In the 1950’s, Alan Lomax travelled througout Europe and made his home in London. There he assisted and had an important role in a “Folk revival” parallel to the one happening in the United States. Many young English of this time were deeply moved and influenced by American Folk Music, through concert performances, radio and records. The “Skiffle” craze of this years introduced the folk songs and Blues songs of America in a way The Kingston Trio and college folkgroups presented them to a wide young audience in the US. After American Blues and Folk gave the impulse to take the guitar and sing, many searched for their own folk music and soon an “English folk revival” was on his way and once again, Lomax had a vital role in this.
On this volume of the “World Library” Lomax used mostly recordings made by the B.B.C and some he recorded himself. It’s a good introduction to the old folk traditions of England, with ballads, dance and instrumental songs. Lomax pointed out in his introduction that many of this traditions were dying out in the 20th century because of the “Industrial revolution” that threatened the old rural village ways so this recordings are just a fascinating glimpse of the music that was played and sung in the “Old England”. Important folk singers are present here, the oldest being Phil Tanner, from Wales, with recordings made in the 1930’s, The Copper family and A.L Lloyd and Ewan McColl, who were deeply influential in the “English Folksong revival”.(Photos of Phil Tanner and Ewan Mc Coll with a young Peggy Seeger)
For this second volume of the World Library, we make a tour of what was called “French west Africa” and also the island of Madagascar. These recordings were made in by french explorers and ethnomusicologists between 1931 and 1950. The territories visited included (in order of appearance on the disc) the Sahara desert, Upper Volta (Burkina-Faso), Somalia, Niger, Sudan (Mali), Guinea, Madagascar, Togo, Gabon and Congo. Most of these countries were under colonial rules by the french until the 1960’s. André Schaeffner and Gilbert Rouget were both working in the musicology departement of the “Musée de l’Homme” in Paris and made many expeditions in Africa to record music of different tribes.The french filmmaker Jean Rouch contribued also many fine recordings. At a time where most people in occidental countries knew almost nothing of african tribal music and often despised it or had a reduced view about it, they made important studies to extend the knowledge and appreciation of the beauty and richness of this music. The discovery of this culture influenced many artists in France, in particular the “surealist movement”. Many poets, musicians, philosophers were deeply moved by this “primitive” world and its strange and beautiful means of expressions.
African tribal music is not only characterized by complex and powerful rhytmic systems but also by intricate vocal polyphonies. Many tribes are also influenced by muslims, both in the vocal and instrumental traditions and the music of Madagascar in particular, showed a complex set of influences by both asian, european and arabic peoples who came to the island. It’s important to say that all the tracks are only short excerpts of longer performances (some can last hours), and are connected to social or magical practices.(On the pictures below: André Schaeffner in Mali, 1931, noting the music of a Dogon drummer and with Marcel Griaule in Cameroun, 1932 with members of the Kirdi tribe)
-In addition to the recordings below, i’d like to add some 78rpm records from my collection that were recorded during an expedition in 1946 made by André Didier, Gilbert Rouget and Domnique Graisseau. Called “Mission Ogooue-Congo”, it’s the first “field recordings” made in “Pygmy” country”, in the heart of the equatorial forest, along the big Ogooue river crossing middle-Congo and all the Gabon country. Duuring this trip, three documentary films and 500 recordings of music were made. Some excerpts of this recordings were released on discs during the early fifties on the french label “La Boite à Musique”. The three discs presented here contains some fines examples of instrumental and vocal music.
When Alan Lomax left the United States in 1948 he made his home in London, and started immediately to record and travel throughout England, Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, Seamus Ennis, the famous singer and musician served him as a guide and translator for the Gaelic songs. Ennis was himself a field collector who already collected tunes and songs all over Ireland. He appears many times on the first volume of “The World Library”, both as a singer and player of the uileann pipes. Another great character is Margaret Barry, a powerful street singer from Cork who accompanies her singing with a 5-String Banjo. Lomax would record her again in London where she lived throughout the fifties and became a well-known figure of the pubs and clubs, often playing with fiddler Michael Gorman. The emphasis on this first volume of The World Library is on the vocal styles and the beautiful Gaelic language but it features also fine samples of instrumental music played on fiddle and uileann pipes. (On the photos below: Semus Ennis in the 1950’s holding his uileann pipes and Michael Gorman with Margaret Barry)
-I digitalized my vinyl copy of the disc but didn’t cut the performances in separate tracks. I prefered to have an mp3 of each side to restituate “the vinyl experience” of listening an entire side of performances in a row. As these records were issued more than fifty years ago, the copy i have contains many pops and clics but it’s not so annoying, at least for someone like me, who is used to hear 78rpm scratchy records! I say to myself, it’s like listening music close to the fireside, with the clics of the wood burning…For those who wants a cleaner sound, there’s always the possibilty to buy the re-issue cd on Rounder Records…
One of the most famous field-recorder and folklorist is without a doubt Alan Lomax. Born in Texas in 1915 and son of the pionneer american folklorist John Lomax, he devoted his life to record traditionnal music “in the field”. First with his father and after on his own, he documented extensively music of the American South, working for the Library of Congress of Washington. His work on african-american musical traditions is well known for example. In the Fifties, during the “Red Scare”, he preferred to leave the U.S to live in Europe and made field-trips to Spain and Italy. It was during this period that he had the idea for a serie of lp records that would document the world’s musical traditions. He proposed the idea to Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records, that agreed to issue what he collected. During the fifties he contacted many folklorists around the world, asking them to collaborate to the serie. In fact, apart from the British Isles, Spain and Italy volumes, his work was just as editor of the whole serie. Columbia records issued 18 volumes between 1955 and 1964 (more than 40 volumes were planned in the beginning) under the title “World Library of Folk and primitive Music”. Apart from the pioneering work of Moses Ash with Folkways records, this was the first time that “World music” was presented on long-playing records with documented notes and pictures and many other collections would follow in the same vein afterward. Rounder Records have re-issued in the last years some volumes on cd, along with many other important Lomax recordings but even on cd, some volumes seems to be out-of-print.
-In the next few months, i would like to present this important collection and give you the opportunity to hear most of the recordings issued as “The World Library of Folk and Primitive Music”. I don’t have all the 18 volumes, but for now i have 11 volumes on lp and 3 on cd. I will present briefly each volume i have, digitalize the ones i have on vinyl, and give some pictures of the records along with the liner notes. I hope it will be a fascinating and enjoyable trip for all of us….