A couple of records reviewed

Opening a new category, I would like to mention a couple of old records, one just discovered today and one I’ve enjoyed over the years.

A vague sense of a particular sound came over me yesterday and made me pick my way through albums of Afro-American music. My eye lit on an album I had been sort of sorry for buying. I remembered it as being mushy in sound and had never listened to it closely. I put it on the turntable and realized what an idiot I had been.

The album is from Lyrachord (ethnic music buffs will remember this label as a treasure house of exotic and intriguing musical lore). Its album title is Amazonia, after the region in which it was recorded. While the area, inhabited by people called caboclo, is an amalgam of African, Indigenous, and Portuguese cultures, among the urban dwellers the African predominates at the ground level. Once outside the city, the African content greatly reduces.

The recording is made up mostly of cult worship services, familiar to all of us who got into this stuff a long time ago: the cultures represented are labeled Mina and Nago, equivalent to Dahomean and Yoruba. The terms used in worship are usually Yoruba. The liner notes are pretty good, with a focus on each piece (cut), and a decent background and contemporary presentation. No date appears anywhere, and I’m assuming from the date of a book referenced that it was recorded in the late 70s.

What is outstanding about this is the sense it gives you of being right there. Those who have participated in Afro-American worship ritual will hear that warm, enveloping melange of voice and rhythm united in song. Very nice to let sweep over you, especially where the crowd reacts to various events.

The other album is part of a remarkable series called Audio Fidelity. Just a couple of months ago, I got curious about this label and found that a collector does have a website. He was interested in what I had. Most are in a series of Middle Eastern music by the Egyptian orchestra of Mohammed el-Bakkar. The first stereo I ever owned was presented to me on Christmas morning with Port Said playing.

The purpose of the albums was to showcase stereo sound. For some reason (which I hope to discover from the collector), they went in for a lot of foreign, folk, and ethnic music (I have Scottish bagpipes, Armenian, Arabic, etc.). One I picked up somewhere is special. A “store-front” Black church pulled a few members together, put them at several microphones with their tambourines, and let them cut loose.

If you know that sound, it is the best example I’ve heard other than a half-minute or so of a Black Baptist church in Texas on a recording by a New Yorker named Tony Schwartz and released on Folkways in the 50s. The date on the Audio Fidelity album is 1960. That was about the time I started attending a small Pentecostal church in South Phoenix, little knowing it would alter the course of my life considerably.

What makes this album outstanding is the way the recording of it displays the essential crossing of rhythms which give the whole tradition of this music such power and dynamism. I’ve listened and listened to the way the tambourines start out and mesh with the handclapping in ways I cannot chart. My plan is to work with this album with the end of feeling my way inside the rhythms. We shall see, but I would like to hear from others of any similar recordings in the African-American i.e. North American, tradition

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