Archive for the ‘videos’ Category

VIDEO – Homemade Music in Stickerville – Weiser, ID

June 22, 2016

Video of boys dancing Sean Nos (Irish flatfooting) and playing Bodrum drums

November 21, 2015

The above video link shows how appealing Irish Sean Nos dancing is, especially to anyone who enjoys Appalachian flatfoot dance. These boys alternate between hand drumming and solo dancing, making an all around compelling percussive video. Kudos to their teacher, located in western Ireland.


1987 Footage of Snake Chapman fiddling “Pat Him on the Back” 

November 14, 2015

A tune Snake learned from his father. “That’s just a tune my dad made about his hound dogs. I think there was one that would bite you if you didn’t pat him on the back. So my father just told someone to ‘pat him on the back.'” For more information on Snake, see the 2013 OTP post on him:

Shannon Waltz – American young folks doing Oldtime right (part 2) – Kevin Martin fiddles

October 13, 2015

At a gathering of oldtime musicians in Tennessee, we find excellent examples of young people doing the real Old-time music — Deep South style. Kevin Martin on fiddle. Van Burchfield & Coleman Akins guitar, Tre On bass, Chris Ryan & Carol Anne Rose banjo,…. Pikesville, Tennessee, 2015. Key of F, recorded by East Texas Serenaders. Vdo here recorded by MoonshineV YouTube Oldtime field recordings channel.

Skyland Rag – American young folks doing oldtime right (Part I) – Rachel Meirs on fiddle

October 12, 2015

At a gathering of oldtime musicians in Tennessee, we find excellent examples of young people doing the real Old-time music — Deep South style. Rachel Meirs on fiddle. Van Burchfield & Ali Kafka guitar. Mickey Nelligan banjo mandolin. Joni Carr uke. Evan Kinney cello….. Pikesville, Tennessee, 2015. Key of F, recorded by the Rector Trio. Vdo here recorded by MoonshineV field recordings YouTube channel.

Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City

July 18, 2015

Mexican Song

June 29, 2015


The corrido is a type of socially relevant narrative ballad that served in Mexico as the main informational and educational outlet.

Rancheras, literally “music of the ranches,” are traditional songs usually accompanied by guitar and/or horns.

The merging of European and indigenous Mexican musical traditions has long been a hallmark of Mexican American music beyond the church. Corridos gave rise to other forms of music such as Tejano (literally “Texas music”). Tejano music, the name given to several different forms of folk music developed by the Mexican American community in Texas, combines the waltz and polka stylings brought to Texas in the mid-nineteenth century by northern European immigrants with Spanish-language songs that originated south of the border and were passed down through generations of Mexicans.

Habanera music is also found among Mexican Americans. It has a meter influenced by the music of North Africa and is found throughout the Spanish speaking world today.

Conjunto music is one of the dominant dance music forms of Mexican Americans today. Related to Tejano music, its roots lie in South Texas at the end of the nineteenth Century, following the introduction of the button accordion into Mexican working-class communities along the Texas-Mexican border by Northern European immigrants. The accordion-based musical form was used to accompany celebrations of all kinds. Thanks to a strong recording history from the 1920s onwards, conjunto grew to become the most powerful musical symbol of Mexican American working-class culture.

Mariachi music is perhaps the most well-known Mexican American folk music form, having gained wide popularity throughout the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century mostly through its promotion in school bands and at mariachi festivals.

Mariachi originated in rural Mexico in the nineteenth century and, like Tejano, was eventually influenced by the polka and waltz. The typical mariachi ensemble consists of violins, accordions, trumpets and guitars. Mexican folk harps are also sometimes employed. There is generally no lead singer. All players sing choruses and take turns singing the lead. Mariachi vocalization, which emphasizes an operative quality, encompasses a romantic “bolero” sound, falsetto singing, and a more aggressive style known as son jaliscense.

Son Jarocho is another well-known Mexican music style that has gained popularity in the United States. Fusing Spanish and African elements, much of it is syncopated, combines instrumental music with improvised and fixed oral poetry along romantic or bawdy themes, and is sung in a call-and-response format. The instrumentation usually includes a large diatonic harp (arpa), a small, eight-stringed guitar (jarana) and a four-stringed guitar (requinto).

Akonting Story

June 28, 2015

by Chuck Levy (from

In 2006, the Center for Arts in Healthcare and Education at the University of Florida began to work with a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya to form a collaborative exchange. As part of this, hospital leaders from Kenya came to visit in Gainesville, and while they were here they visited when I played for patients.

It happened to be a good day, when children responded by smiling and dancing, and adults let down their burdens for a moment. Although I was never sure if it was my musicianship or simply the fact that I was a doctor playing for patients, my new African friends were very enthusiastic about my performance, and invited me to come to Nairobi.

I was also able get approval to use my grant to visit to The Gambia under the tutelage of Daniel Jatta, who introduced me to Ekona Diatta and Remi Diatta, master Jola akonting players. I only speak English. Neither Remi nor Ekona speak English. Yet both were patient and able teachers. It helped that while akonting technique turns out not to be identical to clawhammer, it is mighty similar. By the end of my visit I could play a few tunes.

However, when I returned home to the U.S., and tried to present what I learned, I was unsatisfied. With some reflection, it became obvious that I had not paid enough attention to the singing, which is so integral to Jola music. Therefore I returned to Gambia in 2008 for a second round of instruction, to learn to sing the Jola akonting songs. I met Greg C. Adams there, and together we traveled with our hosts to their home village, Mlonp along the southern shore of the Cassamance River.


John Ciardi, Alan Lomax, Ga. Sea Island Singers

June 21, 2015

Singing starts at 2:17.

A segment on the Georgia Sea Island Singers shot at St. Simons Island – featuring Bessie Jones, John Davis, Peter Davis, Willis Proctor, Mable Hillery, Emma Lee Ramsey, Joe Dixon, Joe Armstrong, and others unidentified, and guest host Alan Lomax – from the short-lived CBS educational program “Accent,” hosted by poet John Ciardi, 1962.

Calypso Roots

June 18, 2015

Birchfield and Hausenfluck

June 7, 2015

The Dead March

May 28, 2015

Shortenin’ Bread

May 25, 2015

History of Congolese Music

May 22, 2015

Where Do You Get Your Whiskey?

May 11, 2015

Music of Surry County

May 8, 2015

Kante Manfila

May 4, 2015
 from,, and

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

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)




May 2, 2015


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


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.

Booth Killed Lincoln

April 14, 2015



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


 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.”

Treasures from the Archive Roadshow (#2)

April 11, 2015


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.

Wasn’t That a Time?

April 5, 2015

By Mike Ayers (

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

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

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

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

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

Hangman’s Reel

March 29, 2015

from and


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

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

Wayne Erbsen relates the following:

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

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

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

Acadian All Star Special

March 27, 2015


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


March 21, 2015

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

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

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

View video here.


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

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

Some verses of “Toubaka”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Bamboo

March 18, 2015

Antoine Moundanda

March 2, 2015


Antoine Moundanda is one of the prominent figures of African music and in particular of the Congolese scene.  Singer and composer, he plays the Likembe, or Kisansi, better  known as the Sanza (traditional instrument composed of metal slats fixed on a hollow wooden chamber). The literature about Congo music contains intriguing speculation about the influence of likembés or sanza traditions on the development of modern Congo music, especially the guitar parts.

As early as 1955 an international career opened up for Antoine Moundanda. He travelled to the four corners of the Earth, with his Sanza in his hand, now solo then with other artists. A perfectionist, resolutely modern, he has given a new dimension to this traditional instrument by taking it from 9 to 22 blades. An exceptional singer, an inspired composer, Antoine Moundanda is one of the creators of Rumba, one of the founding fathers of all modern Zairo-Congolese music.

Moundanda: “I learnt music playing the Kisani, accompanying my father in his work as a healer. As he looked after the sick I played music to keep out the bad spirits and to calm the patients. After his death I went to Brazzaville where I worked for the first time, in a Senegalese engineer’s family. At this time, under French and Belgian colonisation the industrialisation of Brazzaville and Leopoldville was in full swing.

Numerous factories were flowering on either side of the river as were nightclubs, like the “Congo Bar”, where Paul Kamba performed with his “Victoria Brazza Orchestra”. Kamba encouraged me to become professional and to create Likembé Géant at the beginning of the 50s. We recorded with this group thirty or so albums for the label Ngoma, several of which won the Osborn Prize, notably because we had introduced the likembé into modern Congolese music.

We played polka, djebola, rumba and traditional themes… resolutely inspired by our regional folklore. We had a lot of success. For example, for the opening night of a bar-restaurant in Bangui on the 31st December 1954 the audience preferred us to Kabelese’s African Jazz! We got the privilege of making people dance all evening. Quite dismayed, Kabalese and his band left before the end of the night!

But at the end of the 50s everything started to change. The public was no longer interested in us. They preferred to listen to pop music and the electric guitar: O.K. Jazz, the Bantous, Tabu Ley, things like that…. Ngoma’s studio was shut down. After that there was Independence and Papa Kourant and I found ourselves isolated. We had to go back to the jungle! Years of suffering followed up until 1967 when we got first prize at Dakar’s Festival des Arts Noirs (Festival of Black Art). After that, with a bit of good luck, we were able to work with the Congolese National Ballet and to collaborate with the Sony Labou Tansi’s Rocado Zulu theatre. Today if the general public want to re-discover their love of acoustic music, then they can count on us.”

John Engle

February 5, 2015

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 12.38.51 AM


Emulating Tommy Jarrell’s fiddling style had  become a single-minded

for John Engle. He had spent the past few years breaking it down to its smallest units

and rebuilding it into a comprehensive sound.
He clicked on a folder. Inside were scores of files, each titled according to the individual
numbers in Jarrell’s repertoire. Engle moved the pointer to one labeled “June Apple” and
clicked. It opened to reveal a string of triangles arranged across the screen, pointing either up
or down. The scheme didn’t look like much, but Engle explained all that had gone into it:
With the help of a piece of computer software, he had slowed each of the tunes down to
a more accessible speed.
At night, with head-hones on, he had listened to every note of every tune, alert to subtle cues
of bow-direction, turning each note over and examining it from every side with an almost
curatorial attention to detail.
“I have what I would describe as ‘fast’ hearing,” he explained. “It’s analogous to a sampling rate
in the recording process. You take five seconds of music, and a typical person’s brain hears it and
builds an image with that.  Me, I take 1,500 or 2,000 samples of that same five seconds and build
an image with that. But even at half-speed, with Tommy’s fiddling you still have a tremendous
amount of information going by you.”

William “Uncle Bud” Spencer flatfooting at Whitetop Folk Festival, 1930s

February 2, 2015

Jonathan Ward (#2)

January 30, 2015


78-rpm recordings from the American recording industry are becoming highly prized artifacts. The “good ones,” I mean. Rare blues, gospel and hillbilly recordings, printed on labels like Paramount, Black Patti and Gennett, have attained a mythical status and become the subjects of intense bidding wars among collectors. As you can imagine, many collectors have started to question the point of it all and wondering if there isn’t an area of 78-rpm collecting designed for the obsessive and dogmatic. Jonathan Ward’s solution to this problem has been to pursue the rich musical content found on ethnic 78s.

Apart from enjoying the music contained within the foreign disks, Ward appreciates that inflated value hasn’t rendered ethnic recordings as physical objects to be lusted over. “I’m tired of people telling me what’s good,” said Ward of the American 78-rpm recordings. “I’m waiting for the day that someone says Vernon Dalhart and Kessinger waltzes are pretty fantastic. I really am.” It’s easier to form your own opinions about music, he realized, if your discs come from a forgotten corner of the world.

Born in a diverse musical household, the Massachusetts-native developed a worldly ear at a young age. Ward recollected moments from his childhood where his mother would be playing classical piano and his father, exiled to the driveway, would be droning away on his bagpipes. “Meanwhile, I’d be sitting with headphones on listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery!’”

In his Echo Park apartment, Ward showed us how hearing an African one-string fiddle solo or a Mexican string band for the first time could be a lesson in empathy. He explained, “You have to be humble because these records were not made for you.” But it was hearing the strange and beautiful sounds of Madagascan music that first gave him the bug to start collecting African 78s. Ward described his collecting interests as a journey of the ears. “It has nothing to do with anyone else’s tastes. It’s really about new sounds – new to me!” he exclaimed.

In an effort to share these new sounds, Ward compiled Opika Pende: Africa at 78RPM (2013, Dust-to-Digital) to demonstrate the musical heterogeneity of the African recording industry. For this effort he received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Historical Album.

His records are neatly organized by country and, despite their inherent antiquatedness, represent the globalizing effect of online connections and auction sites. The delicate, shellac disks are shipped halfway across the world to his Los Angeles doorstep and for all he knows, each could be one of a kind; if one breaks, there’s no telling if another may ever surface to replace it. This explained why earthquake chains anchored each of his record shelves. He showed us a record that had broken upon arrival and a mended seam that stretched across the lower half. The repairman is a well-kept secret among a select group of 78-rpm collectors.

Since 2007, Ward’s ongoing project has been the blog Excavated Shellac where he posts mp3 transfers of pieces from his collection. Scrolling down his blog, you’ll see excavated music from South America, India, Pakistan, Yemen and Scotland to name a few. A photo of the label and an informative article about the style, musician(s) and origin gives context to the recording. Written in a well-informed, dry-humored voice, Ward discusses the birth of recording industries on a global level, his commentary often focusing around small local labels and their role in preserving the idiosyncrasies of traditional performance practices before the homogenizing effects of mass communication technologies set in.

Sitting in his listening room and hearing his records was like experiencing a live version of Excavated Shellac. For each disk, he supplied answers to questions about style, date and geographical location. We were most blown away by the range in dates of 78-rpm distribution across the globe – in the States we set the bar for 78-rpm production between 1924-33, but in countries like Colombia, 78s were being produced as late as the ‘70s!

Though self-promotion is still the primary means of exposure for ethnic 78rpm collectors, archival labels like Dust-to-Digital have started giving a larger spotlight to their efforts in the form of fancy box sets with photographs and extensive liner notes. Ward’s accomplishment with his collection – to bring the corners of the world together in the form of early-recorded music – merits such fancy box sets and the resulting awards and nominations.

However, his lesser-heralded accomplishment with Excavated Shellac has been to unite information from the isolated fields of ethnomusicology, discographical history and record collector fandom into one resource (a free one I might add). Perhaps the fact that he is also a super-kind, generous and non-obsessive human being should be thrown in there as well. At any rate, we hope you enjoy the video and join us in applauding Excavated Shellac for inspiring young collectors and for suggesting that greater possibilities still exist for the collecting and enjoyment of music on the 78 medium.

Hills of Mexico

January 18, 2015


Selling buffalo hides was for a short time a very lucrative business in the western frontier and countless hunters set out to get a slice of that cake. “Hills of Mexico”(or “Buffalo Skinners”) tells the adventurous story of a hunting party and their troubles. In the end the boss wants to deny his men their pay, so they kill him and leave his “bones to bleach on the range of the buffalo”.

“Buffalo Skinners” was first published by “Jack” Thorp in his Songs of the Cowboys (1908, as “Buffalo Range”, pp. 31-33).

N. Howard “Jack” Thorp (1867-1940) was originally from New York City but as a boy he used to spend the summers on a ranch in Nebraska. Later he moved to New Mexico to become a cowboy and he began learning their songs. In fact he soon was “a singing cowboy who carried his banjo-mandolin with him as he rode from cow camp to cow camp”. He started collecting songs in 1889. “His fifteen-hundred-mile horseback journey through New Mexico and Texas in 1889-90 was the first ballad-hunting adventure in the cowboy domain”. The first edition with 23 texts was privately published and only 1000 copies were printed.

Thorp’s book was the very first collection of cowboy songs and he was a pioneer in that field. But his efforts were quickly overshadowed by John A. Lomax from Texas whose Cowboy Songs And Other Frontier Ballads was published in 1910 and became much more influential, in fact it turned out to be the first stepping-stone towards that massive empire of Folk song he and later his son Alan were to erect in the following decades.

Lomax – at that time a professor for English at Texas A & M – had been interested in “frontier songs” for quite a long time.  He sent a circular to local newspapers and teachers and asked for songs. Most of what was included in Cowboy Songs was received from these kind of sources and there was not much real fieldwork. Some texts were even cribbed from Thorp’s book.

Nonetheless he managed to publish 112 songs, among them many that would become classics of that genre, for example “Home On The Range”, “Whopee-Ti-Yi-Yo, Git Along Little Dogies”, “The Old Chisholm Trail”, “Sweet Betsy From The Pike”, “Jesse James”, “The Days Of Forty-Nine”. “In canonizing cowboy songs instead of ancient ballads, Lomax changed the face of the folk, replacing the sturdy British peasant with the mythical western cowboy”

Back to the Future

January 16, 2015

“Here and Gone: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the 1960s”

January 13, 2015


“I’m the Zelig of the folk music world,” says John Cohen, laughing. “Always there in the background.”

A lot of documenting of American roots music at that time was by enthusiasts like yourself and not necessarily big record companies or even professional archivists. If people like you were not documenting these things we would have lost much of this music.

The old-time music was still around but it was dying out. We gave it a big push just by looking at it and presenting it. That might be a good way to think about what we did. I’m playing with a young band now, the Down Hill Strugglers. They’re wonderful and they have same musical taste and the same idea about music that the Ramblers had, which is really exiting. Since Mike Seeger died and the Ramblers were finished, it was strange for me, empty. But then these guys came by and it was full.

You have a song on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which was set during the folk revival. What did you think of the film?

I liked it. I know lot of people who say it wasn’t that way. But I don’t care, I liked it. What I got from the film was it reminded me of all the anxieties of that period. Not the specifics, but the anxieties. Should you do this or should you do that. Should you go commercial and if you go commercial, then what happens if you give up a regular life. What happens if you lean this way, what happens if you lean that way. All these things. If you go all the way to Chicago to make a hit and change your mind and do something very traditional — those are the kinds of anxieties that I remember tremendously all the time. There were the commercial possibilities all around us and we weren’t taking them.

Your new book features photographs you took of Woody Guthrie. How did you meet him?

I first saw him in person in 1950. He was not that far gone yet. He was starting down that path. I had seen him over the years, a little bit here little bit there. What it really came down to his muscles were out of control [due to his suffering from Huntington’s Disease]. There were people who photographed him that way. But I couldn’t bear doing that. I could see a certain dignity and strength that would show up and that’s what I photographed. I didn’t want to look for pity or anything like that. Most of my photographs have some of that spark still with him.

At a later stage, it was very strange. You could go to [the hospital] and say, “I’d like to take Woody Guthrie to New York to take him to a concert.” “Okay! Hey Woody!” There was no great security. I felt I was going to a library and checking out Woody Guthrie.

I sat with him in a big concert at Carnegie Hall. It was in a special box. And Pete Seeger was onstage singing that wonderful [Woody Guthrie] song “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Everybody was singing along with it. But Woody hadn’t meant it to be a song. It was just a poem to him. So he was reciting it as a poem. Hearing him in one ear and then thousands of people singing it as a song in another ear was very touching.

I knew him a little bit earlier. I visited him at record stores, we had some conversations. He was also sort of lost and always was a little bit difficult at first in person. But I was so deeply appreciative of his music. It meant so much to me. That was quite comfortable. And I am blessed in a strange way that I had a similar easygoing relationship with Dylan. It was never a big promotional buddy-buddy kind of thing either

Slack Key Guitar

January 7, 2015

Ledward Kaapana playing a slack key lullaby

from “A Short History of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar” (



December 31, 2014


from and

 Festival is a documentary of the Newport Folk Festivals from 1963 to 1966.  In 97 black and white minutes we are given clips of nearly 50 performers, not a single number is presented from start to uninterrupted finish.   There is a magnificent interview with Mike Bloomfield, a stunning  close-up monologue in which the gifted Son House explains the BLUES – a few minutes worth the price the admission – the always mind-blowing Howlin’ Wolf, and, lastly,  the holy grail of film footage, the first available film of Dylan’s first electric set. 
“Festival” is  a cinematic synthesis of four Newport Folk Festivals in which the art of folk music is pictured in transition during its most crucial years.  The range is also from the high-priced professionals like Peter, Paul, and Mary to the authentic folk dignity of living legends such as  Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Eck Robertson, Clayton McMichen, Texas Gladden, and the Ed Young Fife and Drum Corps, and numerous others that give a feeling of community with the whole American present, and continuity with the American past.
Indeed, the long-haired Newport audiences pictured sleeping on beaches and on the grounds, in sports cars and battered station wagons, plunking banjoes and guitars, swapping tunes between formal concerts, and talking about folk music, seem not a rupture with the American past, but an expression of carrying forward an American idealism and social concern.
Clayton McMichen at Newport:

Kyle Creed’s “Liberty” LP

December 25, 2014

Track Listing:


Maintaining the Mountains

December 5, 2014

In the Tradition

November 25, 2014

2nd South Carolina String Band (#2)

November 23, 2014

Music starts after 1 minute.

John Cohen Looks Back

November 7, 2014

The Ozark Highballers

October 29, 2014

“Pike’s Peak” from Ted Sharp. Played here by Clarke Buehling (banjo), Seth Shumate (harmonica), Roy Pilgrim (fiddle), and Aviva Steigmeyer (guitar). (Key of C).

Women of Old Time Music

October 21, 2014

New Rafe and Clelia DVD

October 17, 2014

Rafe and Clelia Stefanini DVDBUY the Rafe & Clelia Stefanini DVD now at

Featuring 17 fiddle and banjo tunes.


Women of These Hills

October 15, 2014

Mother and Wife

October 6, 2014

Kennesaw Mountain Rag – Young Old-time Fiddler, Mickey Nelligan

September 29, 2014

Blue Skies (Gypsy Jazz) – Gonzalo Bergara Quartet with Leah Zeger on Violin

September 28, 2014

Cacklin’ Hen

September 26, 2014