December 2009

The Aymara is an indigenous population (about two million people) centered around Lake Titicaca in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains; they can be found living in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The Aymara language was originally coded and written in symbols to be used as mnemonic devices – somewhat similar to Egyptian glyphs. Under the influence of Spanish invasion and re-culturation, an alphabet was formed to notate the Aymara language. Some examples of interesting letters include “chh”, “kh” and “qh.” The sound of the language, while certainly informed by Spanish, has some Germanic and Arabic guttural qualities that come from pronouncing certain phonemes from the back of the throat.

Los Jilicatas, as far as I have been able to find, is a flower species of the Andes. This recording was captured around Lake Titicaca sometime in the early 1940’s; instruments include pan pipes, a drum, tambourine and a triangle. The groove is infectious and the sonority is strange, the beautiful harmonization being microtonally at odds with itself throughout (at least to the Western ear.)

Music of Peru, Ethnic Folkways – Los Jilicatas (Aymara Dance) <<PLAY

Laura C. Boulton (1899-1980) was a famous and eager ethnomusicologist from Conneaut, Ohio. She made many trips to remote, strange and otherwise misunderstood parts of the world to record the music of “pre-civilized” peoples: Nepal and Ethiopia to name a couple. She also made recordings of African musicians as part of the Straus West African Expedition of the 1930’s, which was sponsored by Chicago’s own Field Museum of Natural History. Almost all of the material was recorded on sight in rural settings, i.e huts, dirt roads, plains, and called for one-take performances by the best of the local singers and players. At that time recording technology was cumbersome, to say the least, and teams of researchers were required to travel around in truck convoys to transport and operate the machinery needed to capture the inspired magnetism to tape. Boulton made a total of twenty-eight visits to Africa for this project, yielding hundreds of invaluable documents.

The example here is two parts of a long song cycle celebrating former kings who became deities after natural death. The ceremony would last for three months and it was a great orgy of worship, and human sacrifice. The first excerpt is the accompaniment  to the dance of  the wives of the Obba, or “king”. The second excerpt is the Obba’s song which follows immediately in ceremony (as well as on this record). After the last notes, the priest kills the candidates who are then offered up to the gods.

This was recorded in Benin Province in the south of Nigeria by the Bini tribe royal musicians who had all participated in the annual sacrifice. These musicians held incredible prestige in their community and were likened to spirit messengers.

African Music, Rhythm in the Jungle Vol. 1 – Ceremonial Song of Obba’s Wives and Obba <<<PLAY

Alexandre Brailowsky was born in 1896 in the city of Kiev. He was a prodigious child musician, first studying piano with his father and then at the Kiev Conservatory. Other teachers included Leschetizky (Vienna 1911 to about 1914) and Ferruccio Busoni (Zurich); Brailowsky completed master studies in France with Francis Plante. In 1919 he made his concert debut in Paris, and in 1926 he became a French citizen. A specialist in the works of  Frederic Chopin, he performed the first ever complete Chopin cycle (using the composer’s very own piano) in 1924, in Paris. Afterward he travelled the globe, playing the same historical recital in cities like Brussels, Montevideo and New York, among others.

Brailowsky played more than Chopin and made durable, noteworthy recordings of Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Saint-Saens. This posting is of a Mendelssohn scherzo which I happened upon at an estate sale a few weeks ago: so much more for interest because on the other side is Brailowsky playing Schumann’s Songes Troubles, Op. 12 No 7 (which I might also post sometime.)

It is on the French Polydor label from the recordings of 1928-1934, beautiful, and a complete rarity in the  78 rpm format.

Alexandre Brailowsky-Scherzo en Mi Mineur, Op.16 No 2, Mendelssohn <<PLAY

Bob, Joe and Merle were the Shelton Brothers. As country musicians, they were popular enough in the 1930’s through the 1960’s to “cut” over 150 sides, and a good number of those were steady poppin’ and boppin’ just like this one. Look these dudes up.

From the Decca label, 1939.

Shelton Bros. – If You Don’t Like my Peaches (Leave my Tree Alone)<<PLAY

There has been a long standing dispute as to the origins of the song “Key to the Highway.” It has been played and recorded by many, in many contexts: blues, folk, a capella, instrumental etc.  Big Bill Broonzy, a true Chicago blues heavyweight, recorded it in the 50’s and made it famous; some say (and some editions and histories say) that he wrote the tune as well. What I am posting here is Jazz Gillum’s version recorded in 1940 for the BlueBird label, and my favorite by far. The light, driving stomp and the warm vocals tell the simple story perfectly.

Singing and harmonica is Gillum; the sidemen are Al Collins on imitation bass and (!) Big Bill Broonzy on guitar.

The author credit on this version is listed as Jazz Gillum.

This particular 78 I found in one of Chicago’s best known antique shops. However, it is not the cleanest copy: plenty of wear to this obviously well-played record.

Jazz Gillum – Key to the Highway <<<PLAY