Friday, October 11, 2013

Found Treasures in the World Music Collection

Though Pima County Public Library has transitioned largely into digital music distribution through freegal, many treasures are still available in the CD collection at your nearest library.  And because borrowing music from the library is free, why not take a chance on some unknown music, maybe even some unknown music from a distant land?  This is a practice I have begun, and it has broadened my musical horizons in wonderful ways.  Read on to hear about my favorite random finds from PCPL's World Music collection.

The first World Music Random Treasure is Calypso Awakening.  As I best recall, I stumbled upon this incredible CD one afternoon that I went to Woods Branch for a meeting.  I arrived a few minutes early, and this compilation jumped off the shelf.  Calypso music from deep in the Caribbean (Trinidad? I guess it's the Caribbean), what's not to like, especially for the low, low, price of nothing?  I checked out the CD and hoped for the best.

Recorded mostly on-site (in clubs, "calypso tents") in Trinidad in the 1950's by audio innovator Emory Cook, this collection of songs is a pleasure.  Here are some of the tracks worth highlighting:

1. "Saturday Night Blowout" - This instrumental showcases the popular John Buddy Williams Band in a jazzy dance number full of improvisation.  Suitable for all occasions, my favorite number on the disc.

2. "Booboo Man" - While not necessarily one of my favorites, this one is worth mentioning as this original version by Lord Melody was later covered by Harry Belafonte and loved by Ella Fitzgerald.

5. "No, Doctor, No" - A catchy number by Mighty Sparrow in which he reminds the politicians, "We support them in September.  They better come good, because I have a big piece of mango wood."

7. "Tuning of a Pingpong" - In case you ever wanted to hear an authentic Trinidadian steel drum being tuned.

8. "Yankees Gone" - A lively recording of a steel drum band parading during carnival.

9. "Yankees Gone" - A song celebrating the departure of American soldiers from Trinidad.  Apparently the local playboys had a difficult time competing for the affection of Trinidadian women when the US soldiers were stationed there, as the soldiers had a more ready supply of cash to entertain with.

10. "Picong Duel" - Straight from the liner notes: "Verbal dexterity and the ability to compose verses ex tempore have been greatly appreciated over the years.  Picong melodies are nearly always the same, but the friendly insults (picong) vary according to circumstances.  Picong belongs to a larger Afro-American legacy of sung (or otherwise performed) insults, represented in the U.S. by traditions of verbal dueling such as "the dozens" (also known as "signifying," "snapping," etc.).  Here the two great performers of the day, Lord Melody and Mighty Sparrow go at it.

13. "Carnival Proclamation" - Another upbeat (well, I guess they're all upbeat) number from Lord Melody.

14. "Paye" - Just try not dancing to this one.

15. "Come Go Calcutta" - A driving piano behind this tale of Trinidadians of African and Indian backgrounds trying to embark on a cross-cultural relationship.

19. "He No Dead Yet" - A wonderful tune about family squabbling over inheritance.  Everyone in the family wants their share of the father's property, but as the singer, King Fighter, points out, "He no dead yet."  To which the family responds, "Voom fly a follow he."  A voom fly is a fly that buzzes around carrion.  This is another favorite.

The other CD that I feel very fortunate to have randomly discovered is Songs of the African Coast: Cafe Music of Liberia.  I found this one right here at my home library of Himmel.  These songs, also recorded in their natural setting (in this case, Liberian cafes), this time by Arthur S. Alberts in the 1940s.  When these songs were released in 1954, there importance was commented on by musicologists to point out the relationship between African music and that of the Caribbean and America.  Some of these recordings were used by Martin Scorsese for his 2003 documentary, The Blues.

Some of these tunes are actually quite similar to what can be found on the Calypso Awakening CD.  Here are a few of the track highlights:

4.  "Gbanawa" - I just love this track, and I like this version slightly more than...

7. "Gbanawa" - This one is worth mentioning because the liner notes point out that trumpeter in the trumpet solo first picked up a trumpet for the first time only two weeks previous to the recording.  He "learned how to play in so short a time by concentrated listening to an American jazz disc."

11. "All Fo' You" - A lovely sing-a-long despite the subject matter of extreme domestic violence.

12. "Woman Sweeter than Man" - A great call-and-response about the battle of the sexes.

Enjoy these and all the other great treasures in the World Music Collection!

Cheers, Brian

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