboring countries.

With the Festival in the Desert out of commission, the Festival on the Niger in Ségou — a southern city never occupied by the jihadists — has become the best place in the world to hear live Malian music. The desert’s loss has been the river’s gain.

Banks of the River: Field Report from Festival Sur le Niger 2015

edited from Tom Pryor (afropop.org):

I traded New York’s deep freeze for a chance to see some of Mali’s brightest stars—including Amadou and Mariam, Fatoumata Diawara and Oumou Sangaré—perform live on the balmy banks of the Niger River.

The occasion was Mali’s Festival Sur le Niger, an annual, five-day celebration of music and culture that transforms the dusty, laid-back river town of Ségou into a buzzing regional arts hub. Now in its 11th year, the festival has grown into one of the largest live music events in West Africa, attracting an estimated audience of over 35,000 people, as well as some of the biggest names in Malian music today.

The superb 20+ piece traditional L’Ensemble Instrumental du Mali brought the full weight and majesty of the Malian classical repertoire to bear. Founded in 1961, just a year after Mali’s independence, the ensemble only tours outside of Mali occasionally, so seeing these masters of the kora, balafon, ngoni, percussion, kamel ngoni and other traditional instruments performing live in their own country was worth the price of admission alone.

By Saturday, the festival was pulling out the big guns: a triple attack of Bassekou Kouyaté, Fatoumata Diawara and Oumou Sangaré, supported by hot new acts and old festival favorites.

Fatoumata Diawara’s set was a bit of a nail-biter, her first solo appearance in Mali. She’s based in Europe and better-known there than at home. But her wassoulou-inflected style and commanding stage presence were solid enough to win over the crowd. N’goni master Bassekou Kouyaté followed with a gorgeous set of traditional sounds that had the audience on their feet the whole time. And when Diawara returned to the stage to join Kouyaté for encores, she cemented her position as a memorable festival favorite.

Khaira Arby, a half-Tuareg, half-Arab diva known as “the Nightingale of the North,” had fled when the jihadists took over Timbuktu in April 2012. Al Qaeda militants trashed her guitars and recording studio and threatened to cut out her tongue if they captured her. At this year’s festival, in a sequin-studded green gown and a tiara of gold coins, rows of silver bracelets jangling on her arms, she swept back and forth across the stage, gesticulating grandly, her voice booming as she sang in Tamasheq, the Tuareg language.

By the time headliner Oumou Sangaré finally took the stage to close out the festival, it was nearly 2:30 am, and the crowd was clearly the worse for wear. But Sangaré is a force to be reckoned with, and she would not be denied. The veteran wassoulou singer brought things back to life with the sheer power of her voice and a truncated, but powerful set of favorites old and new. Again the crowd sang along with every syllable.

It was one of those magical moments that can only happen on a singer’s home turf. Never mind that she was visiting from Bamako—this audience belonged to her. And it reminded every tired festival-goer why it’s always worth the trouble to see African artists under African skies.


Peter Was a Fisherman

May 23, 2015 by


from http://www.mustrad.org.uk:

Peter was a Fisherman (Rounder CD 1114)

Melville and Frances Herskovits recorded the selections included on Peter was a Fisherman, in 1939 in a village in Trinidad.  The 34 tracks on the CD include a number of song styles ranging from primarily African songs sung in Yoruba to Creole/European quadrille and reel songs.  The range of songs recorded helped Herskovits to theorize a spectrum of African influence in American music, from music with high African content (usually religious music) to music with only trace African content (usually European forms with some African rhythmic sensibilities).

Listening to this collection of songs, I got the feeling that Herskovits was more interested in how the elements of the music fit into his ideas of African retention in the New World than in the experience of the music itself.  While a number of the songs are pleasing to listen to and most are fascinating examples of early Trinidadian musical traditions, I found the songs lacked the energy, the vibrancy, of those found on the Lomax CDs.

This may in part be due to the poor nature of the recording equipment Herskovits used, but I wonder if there isn’t some other explanation for the monotonous and sparse sound of much of the CD.  Perhaps the musicians felt uncomfortable performing for this foreign couple, or in front of a microphone?  Perhaps Herskovits hoped to isolate certain themes in the music and therefore insisted on a simple presentation?  Who can say?

Five of the more historically important songs on the CD are sung in Yoruba by Margaret Buckley, a 70 year old woman who was the daughter of Yoruba speaking parents.  While these songs are undoubtedly interesting, particularly to linguists, the use of Buckley’s son as a single backup drummer results in the loss of much of the rhythmic complexity that might otherwise have been present if the normal three drum orchestra found in most Yoruba music had been used.

Some life can be heard in the sankeys of the Spiritual Baptists, or Shouters, who are the resident Black Protestants of Trinidad.  Sankeys begin as European style hymns and then transition to an African-American musical style know as ‘trumping’, which is a series of rhythmic groans and shouts – hence the name ‘Shouters’ – that can lead to spirit possession.

The Creole/European music forms, which include a number of reels, quadrilles, and carnival songs, seem to survive the poor technical quality of the recordings a bit better than the forms with greater African content, perhaps because they depended less on drums or large groups of voices, which tended to distort the sound.  Ine Ine Katuke, sung in the untranslatable ‘Wild Indian’ tongue, and When Me Baby Born, O are both nice examples of these Creole forms.

History of Congolese Music

May 22, 2015 by

Jim Linderman

May 21, 2015 by


from www.nytimes.com:

EVERY morning Jim Linderman gets up in his home in the small lakeside city of Grand Haven, Mich., grabs a cup of coffee and sits down at his computer to blog.  Mr. Linderman, a librarian and archivist by profession, collects, researches and writes about the marginal, the forgotten and the not quite seemly in American folk art and popular culture.

Mr. Linderman has churned out 14 books on related topics in the last three years. The best known, “Take Me to the Water,” matches antique photographs of river baptisms with a CD of old gospel songs and sermons. Published by Dust-to-Digital in Atlanta, a record label that specializes in repackaging vintage music, and with an essay by Luc Sante, it was nominated for a Grammy in 2009.

“We lost to Little Walter,” Mr. Linderman said, referring to “The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967),” a compilation of that blues harmonica player’s recordings. “Can I complain? I got to go to the show in L.A.”

He flew to Atlanta to meet Steven Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-to-Digital, after seeing that label’s handsome CD box set “Goodbye, Babylon,” a compilation of old gospel recordings. Mr. Ledbetter selected 24 vintage recordings of sermons and songs to go with the baptism photos, like the Empire Jubilee Quartet singing “Wade in de Water.”

As he was preparing to leave New York, Mr. Linderman donated the baptism photos to the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, which mounted an exhibition of them last year. He has also donated a collection of Victorian sideshow photos, which the center plans to exhibit. “He’s doing something that nobody else is for visual culture,” said Brian Wallis, chief curator at the center. “He’s mining the margins of what would disparagingly be called low culture but might also be called popular culture. To focus on it you have to get the stuff together, and he’s one of the world’s greatest pickers. He’s on the lookout for these oddball things. He just keeps coming up with these ideas that are so interesting.”

And he still gets up every morning to feed his blogs, which are approaching two million page hits, a far larger audience, he said, than he could have hoped to reach in the predigital age.

He also collected dozens of diddley bows, the one-stringed instrument of West African origin heard in old Southern blues recordings, handmade slingshots and toy plows, antique kimonos and Plains Indian rawhide pouches called parfleches.

“I’ll find a subject and immerse myself in it completely,” he said. “That will be all I live and breathe until I think I’ve exhausted it. Then I’ll sell it, trade it, donate it and move on to the next binge.”

You Can’t Beat the Classics

May 20, 2015 by

Sit in on just about any old-time music session in the Triangle, and sooner or later someone may ask for “Kitchen Girl,” “Over the Waterfall” or another tune handed down from the 1960s by the Hollow Rock String Band.

Based in the Hollow Rock community of Durham, the band recorded two albums that predated and set the stage for the Red Clay Ramblers, founded in 1972. Folklorist and fiddler Alan Jabbour was the source of much Hollow Rock repertoire, which he had learned and recorded in the Virginia home of octogenarian fiddler, Henry Reed.

“You Can’t Beat the Classics” is a 19-track CD featuring a dozen Henry Reed tunes, plus selections from Burl Hammons, Snake Chapman and others. They’re performed by Jabbour, retired director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, master banjoist Ken Perlman and former Red Clay Rambler and Hollow Rock guitarist Jim Watson.

The “classics” here refer to standard old-time gems, such as “Old Joe Clark,” “Hell Among the Yearlings” and “Turkey in the Straw.” With two exceptions, all selections, recorded in Chapel Hill’s Rubber Room studio, are instrumentals. The songs – “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” and “Casey Jones” – are sung by Watson in his distinctively ethereal tenor.

Familiar tunes are given new voicings, while others recorded for the first time may provide fresh repertoire for old-time enthusiasts. Together, they offer harmonious continuity from past to present for all who delight in the old-time way. Jabbour’s informative booklet provides discussions for each tune, along with tunings for banjo and/or fiddle.

To order, send $17.50 to Jim Watson, 132 Justice St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

Joe Wilson

May 19, 2015 by
 The American Folklife Center is very sad to pass on news of the death of Joe Wilson, Library of Congress Living Legend, NEA National Heritage Fellow, and longtime director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA).  Here is an article written about his work co-founding The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, and excerpts from Wilson’s book about it.
By April Wright (www.galaxgazette.com):
“Europeans, Tidewater African-Americans and Anglo-Americans met in the Blue Ridge and became more comfortable with each other…,” said Joe Wilson in his book, “A Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Trail.”

“All brought music with them. Violins were expensive and rare, but all these people were singers. The travelers from Ulster had ballads and ditties galore, and the Germans had a rich tradition of religious singing. Musical concepts from many places met, and new blends emerged.”

Virginians of all classes danced to fiddle and banjo for the first two centuries on these shores, he said.
Hillbilly music started from contributions made by people right here in the Twin Counties [Grayson and Carroll], Wilson believes.

Wilson gives the example of Al Hopkins, a musician from Gap Creek, who with his brothers organized a vocal quartet with string instruments. In 1924, Al was in Galax assisting his brother Jacob, a physician, with office work.  Al, Jacob and banjoist-fiddler John Rector met in a barbershop — located next to where Barr’s Fiddle Shop is located today — where the babershop’s proprietor and fiddler Tony Alderman, held jam sessions.

Earlier that year, Rector traveled to New York with Fries mill worker Henry Whitter to record. Whitter had become the first musician from the region to record when he traveled to New York.
Rector thought that his barbershop band could do better, so the band, the Hill Billies, made a trip to New York to record.

So, the first band to be a major commercial success in what was to become country music was organized in a Galax barbershop, and “hillbilly” music was named for it.  The band performed at the White House for President Calvin Coolidge and became a household name from touring and performances on the radio in New York and Washington, D.C.

Hill Billies leader Al Hopkins began broadcasting in 1922 when radio signals reached all over the nation.
The famous Victor recording sessions were held in Bristol. Among those recorded there for the first time were Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, founding icons of country music.  But those sessions also recorded an array of other musicians from the Blue Ridge area.

No one knows how many musicians this area has produced, Wilson said, but the small community of Coal Creek, which is only 12 miles in length, has led to noteworthy recordings from 31 bands.  People in Southwest Virginia, Wilson said in his book, still prefer homemade music to the mass-marketed music.  The Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention, he noted, draws as many as 50,000 people without hiring a single star and with little advertising.

Mountain music is now “best kept by people who play at the fiddlers’ convention,” Wilson told the crowd. “This area has more musicians per acre than any other place.”

Wilson, a founding member of the Crooked Road — Virginia’s heritage music trail — said the organization started with just nine counties and is now up to 19 in Southwest Virginia, including Grayson, Carroll and the City of Galax.
Musicians in this area “keep the spirit and values of a place better than its historians,” Wilson said in his book. “They are participants in a musical community, not spectators, and music is a part of their lives, not an industry controlled from some distant place. Most of these artists make no speeches, but they are the keepers of the true vine.”

The music that was developed by poor immigrants, slaves and indentured servants, Wilson said, has survived the movements of time and has resisted becoming an international fad.

“Now, nearly 400 years old, it is still influencing America and is in a state of vigorous health,” he said. “In seeking to explain the popular culture of this nation and how it came to dwarf European popular art, the deepest musical roots are found in fiddle and banjo music.  Old Europe and Old Africa are combined in it. It may be the constant combining and recombining of black and white culture in American musical arts that keeps them so vigorous and vital.”

Music of Chiapas

May 18, 2015 by


from http://www.othermusic.com and folkways.si.edu:

Modern Mayan: The Indian Music of Chiapas, Mexico (Mississippi LP)

When the dense fog of the Aquarian days of self-discovery lifted, many travelers found themselves in faraway places, perhaps with an unopened yurt kit, much more kelp than needed, or nursing a yearlong ayahuasca hangover. Richard Alderson found himself in Chiapas, Mexico, newly emigrated, with a pair of Electro-Voice mics and an incredible knack for finding amazing indigenous music in the highlands.

Alderson, an engineer for ESP-Disk, was behind the boards for many of the label’s finest sessions. Here we find a newly released version of his virtually unheard Folkways release, Modern Mayan: The Indian Music of Chiapas, Mexico, originally issued in the mid’ 70s.

There’s a gripping lyrical quality to this music that’s incessantly mystifying. Guitar and harp strokes entwine with primitive violin sawing creating this fierce emotional tug. When the locals are in the full band fiesta set-up, lazy trombones sag with wasted horn bleats, all sounding very out and very wonderful. This is absolutely devastating stuff, where occasionally homemade rockets are audible passing from left to right channels, all just part of the festivities.

Listening to modern Mayan music poses several problems.  This music grew out of 16th century European foundations on one hand, and on the other it is unlike any other music anywhere.  The European influence has been working continuously in indigenous life and consciousness, from conquest times up to the present, yet there is a strong presence of the ancient Mayan spirit surfacing in the style and rhythms of this music today.
Thus the tonal modulations in this music are simple and repetitive, and the harmonies are rudimentary.  The
rhythms, however, are complex and unrelated to European models or greatly transformed from them.
The intonation, while based on the diatonic scale and peculiarly close to fixed western pitches, is subtley different
from what any western musician would play.
Finally, the context of this music is completely different from the world as we know it,  necessitating the opening of our ears to another place and time.  However, the rewards are great when the borders are crossed musically into this
land of original American art.
See and listen also here.

Folk City

May 17, 2015 by


from https://global.oup.com:

Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, by Stephen Petrus and Ronald D. Cohen (Oxford University Press)

From Washington Square Park and the Gaslight Café to WNYC Radio and Folkways Records, New York City’s cultural, artistic, and commercial assets helped to shape a distinctively urban breeding ground for the folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s.

Folk City explores New York’s central role in fueling the nationwide craze for folk music in postwar America. It involves the efforts of record company producers and executives, club owners, concert promoters, festival organizers, musicologists, agents and managers, editors and writers – and, of course, musicians and audiences.

In Folk City, authors Stephen Petrus and Ron Cohen capture the exuberance of the times and introduce readers to a host of characters who brought a new style to the biggest audience in the history of popular music. Among the savvy New York entrepreneurs committed to promoting folk music were Izzy Young of the Folklore Center, Mike Porco of Gerde’s Folk City, and John Hammond of Columbia Records.

While these and other businessmen developed commercial networks for musicians, the performance venues provided the artists space to test their mettle. The authors portray Village coffee houses not simply as lively venues but as incubators of a burgeoning counterculture, where artists from diverse backgrounds honed their performance techniques and challenged social conventions.

Accessible and engaging, fresh and provocative, rich in anecdotes and primary sources, Folk City is lavishly illustrated with images collected for the accompanying major exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York in 2015.

World Fiddle Day

May 16, 2015 by

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Bill Birchfield

May 16, 2015 by

From http://bluegrasstoday.com/bill-birchfield-passes/

Traditional and old time musician Bill Birchfield has died this morning (May 15), after having suffered a stroke last night. He was known widely as both a banjo picker and fiddler, and for his many years with the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, with whom he performed with his wife Janice on washtub bass.
The Hilltoppers were started more than forty years ago by Bill’s parents, with his father, Joe, on fiddle, his Uncle Creede Birchfield on banjo, and his mother, Ethel, on washboard. Bill played guitar, and Janice bass. Since Joe’s passing 13 years ago, Bill has played both fiddle and banjo with the group.
Despite performing in a completely authentic old time, pre-bluegrass style, Joe’s approach to the banjo  has always set them apart. He played in what he called an upside-down and backwards style, with the instrument flipped over in his lap like a left-handed person might try it. It looks awkward, but he made it work for both guitar and banjo.
His loss will be mourned by the large community of old time musicians in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia where the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers have been popular, and by all his family and a wide community of friends.

Africa Gems

May 15, 2015 by


from rootsworld.com:

African Gems:
Recordings by Charles Duvelle, Jos Gansemans, Benoit Quersin, David Fanshawe

Sharp Wood Productions (www.swp-records.com)

There was a time when the best place to discover otherworldly musical sound avenues was a well-stocked public or University Library. Filed away by number, musty with disuse, were records that promised an antidote to the radio and whatever indie band was being hyped from magazine racks and record store new arrivals bins.

The great ethnic labels- Folkways, Lyrichord, Nonesuch, Ocora- occupied these shelves, their covers often depicting rural peoples from West Africa to SE Asia plucking what appeared to be string and gourd instruments heretofore unknown, their titles promising ritual, guaranteeing inclusion.

For those of us who dug deep and used our library cards as a means of rescuing these sounds, if only temporarily, from neglect, the world got larger. Notions of what constituted modern, primitive, Avant, poly-rhythmic, psychedelic, or dissonant got tangled and ultimately discarded.

For anyone in the West with more than a passing interest in music, the recordings these labels housed dared us to hear the familiar as the odd, the seemingly strange as music your neighbor might have made. It changed everything. But who were these people? And who managed to find them, much less get them to agree to perform for the outsider with the microphone? African Gems, a compilation sourced from some of the most prolific ethno-musicological work this side of Hugh Tracey, is one answer to that question.

Percussionist and SWP label owner Michael Baird, who has not only reissued over 20 CDs of Tracey’s mid-20th century recordings, but also released some of his own fantastic work along the Zambia/Zimbabwe border, Lesotho and elsewhere, has curated 73 minutes of rural Central African musical hypnosis. From ensembles to duets to one solo piece, this collection is as varied as it is stellar, and it does a fantastic job of reminding listeners of the work Duvelle, Gansemans, Quersin and Fanshawe did. Read the rest of this entry »

“Uh oh. This is pretty good.”

May 14, 2015 by


edited from Brandon Ray Kirk (http://brankirk.wix.com/brandonkirk):

I rediscovered Parkersburg Landing (Ed Haley’s Rounder LP) filed away on one of the crowded shelves in my office. I put it on the record player and as soon as the title track started, I thought, “Uh oh. This is pretty good.”

I turned up the volume knob and slumped down in my chair. I sat there stunned for the next twenty or so minutes listening to Haley plow through tunes with names like “Humphrey’s Jig,” “Cherokee Polka” and “Cherry River Rag.” By the time I reached out to flip the album to Side 2, my fingers were trembling and I was almost breathless.

I tried to focus on every nuance as Haley played “Flower of the Morning,” “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Dunbar.”  Then, when he took off on “Forked Deer,” I almost fell out of my chair. It was a profound experience…the kind that pulls you away from everything you’ve done up to that moment and sends you off into another direction. I don’t even remember listening to the rest of the album, although I’m sure I did.

Where did these recordings come from?

“The present recordings were made by Ralph Haley, who also plays guitar on several selections,” I read in the album liner notes. “Ralph had served in the Signal Corps during the war and used a home disc-cutting machine of the Wilcox-Gay type. After Ralph’s death in the late forties, the collection of discs were evenly divided among the five remaining children. It is estimated that the 106 sides presently accounted for represent approximately one third of the original total. Most of these records were preserved by Lawrence Haley of Ashland, who kindly gave us permission to issue them here. The discs were transferred at the Library of Congress under the supervision of Larry Haley and Alan Jabbour and were remastered at Intermedia Studios in Boston.”

I spent the next several years glued to Parkersburg Landing. I talked about Haley constantly. Every now and then I would call up friends and play some of the album, saying, “Now, that’s how it’s supposed to go.” No one had a clue who Ed Haley was; most seemed unimpressed. But to me, the scratchy recordings were like old faded photographs and I was so excited by what I heard that the imperfections in recording technique quickly disappeared to my ear.

It was only natural that I would want to know more about this man who had such a strong grip on me. I first turned to a brief biography written on the Parkersburg Landing album cover. Right away, his life interested me almost as much as did his music.

“James Edward Haley was born in 1883 on Hart’s Creek in Logan County, WV. When he was quite young, his mother was killed in an altercation with the Hatfield and McCoy feud. He was subsequently raised by his Aunt Liza. An attack of the measles when he was three left him completely blind. He received no formal schooling [and] on occasion food was so scarce that his dinner would consist of nothing but a bunch of wild onions washed in a nearby stream.”

For more biographical info see here, here, here, and here.

The Crooked Tune, An Old Time Fiddler in a Modern World

May 13, 2015 by

from http://crookedtune.com:

For eight years, filmmaker Charles Cohen has followed Dave Bing, one of this country’s preeminent Old Time fiddlers, from the backwoods of West Virginia to the pubs in England and back again. The result is an exploration of a thriving musical form that is in no need of saving but rather prefers to twist and turn under the radar, which ironically is the very attraction for the young and old looking for a break from the digital age. It makes Dave Bing wonder can Old Time survive its newfound success?

by Charles Cohen, edited from https://fiddlemethis.wordpress.com:

This fiddler project has been the obsession of my life. I’ve since enrolled at American University for a three year MFA degree. New Life for Old Time is my thesis. I’m aiming to finish a full length doc by the time I graduate next Spring. I have since followed Dave Bing to several workshops and festivals in West Va. and in England back in Maryland. I’ve visited his and Sue’s home in Roane County which has just as rewarding. I’ve witnessed him playing with Old Time Fiddler with Elder, Franklin George.

And just as vital I’ve gone back with him to the spot in the Williams River, where Dave used to camp as a young man, while he spent days, weeks, months with the Hammons Family. The Hammons are considered a major wellspring for Old Time, their tradition of storytelling, tunes and Living the Life as Hunter and Gatherers, has been passed down since settler days. Their blend thrived in isolation even for West Virginia standards, creating a unique “crooked” sound, which has documented heavily first by local musician Dwight Dillar and then by the Smithsonian.

Dave’s relationship with the Hammons, a generation of musicians who have all passed, has been profound and unique being that he’s the last persistent practioner, who learned straight from them. A major mission of this doc is to not just tell this aspect of oral tradition as its most personal, but show it. Show how as Faulkner so well put it, “The Past is not Dead. It’s not even the Past.”


Guy Carawan

May 12, 2015 by


from www.knoxmercury.com:

In the summer of 1953, folk singers Guy Carawan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Frank Hamilton lit out from New York City to take a trip through the South. Over six weeks, they traveled from the North Carolina coast to New Orleans, spending much of their time in the Appalachian mountains, hearing a lot of music and making some themselves.

Carawan, at the time 26 years old and based in New York, wanted to visit a coastal farm in Mesic, N.C., where his father had grown up. From there he would explore the South, the source of so much of the music he loved and performed. He invited his 18-year-old friend Frank Hamilton along. While in a Harlem bar to hear Knoxville-born blues singer Brownie McGhee, they met Jack Elliott, who was also soon on board for the trip.

Stopping in Merry Point, N.C., they met union organizer Bill Levener, who convinced them to leave town immediately. A fish factory had been burned down recently and the three outsiders made good suspects, even though it was widely suspected that the owners, losing money because of a fishermen’s strike, had burned the factory themselves. This was not the last time they would be met with suspicion.

Low on funds, they tried busking in most towns they stopped in, but frequently police stopped them. At a revival, they were singled out by the preacher, threatened with damnation if they did not turn to Jesus. “We’ve been taken for everything from mountain hillbillies, Texas cowboys, country farmers, dust bowl refugees, to hoboes and sometimes city fellers,” Carawan wrote. They would often sleep on the ground or in their car, occasionally put up for the night by farmers or townspeople in barns or homes.

In Naces Springs, Va., they stayed with A.P. Carter in his “old torn down shack—full of old pictures, song sheets and books,” sleeping in a “bug-eaten bed.” It was a pitiful sight, but they had a splendid time making music with the “grand-daddy of all mountain and country folk singers.”

Then on to Asheville, where they met with singing lawyer Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who had launched the Asheville Folk Festival in 1928. Lunsford was an influential figure for Carawan, but on meeting him, Carawan thought him a “reactionary aristocrat.”

Lunsford wanted to know if the three men were Communists; he was galled to see that vocal leftist Pete Seeger wrote the liner notes to his just released Folkways album. They did play music with him and seemed to enjoy the experience, Lunsford singing “like an old mountain reprobate, full of glee and friendliness.”


Where Do You Get Your Whiskey?

May 11, 2015 by

Bonaparte’s Retreat

May 11, 2015 by


from http://tunearch.org:

“Bonaparte’s Retreat” is a  classic old-time quasi-programmatic American fiddle piece that is generally played in a slow march tempo at the beginning and becomes increasingly more quick by the end of the tune, meant to denote a retreating army. Versions very widely from region to region, some binary and some with multiple parts. One folklore anecdote regarding this melody has it that the original “Bonaparte’s Retreat” was improvised on the bagpipe by a member of a Scots regiment that fought at Waterloo, in remembrance of the occasion.

The American collector Ira Ford (1940) (who seemed to manufacture his notions of tune origins from fancy and supposition, or else elaborately embellished snatches of tune-lore) declared the melody to be an “old American traditional novelty, which had its origin after the Napoleonic Wars.”

He notes that some fiddlers (whom he presumably witnessed) produced effects in performance by drumming the strings with the back of the bow and “other manipulations simulating musket fire and the general din of combat.  Pizzicato represents the boom of the cannon, while the movement beginning with Allegro is played with a continuous bow, to imitate bagpipes or fife.”

Arkansas fiddler Absie Morrison (1876-1964) maintained the melody had French and bagpipe connotations.  “Now that’s bagpipe music on the fiddle…That was when (Bonaparte) had to give back, had to give up the battle…This in what’s called minor key, now…It’s French music.”

In fact, the tune has Irish origins, though Burman-Hall could only find printed variants in sources from that island from 1872 onward. “It has been collected in a variety of functions, including an Irish lullaby and a ‘Frog Dance’ from the Isle of Man” (Linda Burman-Hall. “Southern American Folk Fiddle Styles,” Ethnomusicology, vol. 19, #1, Jan. 1975).

Samuel Bayard (1944) concurs with assigning Irish origins for “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” and notes that it is an ancient Irish march tune with quite a varied traditional history. The ‘ancient march’ is called “Eagle’s Whistle (1) (The)” or “Eagle’s Tune (The),” which P.W. Joyce (1909) said was formerly the marching tune of the once powerful O’Donovan family.

Bayard’s primary scope of collecting was in western Pennsylvania in the mid-20th century, where he found the tune still current in fiddle repertoire, though he remarked on its popularity in various parts of the South. His Pennsylvania version has a somewhat simpler melodic outline than most of the other recorded American sets, and, although he notes that these sets vary considerably–even in the number of parts which a version may contain–he finds they are clearly cognate, and all show resemblance’s and common traits indicating derivation from the “The Eagle’s Whistle.” Read the rest of this entry »

Black Creek Fiddlers’ Reunion

May 10, 2015 by


Bill Ferris

May 10, 2015 by

index by Tom Maxwell (http://m.indyweek.com):

Bill Ferris is a 73-year-old UNC professor who has spent six decades becoming Southern culture’s chief documentarian. Last year 9,000-plus students from 128 countries spent six weeks enrolled in what UNC-Chapel Hill calls a MOOC, or a Massive Open Online Course. The program explored oral histories and folk traditions, Southern writers and musicians, with sounds as regional and rich as fife-and-drum bands, work chants and the Delta blues. Almost every interview, photograph, recording and film clip—and there were a lot—came from Ferris.

Equally at home on Mississippi state work farms or in college lecture halls, Ferris has broken some of America’s biggest racial divides to collect tales of a sometimes-hidden history.

In the ’60s, for instance, a white farmer introduced him to a black musician employed on his land. Other white men, all armed, surrounded the meeting.

The musician refused to come out, so the farmer threw rocks at his roof until he obeyed. After a brief porch performance, the musician stopped, complaining of a finger cramp. Ferris arranged to meet him again at another black musician’s house. There, he played for hours, drinking whiskey and cursing his white boss. “Any time you want to come down here,” the man told Ferris, “you drive to my damn house. Ain’t a damn soul gonner f*** with you, white or black.”

From then on, and often at the risk of arrest, Ferris would enter a black community without the permission of local whites. He would buy groceries for his hosts, spend Saturday nights at juke joints, and attend church services on Sundays, all the time recording and taking pictures. He’d send his new friends prints of the photographs, along with a careful note of thanks. He knew what to do, even though he wasn’t sure why he did it.

“Like a lot of what I’ve done in my life,” Ferris says, “there was probably a point I realized these things are significant and should be in an archive. Before that, I just felt they were important in a deeper way. It’s part of what I was put on earth to do—to see that these voices are not lost.”

Ferris filled the trunk of his Chevy Nova with gear—a 35mm camera that his brother, Grey, taught him how to use, a Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder, 200-watt light bulbs, a Super 8 movie camera scored at a discount by a cousin in the military.He used it all to capture black Mississippi musicians and the sounds they made.

“Nothing changes,” Ferris says. “It’s the old matters of the heart. I find myself falling back on those voices and the people I’ve been privileged to meet along the way: the famous and not-so-famous, the B.B. Kings, the Eudora Weltys, prison inmates, mule traders, auctioneers, quilt makers. They’re all a part of a common picture.”

From African Twist to Benga

May 9, 2015 by


from http://www.singingwells.org/from-african-twist-to-benga:

From African Twist to Benga (Singing Wells CD)

In March 2014, Ketebul Music and The Abubilla Music Foundation came together to record a very special album for Singing Wells. Our goal was to record some of the most important ‘bridge’ artists in Kenya – a group of musicians who have built a connection between the music of their villages and modern music. They were the founders of Benga, the African Twist, Luhyia ‘Omutibo’ and the ‘Yoddeling’ sound adapted by the Kikuyu musicians of the ’60s.

We dedicated six days of studio time at Ketebul Music in Nairobi to record this set of legendary musical artistes, all of whom are now in their 60s and 70s and are critical to Kenyan music history.

We are very proud of this unique album and hope you enjoy listening to the ‘old masters’. Our recordings are particularly poignant as Ochieng Nelly sadly passed away shortly after the making of this album.

Listen here.

Music of Surry County

May 8, 2015 by

Nonesuch Explorer Series

May 7, 2015 by

 indexedited from BANNING EYRE  (http://rockpaperscissors.biz):

The return of the Nonesuch Explorer Series

In 1975, I was a freshman at Wesleyan University, which had recently begun offering postgraduate studies in ethnomusicology. Although the marketing term “world music” had yet to be invented by a cabal of globally minded London trend setters, we at Wesleyan already had a World Music Hall and a small world-music library.

I used to take vinyl LPs out and copy the best tracks onto cassettes, which I listened to obsessively. This is how I discovered African music, in large measure thanks to the Nonesuch Explorer Series, whose volumes were accumulating year after year on the shelves of Wesleyan’s music library. The entire series, some 91 CDs, is now being re-released, starting with the 12 original Africa volumes and a new Africa compilation.

I was a guitar player, not a percussionist, and though I loved a good African drum blowout as much as the next ’70s college kid, I derived a deeper pleasure from the polyphony of a reed-flute ensemble from Burundi (on the Music from the Heart of Africa Explorer Series volume), a funky, lone lute thrumming away on the savanna of Niger (on West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music), or the intertwining, polyrhythmic melodies of the mbiras on what remains my favorite volume, The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People, which was recorded by ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner in 1972.

“In those days,” Berliner told me recently, “the mbira was largely regarded as a toy in this country. The small, Hugh Tracey kalimba had made it here, but it was initially sold by Creative Playthings.” In his book The Soul of Mbira (University of Chicago Press) and on his two Nonesuch Explorer reissues — the other being Shona Mbira Music — Berliner aims to introduce listeners to the stunning subtlety and surprising complexity of traditional Shona music made with the simple mbira.

He also delves into the mbira’s ceremonial importance: far from being a plaything, it has deep spiritual value to the Shona. And as a college student, I fell under its spell. Indeed, nothing so dramatizes the impact these seminal Nonesuch recordings had in the West as the worldwide network of mbira and marimba players that began to emerge in the early ’70s. On the West Coast there are now mbira camps, Shona-music retreats, and popular ensembles who play hybrids of Zimbabwean traditional music.  When you ask veteran American mbira players where they first heard Shona music, the answer almost invariably includes Nonesuch’s Explorer Series.

The Africa volumes were initially released between 1969 and 1983. It was in 1984 that I first attended a concert by King Sunny Adé and his Nigerian juju orchestra. That experience triggered the fascination with contemporary African music that has largely determined the direction of my life and work as a critic and a musician.




Kongo Magni

May 6, 2015 by


from rockpaperscissors.biz:

Kongo Magni, by Boubacar Traore ( World Village/Harmonia Mundi CD)

If his compatriot Ali Farka Toure evokes the sun-struck Delta ambiance of John Lee Hooker, Boubacar Traoré has more in common with Robert Johnson’s fatalistic, dark-side-of-moon brand of sorcery. Like a lone troubadour at the crossroads, his storytelling is veiled in a complex, occult shade of indigo rather than plain blue.

His keening voice is at once primal and seductive, steeped in tragedy but starved for life, and he wields his exquisite, kora-inflected guitar like a talisman again fate. But on Kongo Magni Boubacar’s realistic, if pessimistic, view of life and its struggles is finally granted a fragile silver lining.

Although humanity is stalked by war and famine and daily life is marred by petty jealousies, God is nonetheless in his heaven and new children are born to take up the struggle. Accompanied by an empathetic small combo in which accordion and harmonica swirl around earthily resonant kamele ngoni (young person’s harp), balafon (xylophone) and traditional drums, shakers, and other percussion, Boubacar is revealed as philosophical, lyrical, resigned, guardedly hopeful, and gloriously human.

“I have to progress slowly.” There’s no point in running too fast, or planning anything. “I’m 63, but I’m in good shape,” he says with a smile. “Nonetheless, death can strike at any time. Today, I’m a man fulfilled.” He’s flattered by the full houses he still plays to, the book published on him (Mali Blues by Lieve Joris,), not to mention a film (Je chanterai pour toi, by Jacques Sarasin), but his joy is nonetheless hardly excessive. To spend time in his company is to encounter a certain tranquil melancholy.

One of Mali’s most respected singers, Boubacar Traoré is a charming man who is also very modest. Whatever sorrows he suffers, he never speaks of them. Je chanterai pour toi (I’ll sing for you) is the title of one of many songs he has dedicated to his deceased wife Pierrette.

“Dounia Tabolo” – people die but life goes on, he sings in Kongo Magni. Despite the death of loved ones, the desire to live must remain strong, says Boubacar Traoré, thinking of his latest born grand-daughter. Music means nothing unless it is delivering a message, he insists.

The new album reprises themes that have always meant a lot to him, allowing us to understand something of this secretive man. He speaks of the open wounds that fester in our lives: those of jealousy and wars, and the famines and epidemics that they bring. He sings of the bravery of Malian farmers, the lifeblood of the country; he reprises a track written by his older brother for the first anniversary of Malian independence; and sings a traditional song about the hope that children bring to save humanity.



The Mexican Accordion

May 5, 2015 by

from http://squeezeboxstories.com and http://www.honkytonks.org:

The accordion is a very important instrument in various Mexican musical genres, especially in norteño music in the northern region of Mexico. Exactly who first brought the accordion to Mexico still remains a point of contention. But it is generally agreed that German settlers in the Rio Grande Valley introduced the instrument to the region in the mid-19th century, on both sides of the river in Southern Texas and Northern Mexico.

Some argue that these accordion-bearing Germans were in Mexico as miners, and some others also note that they were there for the beer-brewing industry. Together with the accordion, Germans also brought with them musical and dance forms such as waltz, polka, mazurka, and schottische—some of which have influenced the development of norteño music that we hear today. (The norteño accordion pioneer Narciso Martínez learned tunes from German and Czech brass bands.)

German immigrants came to Texas around the mid-1800s and settled in Central Texas in towns like Fredericksburg, Gruene, and New Braunfels–better known as the German Belt. Bringing their language, culture and musical traditions, they made contact with the Mexican Americans.

In Texas, there were several substantial waves of German immigration. The first, when Friedrich Ernst, “Father of German Immigration to Texas,” arrived in Texas in 1831 and received a grant of more than 4,000 acres in what is now Austin County. He set about encouraging other Germans to join him. This tract of land formed the nucleus of what is now known as the German Belt.

The next wave came in 1842, when a group of German nobles formed the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, also called Adelsverein. Their intention was to create a new German fatherland in America where German workers could prosper, and which would open new markets for industry and commerce in Germany. Between 1844 and 1847 more than 7,000 Germans reached Texas and founded towns such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.

Eventually, lured by work on railroad lines, among other work opportunities, the immigrants moved farther south to South Texas and Northern Mexico, and they brought with them the accordion and their tradition of waltzes and polkas. By 1890, the accordion was fairly common in Mexican groups in the Texas-Mexico border region.


Kante Manfila

May 4, 2015 by
 from http://www.radioafrica.com, http://www.rootsworld.com, and http://www.independent.co.uk:

Kanté Manfila, one of Africa’s greatest guitarists, will be remembered as the chef d’orchestre of Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, where his collaborations with Salif Keita propelled West African music to the forefront of the African music scene, thanks to songs such as “Mandjou”, “Seydou Bathily”, “Ntoma”, and “Primpin”.

Manfila was born in 1946 in Farabanah near Kankan. He is not of the Mandé griot heritage, as many journalists have assumed, but of the Mandé blacksmith. Such heritage, however, does not preclude the learning of griot instruments, and from the age of eight Manfila began to play the balafon before moving to the acoustic guitar.

Among his relatives are many prominent musicians. His cousins include Kanté Facelli, arguably Guinea’s pre-eminent guitarist and the co-founder Les Ballet Africains, and Sandaly “Balakala” Kanté, the lead guitarist with the Horoya Band and then the 22 Band. He is also related to, and often confused with, Kanté “Soba” Manfila, the lead singer of Balla et ses Balladins, and Manfila “Dabadou” Kanté, the lead singer of Keletigui et ses Tambourinis.

When he was 14 he moved to Abidjan, thus avoiding the Cultural Revolution of Sékou Touré’s Guinea. His musicianship developed rapidly and he formed his own orchestra at an early age. With them he released several singles on the local Djima label in the late 1960s. In 1972 he moved to Bamako where he joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel as the lead singer and lead guitarist.

Shortly after, Salif Keita left the Super Rail Band and joined the group. There was much talk of potential rivalry between the two singers, but this was far from the truth. Recognising and respecting each other’s talents created a deep bond, and the two worked closely together on the arrangements and lyrics of songs.

Les Ambassadeurs du Motel become the chief rival of the Super Rail Band, and only a popularity competition could decide who was the best in the eyes of the public. Hence, the Malian government asked that each group write a song to promote the new literacy campaign and then perform it at a concert where the audience would decide the winner.

The result from Manfila and Salif was “Kibaru”, a 26 minute opus. On the night of the performance, and what a gig that would have been, both bands were declared winners. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel enjoyed a great popularity thereafter in Bamako, and released many recordings.

In 1990 he  revisited Guinea with the German producer Günter Gretz to record the  Kankan Blues (PAM, 1991), which returned to the acoustic guitar sèche (“dry guitar”) style of his youth. They also made N’na Niwale (1994) back in Paris, and returned to Guinea for Back to Faranbah (1998).  These three acoustic recordings are highly recommended.  One is reviewed below.

Kante Manfila
Back to Farabanah
Popular African Music (via Stern’s http://www.sternsmusic.com)

This seductive and highly recommended album is the third recording in a series exploring the early musical influences of this Guinean guitar legend. Three songs on the album were recorded at the Tabou nightclub in Kan Kan, only a couple hundred miles upriver from the Malian capitol of Bamako, where Kante hit the big time in the mid to late 70’s with Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs Internationale before moving on to Abidjan and then Paris. From there, the crew drove to Kante’s home village of Farabanah, where eight other tracks were laid in a very rustic setting.

This is a beautiful recording, well-engineered, warm and intimate and yet very clean. There is a sense of ease and contentment in the recordings and yet an incredible depth and subtle tension. New generation Guinean guitarist Djessou Mory Kante lends his artistry. The only electric instrument in the mix is the bass of Sekou Diabate. A trio of female singers provides the standard backup verses on the non-instrumental songs behind Kante’s dry, earthy lead vocals.

Here is Kante Manfila’s classic arrangement of “Toubaka” (Kante Manfila-guitar, Salif Keita-vocals)



Kweskin’s Jug Band

May 3, 2015 by

The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, (from left) Mel Lyman, Maria Muldaur, Geoff Muldaur, Kweskin, and Bill Keith, at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.

By James Reed (www.bostonglobe.com):

For a group as colorful and influential as it was, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band had a rather dubious start.

Maynard Solomon, cofounder of Vanguard Records, had seen Kweskin perform at Club 47 in Cambridge with a ragtag group of musicians. Afterward Solomon asked Kweskin if he’d like to make a record with that band, to which Kweskin replied, “Well, that’s not a band, but I’d love to make a record.”

That was in 1963, at the height of the folk revival that found its mecca in Harvard Square’s Club 47, now known as Club Passim. Kweskin was one of the scene’s kingpins, helping to making jug band music, a hybrid of old-time jazz, blues, and folk, hip again. He, and later his bandmates, perfectly epitomized the genre’s blend of zany humor and serious musical chops. With their odd array of instruments and free-spirited appearance, they cut a kooky presence before disbanding in 1968.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Kweskin has reunited the Jug Band’s surviving members — which also include Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, and Bill Keith — for a short run of tour dates, including two nights at Club Passim on Aug. 29-30. Perhaps no one is more surprised about the gigs than the man whose band bears his name.

“I was asked to reunite the Jug Band maybe 15 years ago, and I wasn’t into it at all. I don’t know what came over me. . . . I felt like the Jug Band was my past, and I didn’t want to go back to my past,” Kweskin says from his home in Los Angeles. “But then I thought, Fritz [Richmond] is gone, Mel [Lyman] is gone. There’s only a few of us left, and it’s very unlikely we’ll do this again.” Read the rest of this entry »


May 2, 2015 by

from singingwells.org:

This is Benga style, originating from the Luo tribes, as they gradually built on the percussive/bass sounds of the Nytati to form something more bluesy; it morphs later into Rumba, which combines Benga and also Congolese music which is in turn heavily influenced by Cuban music.  The big guy in Luo Benga was Daniel Owino Misiani who developed the style in the 60′s.   A big reason to return to Luo-lands is to trace back to the origins of Benga, understanding in more detail the core instruments.    Here, we almost start at the end, recording Osumba Rateng’s band, the Sega Sega Band: 5-6 vocalists and a couple of guitarists.

Benga’s most distinctive feature is its fast-paced rhythmic beat and bouncy finger-picking guitar technique. Indeed, the core of benga is the lead guitar, which essentially follows the track of the vocals. Without exception, the singing is at some point separated from the climax—the instrumental expanse that combines three or four guitars and percussions. Benga is loosely linked to Congolese rumba and West African highlife, but differs sharply from South African kwela, taarab, chakacha and kidumbaak; the most well-known Swahili music forms from the coastal strip of East Africa.

The peculiarity of the Benga beat comes from the combination of a sharp lead guitar overriding the rhythm and bass. The pace of the guitars, with a steady rise to a climax or crescendo and an equally quick refrain, together with the arrangement and sectioning mark benga apart from other music. Luo guitarists long cultivated a unique technique of playing the guitar. They commonly do not massage the strings as their Congolese counterparts do but rather they pluck and pick single notes rapidly in a fashion akin to playing a nyatiti—the traditional lyre of the Luo people.

Benga is undoubtedly dance music because of its fast tempo. Dancers commonly do not hold hands or embrace as is the case with other music, for instance Congolese rumba. Benga fans will be seen dancing alone or forming a group, but not holding hands. Often the dancers break off from the circle of their partners and slink away, doing their own thing, sometimes becoming theatrical in their movements—flexing their muscles, feet and shaking their heads. They dance with freedom and even total abandon.

Attentive Benga audiences point out the importance of its themes especially where a song chronicles or even instigates an important social event or political drama. Many lyrics dwell on love, either extolling a woman’s beauty and praising her virtues or expressing the disappointment of an ardent suitor. Some songs sing about money and personal experiences of hardship and struggle. Occasionally, the lyrics are in praise of a person of high standing in the society. Those in political leadership are frequently the subject of such praise, even though occasionally they are the subject of biting censure. Modern Benga vocals sections are long and the story winding and repetitive, with some of the more accomplished songwriters employing clever allegory, generating witty memorable phrases or coining new idioms.


Calypso Dreams

May 1, 2015 by

from http://bestofcaribbeantales.wordpress.com:

The feature-length documentary film Calypso Dreams chronicles the fascinating spirit and traditions of Calypso music in the island country of Trinidad and Tobago, dating back to its complex Afro-Caribbean roots in the 18th and 19th centuries.

With narrative commentary by the popular Caribbean musician David Rudder, the film captures riveting, contemporary performances by a host of legendary Calypso performers with colorful “sobriquets,” including the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Lord Superior, Black Stalin, Mighty Bomber, Lord Blakie, Singing Sandra and Mighty Terror, and pays homage to recently deceased Calypsonians, including Lord Kitchener and Lord Pretender.

The film also includes a rare and exclusive interview with Harry Belafonte on the issue of his early involvement with Calypso and his complex relationship with Lord Melody in the 1950s and early ’60s. Using a rich array of archival footage and photographs, Calypso Dreams illustrates how the music was corrupted and homogenized by the American music industry in the 1940s and 1950s, only to survive and, ultimately, thrive in international anonymity.

As with The Buena Vista Social Club, Calypso Dreams provides a cultural rediscovery—in this case, of a musical tradition that has been bypassed by the mainstream for decades. It is a celebration not only of the music of Calypso, but of the intense sense of community it engenders in Trinidad and Tobago, and of the art form’s dynamic social and political roots, which sustain it.

Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78rpm Era

April 30, 2015 by


from http://brickbatbooks.blogspot.com and http://www.allmusic.com:

Excavated Shellac: Strings – Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78rpm Era (Dust-To-Digital)

Jonathan Ward, a young 78rpm collector and music researcher, has amassed an absolutely incredible collection of rare 78rpm records from around the world. Generally sharing these through his well-known blog, Excavated Shellac, Ward’s one-of-a-kind collection is showcased for the first time on Dust-to-Digital’s vinyl imprint, Parlortone.

None of these tracks have appeared prior to this release, either on Excavated Shellac or on any CD or LP compilation. The Excavated Shellac archives are hosted on WFMU’s Free Music Archive, and are essentially an (inter)national treasure. This LP features 14 outstanding compositions from the four corners of the world played on stringed instruments and recorded and released 78rpm records circa 1920-1950.

Featuring fiddles, shamisen, charango, Paraguyan harp, Indian vina, Lebanese oud, Persian violin, Vietnamese moon guitar, and more. All previously-unreleased, carefully transferred and mastered and presented with detailed liner-notes. Pressed on high-quality vinyl, with a full-color cover featuring 78rpm record sleeve graphics, and an insert of extensive liner notes and photos.

It’s hard to believe anyone managed to find all of the 78s from which the recordings are sourced, let alone compile them into one reissue. More impressive than the rarity, however, is the quality of the performances, as well as their eclectic variety. Most of them do share a somewhat somber, melancholic feel sometimes verging on piety, in the melodies, vocals (for those pieces that feature them), and ways in which the instruments are played.

But the fierce emotion and passion underlying the execution is both undeniable and moving. Despite the age of the original discs, the sound is about as good as it can be with such relatively ancient material with which to work, and the annotation thorough and accessible.

Harry and Sara

April 29, 2015 by


excerpt from Scott Borchert (http://therumpus.net):

1943: Harry Smith, twenty years old, spends much of his free time visiting local Pacific Northwest Indian tribes, recording their ceremonies, gathering artifacts, and assembling dictionaries of their languages. The American Magazine publishes an article about Smith along with a photo of him recording a Lummi spirit dance.

The caption reads: “Gray-bearded professors regard this teenage anthropologist with respect. He’s Harry Smith, who at 15 began making expeditions by bicycle from his home in South Bellingham, Wash., to the primitive Indian tribes of Washington and British Columbia … Harry has found Indians friendly except when drunk, or suspicious that he’s a German spy.”

Of course Smith is a kind of spy—backed by no institution but his formidable curiosity, assigned no mission other than his compulsive need to assemble information. Smith feels no qualms about being a spy, or even a voyeur.

In the book American Magus, Smith’s former assistant Rani Singh quotes him: “When I was a child somebody came to school one day and said they’d been to an Indian dance and they saw someone swinging a skull on the end of a string; so I thought, hmmm, I have to see this.”

1945: Harry Smith learns that Sara Carter, from the influential folk group the Carter Family, is living in California’s Gold Rush country. He tracks Carter down and finds her sewing patchwork quilts.

In a 1968 interview with Sing Out! magazine, Smith recalls photographing the quilts and pressing Carter to reveal some kind of underlying pattern he believes is contained within both the quilts and her music: “I tried to get her to name certain designs which she thought resembled certain songs. She didn’t understand me or what I was trying to say. It was some kind of a Rorschach response-like thing.”


West Virginia Gals

April 28, 2015 by

hillbillies poster

from http://theanthologyofamericanfolkmusic.blogspot.com:

Born in Watauga County, North Carolina in 1889, Albert Green Hopkins was one of the first true country musicians and one of the originators of “hillbilly” music. Hopkins was born to John Benjamin Hopkins, a state legislator, and Celia Isabel Green Hopkins. Both parents were musical. Hopkins’ father repaired organs as a hobby and played fiddle, piano and organ. His mother sang ballads and church music. Hopkins primarily played piano.

The Hopkins family relocated to Washington D.C. in 1904 when Hopkins was fifteen. In 1910, he and his brothers Joe, Elmer, and John formed the Old Mohawk Quartet, a group that played around D.C., frequently appearing at the Majestic Theater. In the early 1920s, Hopkins moved to Galax, Virgina where he worked for his older brother, Jacob, was a doctor with an established practice. He also entertained his brother’s patients.

In 1924, Hopkins and his brother Joe formed a band with fiddler Alonzo Elvis “Tony” Alderman and banjo player John Rector. After an aborted recording session in 1924, the group recorded six selections for Ralph Peer in New York City on January 15, 1925. At that session, Peer asked the still-unnamed band what they were called. Hopkins modestly replied that they were “just a bunch of hillbillies.”

Peer named their group “The Hill Billies,” much to the musicians’ consternation (none of the members of the group conformed to the “hillbilly” stereotype). Alderman would later say that to them the word “hillbilly” was a “fighting word.” Nevertheless, Hopkins and his group were associated with the word hillbilly and they tried for a time to control the word’s use, at least as far as it was applied to music. Eventually, they were forced to accept that hillbilly had become a genre of music.
Read the rest of this entry »

Bush Taxi Mali

April 27, 2015 by


edited review from Ryan Thomas Skinner:
Bush Taxi Mali: Field Recordings from Mali (2004, recorded and assembled by Tucker Martine, Sublime Frequencies CD, SF012)

Listening, we hear tired footsteps shuffling over sand and gravel amid the chirping, cooing, and crowing of crickets, pigeons, and roosters. Then we notice the sounds of a mande lute (ngoni) and xylophone (bala) lightly exploring their registers before locking into an accompaniment. Behind them, only the crickets remain. This is how Tucker Martine’s evocative collection of West African field recordings, Bush Taxi Mali, begins.

The album represents Martine’s aural encounter with Mali, a landlocked sub- Saharan country that is home to a wide array of acoustic and electric music traditions, a handful of which are featured on the disc’s fourteen tracks. Yet, Bush Taxi Mali is more than a generic compilation of Malian music; it is also an exploration of the sounds that texture everyday life in Mali.

In “Mopti Niger Walking,” we follow Martine on an afternoon stroll through a raucous riverine marketplace, a wandering that gently fades into the contrapuntal string duet, “Segou,” a version of the classic Mande hunter’s praise song “Kulanjan.” (A later track titled “Kaira” is actually the Mande griot standard “kayira.”) Here, Martine suggests the significant role that sound (musical or otherwise) plays in structuring a sense of place.

Elsewhere, he evokes sound’s equal capacity to displace, momentarily setting the listener adrift in anonymous spaces of auditory possibility. This is most apparent in “Bambaran Wedding celebration” where distorted song and amplified feedback mix with a cacophony of drums, only to give way to a full minute of eerie, almost otherworldly sounds (likely rendered in the studio), conveying the raw acoustic shadow of the outdoor festivities Martine observes.

On track 2, “Radio Bamako,” Martine offers the listener a taste of Mali’s low- fidelity urban airwaves. Track 3 features a solo performance on the banjo-like ngoni in the southern town of Kéla. Track 4, “Fouta Djallon,” is a reference to Guinea’s Fulbe heartland, Fuuta Jalloo; here Martine travels north to Mopti, where he captures the haunting melodies of the Fulbe lute or tambin. Back in Kéla on track 5, “Autorail” presents the voice of Aminata Diabaté singing a lover’s lament in the Mande griot style (jeliya).

And so the CD unfolds. The resulting pastiche is an eloquent compilation of storied moments—each personably related by Martine in the liner notes—that still manage to tell a traveler’s tale as a whole.


Say No to the Devil

April 26, 2015 by
Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis, by Ian Zack (University of Chicago Press)
Who was the greatest of all American guitarists? You probably didn’t name Gary Davis, but many of his musical contemporaries considered him without peer. Bob Dylan called Davis “one of the wizards of modern music.” Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead—who took lessons with Davis—claimed his musical ability “transcended any common notion of a bluesman.” And the folklorist Alan Lomax called him “one of the really great geniuses of American instrumental music.”
But you won’t find Davis alongside blues legends Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite almost universal renown among his contemporaries, Davis lives today not so much in his own work but through covers of his songs by Dylan, Jackson Browne, and many others, as well as in the untold number of students whose lives he influenced.The first biography of Davis, Say No to the Devil restores “the Rev’s” remarkable story.
Drawing on extensive research and interviews with many of Davis’s former students, Ian Zack takes readers through Davis’s difficult beginning as the blind son of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South to his decision to become an ordained Baptist minister and his move to New York in the early 1940s, where he scraped out a living singing and preaching on street corners and in storefront churches in Harlem.
There, he gained entry into a circle of musicians that included, among many others, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Dave Van Ronk. But in spite of his tremendous musical achievements, Davis never gained broad recognition from an American public that wasn’t sure what to make of his trademark blend of gospel, ragtime, street preaching, and the blues. His personal life was also fraught, troubled by struggles with alcohol, women, and deteriorating health.

Banjo Toss 2015

April 25, 2015 by


By KATHY WILLENS (http://www.usnews.com):

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 http://cohenmedia.net and http://www.newyorker.com:

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 http://sahelsounds.com and afropop.org):

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


 from https://steidl.de:

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 (http://memory.loc.gov):

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 afropop.org and http://www.worldmusic.net:

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


from http://www.cdbaby.com:

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 (http://etudesafricaines.revues.org/161):

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 (http://blackgrooves.org):

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


from http://www.elijahwald.com:


(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


from  https://www.facebook.com/americanfolklifecenter?fref=nf:

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 www.uni-hildesheim.de and www.allmusic.com:

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

from http://singout.org:

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 (www.bkmag.com):

“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.


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