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Music to make the world seem small

Jonathan Ward (Handout)


Music to make the world seem small

New collections chart folk music across the globe

If you’re the kind of cineaste who watches Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes for the scene in which Michael Redgrave browbeats peasants into helping him document Bandrikan folk music, you’ll love Dust-to-Digital’s new digital anthology, Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music.

Available via Bandcamp or for an unusually reasonable $35, the collection presents 100 78-RPM-era songs from almost as many countries. Bandrika isn’t among them (it doesn’t really exist). But there’s music from actual countries Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Some of it, especially Fr. Dukli Wiejska Banda’s waltzing instrumental “Na Wykretke” (1928) and Šule Radosavljevič-Šapčanin’s lustily sung “Jeleno, Momo Jeleno” (1927), is Bandrikan to the core.

Africa contributes highlights as well. One late-1950s recording captures the organ-accompanied Ugandan church choir Abaimbi be Kanisa Lutiko eye Namirembe singing the hauntingly beautiful “Oje Omwoyo Omutukuvu” (“You Are the Holy Spirit”) in a cathedral with heavenly acoustics. The buoyantly strummed guitars and mandolins of “O Ta Nikona” by the Mozambican Enosse Kuhanya Muni (1953), meanwhile, sound almost like a trial run at Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.”

The project’s overseer, Jonathan Ward, has supplied a 185-page liner PDF and filled it with detailed information about each track and an introductory essay putting it all in context. With Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves in charge of audio restoration, even the most “out there”-sounding tracks possess an ear-friendly vibrancy.    

Speaking of “out there,” people who grew up associating the terms “Japanese” and “avant-garde” with the yowlings of Yoko Ono should know that nothing on the just-released The Rough Guide to Avant-Garde Japan (World Music Network)—not the babies imitating Yoko Ono in the background of the saxophonist Masanori Oishi’s sublime “Syracuse Blues” or the rappers spitting Nipponese fire over the playfully jittery electro-weirdness of Cockroach Eater’s “Kyogen Qabbalah”—will have them holding their ears.

As with Excavated Shellac, listeners will marvel at the collection’s variety of sounds and how far a little experimenting can go toward rejuvenating moribund genres.

A more important awareness-raising awaits those who give the ninth volume of Naxos’ Folk Music of China series its due. Subtitled Folk Songs of the Uzbeks & Tatars of China, it gives voice to the Uyghur Muslims whose persecution is becoming the defining human-rights atrocity of the 21st century.

Actually, it gives voices (and mandolins and accordions), and in so doing it evokes a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hopes, and a world of fears.

It really is a small world after all.


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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 02/28/2021 05:45 am

    I'm not positive  but it seems to me this paragraph conveys the opposite of what it is meant to say. If you take out the parenthetic or explanatory middle section here is what it says and why I'm confused,

    Speaking of “out there,” people who grew up associating the terms “Japanese” and “avant-garde” with the yowlings of Yoko Ono should know that nothing on the just-released The Rough Guide to Avant-Garde Japan (World Music Network)—...—will have them holding their ears.

    So this sounds like nothing on this just released work will have us holding our ears. So I should pick it up because it must be worth listening to with ears "open" and uncovered. Is that what was meant?