Rural Laos
January 28, 2012, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Laos

Laos was one of the least recorded countries in terms of 78s. In fact, it’s likely that there were NO 78s recorded in Laos itself. There was a batch made by visiting musicians at the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris (see Excavated Shellac for an example.) The only other Lao 78s I’m aware of were made in 1927 by Victor, seemingly in the Central Vietnamese city of Hue.

The development of the recording industry in Southeast Asia mirrors the region’s history in general, coastal cities were the center of trade and growth. Likewise, the early record companies traveled by ship from port to port, starting with Fred Gaisberg’s historic trip in 1902. But Laos is Southeast Asia’s only landlocked nation and is not easily accessible, being bordered by mountains and rivers. It’s no surprise that recording teams never made the arduous trip to Laos. What is surprising is that this handful of Lao recordings were made at all. I’ll be writing about this in more detail for an upcoming project about Southeast Asian 78s…

The khene (khaen in Thailand) is the iconic instrument of the Lao people, including those living in Isaan, the region of Northeast Thailand that formerly belonged to Laos . The khene is basically a bamboo harmonica, two rows of pipes connected in a raft-like form. The player breathes in and out, creating an insistent rhythmic groove. The singing, or lam, is often done by a male and female in a kind of teasing, yet playful repartee.

Here, the male, Mr. Thi, sings “please don’t desert me and make me a widower.  If you have to ride on an elephant, don’t forget me.” The female makes a short response, and the male continues saying,  “if you don’t love me, you have many ways to say it or to refuse what I offer.” She replies that she’s always ready to accept what he offers. Racy stuff, folks.

> Victor 40072a

Thanks as always to Terry Miller for his help deciphering the music on these Lao and Thai records!


New Albanian lp
November 23, 2011, 11:51 am
Filed under: Announcements

I’ll be working up some new posts in January as time allows. In the meantime, I want to give a shout out to Hinter records and collector/sound engineer Chris King for the great work on their new lp of Albanian 78s called Don’t Trust Your Neighbors. It’s been awhile since the fantastic Albanian Village Music cd was issued, and the selections on this record are just as amazing, with excellent sound quality. It’s nicely designed and you can’t argue with a cover by Crumb. I’m sure Haji Maji fans will love this record, and since there were only 1000 pressed you should grab it now!


October 24, 2011, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Announcements

***UPDATE – the show is no longer available online, but I will be posting some of the records from the radio show at ShellacHead.com***

I’ve always thought of Haji Maji as a sort of (extremely) slow motion radio show. Well, next sunday afternoon Haji Maji will hit the airwaves for real. My pal Tom Diamant, host of KPFA’s venerable Panhandle Country, has invited me to stop by and play some 78s from my collection. “String bands of the world” was mandated to me as a general theme and I’ve more or less stuck to it. We’ll leave the usual Haji Maji territory of the Far East and explore some recordings from the rest of the world; Greece, India, Turkey, Syria, Ukraine, Albania, Japan, Kenya, Bahrain, Persia, Afghanistan, Morocco, Egypt, Norway and probably more. As far as I know, none of these records have been reissued on cd. Yakking will be interspersed, facts dispensed, speculations proffered and one or two upcoming projects might be revealed.

You can listen via old fashioned radio waves or online at the url below. The archive of the show should be available for a limited time about a week after broadcast.

***UPDATE – the archive of the show is no longer available online.***

Sunday, October 30th
3-5pm (Pacific Time)
KPFA (94.1 FM, Berkeley)

October 20, 2011, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Java

In 1905, Beka made it’s first recordings in Indonesia, then called the Dutch East Indies.  After first recording in Constantinople, Cairo, Calcutta and Rangoon, the team of Willy Bielefeld, Heinrich Blumb and William Hadert recorded examples of Javanese gamelan and the popular stamboul songs in the Dutch East Indies. Subsequent trips were made up until the outbreak of WWI. During the years before the war, both Beka and Odeon were acquired by the Carl Lindstroem company, with a few smaller labels as well, consolidating German recording activity under one company. Unfortunately, the war severely disrupted the German recording industry. But by the mid-1920s, things were going well and the Lindstroem lables began to recover. Beka had many hits with Miss Riboet and other stamboul stars, and they continued to record Gamelan music from Java as well. In 1928 they made their legendary trip to Bali, along with Odeon, making the only Balinese Gamelan recordings from the era, although the Balinese records were commercial failures at the time. Like all the Lindstroem labels, Beka was included in the mega-merger of 1931 that created EMI.

Max Birkhahn was one of the main recording engineers in Indonesia during this period, and in 1928 he recorded the record presented here. I don’t know much about the music contained herein, but maybe one of our enlightened Haji Maji readers can come to the rescue. The title refers to Indonesian coffee (kopi) made with condensed milk.

>Beka 27958

Opika Pende has arrived!
October 5, 2011, 9:48 am
Filed under: Announcements

I’m happy to report that Jonathan Ward’s new compilation of African 78s is shipping!
I’m sure most Haji Maji readers are  familiar with Ward’s kick ass blog, Excavated Shellac, and this release cranks his blog up to “11”.
Published by Dust-to-Digital, Opika Pende features 100 tracks on 4 cds with a 100+ page hardcover book, plus the detailed research for which Ward is known.
Not only that, my wife designed the entire thing and it looks awesome.

Check it out here.

Eastern Javanese Gamelan (INDONESIA)
August 28, 2011, 12:51 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Java

As many of you probably know, the term “gamelan” refers to an entire ensemble of instruments, as well as the music played by said ensemble. A gamelan consists of  bronze gongs of different sizes and bronze keyed instruments that look something like a xylophone. Percussion, fiddle, flute and voice may also be included. Each gamelan is a unique set of instruments with it’s own sound, tuning and character. Instruments from one gamelan cannot be interchanged with another ensemble.

Most Balinese, Javanese and Sundanese gamelan are tuned to one of two main scale systems, pelog and slendro. Pelog has seven pitches and is reminiscent of a Western major scale, although notes don’t exactly match up. Slendro (or salendro in Sundanese) is a five note scale in which all the notes are basically equidistant, something not found in western music. It’s important to remember that each gamelan has a unique version of these tuning systems, not to mention the range in which it’s tuned.

The music played by a gamelan is built in layers. Generally speaking, the higher pitched instruments play a denser more elaborate melody, more notes per minute. Lower pitched instruments play versions of the melody that are simpler and sparse.  The important thing is that all the instruments land on certain important notes together.  This concept of simultaneous variation is common throughout Southeast Asia. Check out the Vietnamese Vong Co recordings on this site for some other striking examples of simultaneous variation. Gamelan music uses interlocking patterns to create a temporal structure. The combination is termed “polyphonic stratification.” An academic term that creates a nice mental picture. As a student at the University of Michigan, 20 years ago, I played in the Javanese gamelan ensemble and my favorite moment was always when the lowest (and largest) gong would sound at the endpoint of each cycle. The effect was monumental as all the instruments concluded their melody and the low gong rippled throughout the room. You feel it more than hear it.

Gamelan music is hundred’s of years old, but the first recording label to venture to Indonesia, which was then called the Dutch East Indies and controlled by the Dutch, was the German label Beka, in 1905. They were followed a year or two later by Odeon. The Gramophone Company lagged behind in entering the Indonesian market. In fact, Odeon had come to dominate the Indonesian market to such an extent that in 1909 Frederick Gaisberg complained, “The business in Java for the Odeon company has been wonderful for the last two years, they being the only company in the field. The Odeon Company, during the last two years, have made two recording trips to Java, and are now starting on a third.” (Paul Vernon, Odeon Records; Their Ethnic Output).
In 1911 Beka was absorbed by Odeon and around the time of this recording, in 1931, both labels were part of the huge EMI merger.

Here’s a piece in the pathet sanga. Pathet is the Indonesian version or modes, raga, maqam, etc. Sanga is one of the three central Javanese modes in slendro. I believe this piece is from Surabaya, in Eastern Java, so the version of pathet differs from the Central Javanese. It’s sung by the pasinden (female singer) M.A Soetinah.

>Beka B88757_2

Gamelan records are extremely hard to come by, highly sought after and usually pretty beat up. I’ll post a few of my more listenable records, but you should also check out 78 collector Mike Robertson’s youtube page. Mike has a fantastic collection of gamelan records (and more) which you can hear on youtube.
Somehow, they seem to fall right out of the sky and into Mike’s lap!

July 9, 2011, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Java

One thing that I love about Southeast Asian music is the sense of multiple melodies swirling around each other, weaving in and out, yet always seeming to end up in the right place. This is especially true of gambang kromong.

Gambang kromong is a vernacular music from the outskirts of Jakarta. It is the music of the Betawi, long time inhabitants of the Jakarta area of Java, as well as the Peranakan, people who are a mix of Chinese and Indonesian. The music is often performed at weddings or in musical theater.

The ensemble consists of gambang, an 18 key xylophone and the kromong, a small set of kettle gongs. Other instruments often included are a 2 string fiddle (tehyan) similar to the erhu, suling (flute), an array of percussion instruments and anything from western brass to electric guitar (see Folkway’s Music of Indonesia vol. 3).

Irama was Indonesia’s first independent record label, started in 1954 by Suyoso Karsono. Irama released a wide variety of traditional and popular music.

>IRAMA G516-12 imco 893

Tembang Sunda (INDONESIA)
April 24, 2011, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Sunda

Here’s a fantastic Tembang Sunda recording from 1935. The featured instruments are the zither called kacapi and suling, a bamboo flute. The singer, Nji Raden Hadji Djoeleha, embodies the old style of singing, higher pitched and nasal. The older style also uses different ornamentation, for example, jenghak, the use of the break between chest and head voice which can be heard on this recording.

Tembang Sunda was originally known as Cianjuran, from Cianjur, the court city in west Java. It’s a form of poetic singing that emerged out of several other Sundanese genres, especially pantun, in the early 19th century and was promoted and enjoyed by the aristocracy. The songs glorify Pajajaran, the legendary Hindu kingdom of the 14th and 15th centuries.

The other side of this record can be heard on Ian Nagoski’s “Black Mirror“, released by Dust-to-Digital.

>HMV NT 41b (OMH 1305)

Upit Sarimanah (INDONESIA)
April 4, 2011, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Sunda

Upit Sarimanah (1928 – 1992) was an extremely popular singer from Sunda, the mountainous western region of Java. She was a sinden, the female singer in the traditional puppet plays known as wayang golek. Her first recordings were made in the 1950s and she was loved for her warm, deep chest voice as opposed to the high, nasal head voice of her main contemporary Titim Fatimah. Fatimah’s voice was considered rougher and unrefined while Upit’s style was more modern and embraced by the urbane and sophisticated urban population. Andrew Weintraub writes that one musician told him “America had Elvis, Indonesia had Upit.” (The Crisis of the Sinden, p. 67)

She was a versatile singer, recording in everything from pop styles to keroncong to traditional gamelan. Upit first recorded 78s for the Nusantara label as well as the short lived Putri label, both offshoots of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI). She went on to record many lps for Indonesian labels such as Mutiara, Canary, Evergreen, Lokananta and others.


Mangle is the Sundanese name of  the jasmine flower worn as a decoration in the hair of a bride during wedding ceremonies, but it also has a larger symbolic meaning of “sacred beauty.” The song was composed by Mang Koko Koswara (pictured below), a popular composer of the 1950s known for modernizing Sundanese music.

Here are the lyrics in Sundanese if you’d like to sing along.


Ampuh lungguh someah
tara rucah awuntah
Resep cicing di imah
Babalik pikir
Ka bioskop bet ngampleng
Di arisan ge suwung
Ka pakgade ge lebeng
Babalik pikir
Di Tepas teu tembong
Bumi siga kosong
Horeng susulumputan
Leuh sieun rekening
Ngadadak bet lungguh
Ulat ampuh timpuh
Pajar babalik pikir
Horeng kantongna kosong
Kurang kerung ngadilak
Gawe nyeuseul ngawakwak
Ka pagawe sesentak
Bapa kapala
Agar kerja dinamis
Inspirasi yang praktis
Kudu nyanding nu geulis
Keur maen mata

Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (INDONESIA)
March 4, 2011, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Indonesia, Sunda

This post is a bit of an update to my earlier post from Inner Mongolia.

Hisao Tanabe, a Japanese musicologist, supervised the release of three collections of Asian music on 78 rpm record. The first was called Toa no ongaku (Music of East Asia) released in 1941 Nippon Columbia.

The second set, Nanpo no Ongaku (Music of the South) was relased in 1942 also by Nippon Columbia. It was a set of six 78s that included music from around Southeast Asia. I’ve never seen any copies of either of these two collections. Give a shout if you have them!

In the same month, another Tanabe collection was released by Nippon Victor called Daitoa Ongaku Shusei (A Greater East Asian Music Compilation.) This was an epic set of thirty-six 78 rpm records, divided by region into twelve albums of three records each.

I have not managed to determine all the regions that are represented in this set, so far I have found two different albums from China, one from India and one from Indonesia, plus one of the three records from the Inner Mongolia album. The cover of the Indonesian album, below, shows more than 12 regions, so it’s not clear if all these places are represented on the set.

Advertisements for the set included the excellent line “An anthology of the musics of Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere prepared under the supervision of the most authoritative scholarly society.”

Tanabe theorized that all Asian musics had a common basis and that somehow Japan represented the purist expression, or culmination of “Asian music.” This philosophy meshed nicely with Japan’s imperialistic intentions. The sets he compiled were a kind of response to the famous Music of the Orient by pioneering ethnomusicologist Erich von Hornbostel, a set of twenty-four 78s released in 1931. Tanabe felt that Music of the Orient was too steeped in exoticism, yet his own theories are rife with racial stereotypes and musings about some intangible ancient “Asianess.” What makes matters stranger is that Tanabe went on to lift selections from Hornbostel’s collection and reissue them in his own! All the records on Tanabe’s sets were from previous releases.

Hornbostel’s collection was really the first compilation of world music 78s, the prototype for Secret Museum of Mankind, Excavated Shellac, Haji Maji and others. It’s popularity is evidenced by the fact that it was re-issued by Decca and again by the English Parlophone label. Tanabe’s collections have never been fully reissued and his notes have yet to be translated into english. At least one side, from Inner Mongolia, was included on the Secret Museum of Mankind Central Asia cd.

I don’t think anyone has determined where all the Tanabe records were originally issued. I suspect this one was from Beka. It features the Sundanese zither called kacapi, performing the epic poetry known as Tembang Sunda.

>Victor VK 3528a