Friday, September 29, 2023

The NRR Project: the Standing Rock Reservation Recordings


Standing Rock Reservation Recordings

Members of the Yanktoni Tribe

Recorded by: George Herzog

Recorded 1928

205 Yanktoni songs

First of all, I could not do better than the explanatoryessay by Daniel B. Reed, as published on the National Recording Registry website. It is concise yet comprehensive, full of all the information you might like to know on the subject.

That being said, it behooves me to take a crack at of at least summarizing this entry’s contents. It consists of 205 songs of the Yanktoni tribe of the Sioux nation, sung by seven members of the tribe, recorded in 1928 by budding (and pioneering) ethnomusicologist George Herzog. The songs range from sacred and ceremonial songs to secular pieces, made contemporaneously with the time of performance.

It seems distinctly ironic to me that the powers that be in the white man’s world first marked native Americans for destruction, subjugated them, and then meticulously preserved and studied the remnants of their culture. This schizophrenic pattern concerning indigenous and minority peoples is a familiar one. Nonetheless, with or without apologies here is a collection of vital memories that otherwise would have been lost forever.

Recorded on wax cylinders, the collection is still in the process of being digitized. Beyond the documentation of a collapsed culture, the material offers insights to scholarly researchers. Above all, it provides a link to the past for the surviving descendant’s of the songs’ singers.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Blind Willie McTell and ‘Statesboro Blues.’



Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Smyrneikos Balos'

Smyrneikos Balos


Performed by Marika Papagika; accompanists unknown

Recorded 1928


It took a while for ethnic music to be represented on American recordings. Frankly, at the beginning record companies wanted popular hits; for a few decades they maximized mainstream music production, putting out whatever they thought would catch the fancy of the widest possible audience.

But gradually it came to be realized that there were smaller but markedly more enthusiastic groups of folks that would buy ethnic music, specifically music from their homeland. The pangs of assimilating into American culture were tempered by an adherence to and affection for old, traditional cultural creations, helping to maintain the identity of the immigrants.

Marika Papagika was among the earliest Greek-American artists to be recorded. She was born on the island of Kos in 1890; she began her recording career in Alexandria, Egypt in 1913-14. Soon after that, she and her husband Kostas (Gus) immigrated to America. Over the course of 1918-19, she began to record for both Victor and Columbia. The subset of ethnic music fans snapped up her recordings, making her famous in the context of the Greek-American community.

In 1925, she and her husband opened a nightclub (and speakeasy), Marika’s, at 34th and 8th in Manhattan. There, the Greek-American, and migrants from other regions near the old country, settled in for food, conversation, and entertainment. \

It is estimated that she recorded at least 232 sides during her American recording career, 1918-1929. All were songs from the old country. She was accompanied by her husband on the cymbalom, and by others at various times on violin, cello, and clarinet.

Her soprano voice is clear and vibrant, keening at one moment and slurring into a note-quaver the next. Smyrneikos Balos is a dance tune, but it is also a lover’s lament, and even those of us with no Greek can catch the energy of longing she puts into the song.

Marika’s closed in 1930, and Marika more or less retired. Still, her 78 r.p.m. slices of sounds from home comforted its listeners.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: the Standing Rock Preservation Recordings.



Thursday, September 14, 2023

The NRR Project: 'Allons a Lafayette'


Allons a Lafayette


Performed by Joseph Falcon and Cleva Breaux; vocals, Leon Meche

Recorded April 27, 1928


It’s the first commercial recording of Cajun music. Now, let’s figure out – what is Cajun music? Who are Cajuns?

It starts back during the time of the French and Indian War. The British wrested Canada from the French, and dealt the French-speaking population of the colony of Acadia a bitter blow – they forcibly exiled thousands of them to Louisiana, between the years of 1755 and 1764. Why Louisiana? For the simple fact that France still controlled it.

This “Great Expulsion” meant that a whole set of language, custom, and culture was transported south and intermingled with the predominant Creole (mixed-race) heritage of the region. They wound up creating a unique and vibrant mini-culture, grounded in spicy and delicious food, dance, and music.

 Cajun tunes come primarily in two forms – the first, a hopping-fast two-step full of juicy chords emanating from the accordion, guitar, fiddle, and percussion quartet that forms the typical Cajun music ensemble; the second consists of dreamy waltzes. This is perfect music for a party, infectious and good-tempered.

Using only an accordion and guitar, Falcon and Breaux create a sonic storm, an onslaught of notes topped by the keening vocals of Meche in Cajun French, itself a unique concoction of colloquial language.

The song is derived from a traditional tune, “Jeune Gens Campagnard,” but it’s sped up and given new lyrics. In “Allons,” the singer is cajoling his beloved, asking her to change her name and get out of town with him, presumably to engage in some hanky-panky. The jolly, light-hearted tune became a hit, guaranteeing that more of this unique music would be recorded, preserved, and celebrated.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Smyrneikos Balos.

The NRR Project: Rachmaninoff and Stokowski

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff Performed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano Philadelphia Symphony Orchestr...