“Origins of Guitar Music”

by

originsGuitar

ORIGINS OF GUITAR MUSIC IN SOUTHERN CONGO AND NORTHERN ZAMBIA, recorded by Hugh Tracey (Sharp Wood 15/HT09)

from http://www.muzikifan.com:

Hugh Tracey issued a staggering total 210 recordings in his career so what we know as the received canon is not even the tip of the iceberg. A tobacco farmer in the thirties, Tracey learned work songs alongside his field-hands and was surprised no one else was remotely interested in the music.

A true African explorer, Tracey was the first to devote his life to finding and recording the music, and set off with two sound trucks and a crew of four to operate the recording equipment on his musical safaris from the Cape as far as the border of Sudan in the north. In those days, like today, the roads were non-existent in many places.

He needed 240 volts of power to run the recording machines, so his noisy generator truck had to be parked behind a hut or anthill, and he also had to deal with crowds that would show up to watch him record. He didn’t use mike stands but personally held the microphone rather than leave it to the inexperienced performers to play to the mike.

Four of the songs here were on AFRICAN ACOUSTIC … FROM THE COPPERBELT (the LP) issued by John Storm Roberts, a couple of tracks are on the GUITARS OF AFRICA put out by Kaleidophone in 1972, and a couple more are on the classic 1954 MUSIC OF AFRICA 5: “The Guitars of Africa,” which includes the “Classical Gas” of Africa (“Masanga” by Mwenda Jean Bosco) as well as the “Stairway to Heaven” of African guitar (Bosco’s “Mama na mwana”).

The latter is included on this new compilation; we’ll have to wait for a further issue to collect the other tunes. Six of the songs here have never been released before, so clearly there is a wealth of material in the archives. In addition there are the scholarly notes on each track by Tracey. (On the original albums he would tell you what the song was about and add other comments in his charming British accent. The only remnant of that here is his counting in one intro.)

Many of the original tapes were destroyed in a fire in the late fifties. This is a tragedy, but may have prompted Tracey on a further visit to the same regions to rerecord the musicians he could find. But the music was evolving rapidly as people moved to urban centers, particularly to find work in the copper mines, and became exposed to Western music through the radio.

Tracey points out echoes of Glenn Miller and Chet Atkins in some of the songs. The area covered by these recordings received British rather than French-run radio and, though the Congo was Belgian-controlled at the time, there’s a very different feeling in the music from the rumba sound that was emerging in Kinshasa concurrently.

Two other perennial favorites from the Tracey archives are here: “Elube,” by De Ndirande Pitch Crooners of Malawi and “Gwabi Gwabi” by Zimbabwean George Sibanda.

The recordings have been digitally restored. You can hear the simple percussion clearly (knife on Fanta bottle, or scraper), backing the vocals. This is one of the cornerstones of African popular music. There are 21 volumes in the series.

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