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Arab​-​American Live Recordings from Passaic County, New Jersey, vol. 1: 1958​-​70

by Tony Abdelahad & friends



These live tapes are drawn from the collection of musician and music-lover Raymond Nabba. At the age of 14 in 1962, he began to make it a habit to set a microphone attached to a reel-to-reel tape recorder near the PA of any musical event he attended while growing up in Totowa Borough near Paterson, New Jersey. He traded tapes with other aficionados, particularly friends and family of the musicians, for his own enjoyment and education, accumulating many hours of documentation of some of the greatest performers of the Arab-American community of the 1950s-80s whose work is otherwise only available on disc recordings. This is the first of several volumes we will be making available of the recordings that survive miraculously in his collection.

Anton "Tony" Abdelahad was born July 25, 1915, the second of three children in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts. Like much of Boston's Arab population, his family was from Damascus. His father Ramsa (b. ca. 1890) worked as a stitcher in a shoe factory and was a music lover who owned a gramophone and paid for costly imported discs. Tony began performing professionally by the age of 15 and over the next 60 years performed at parties and gatherings with a who's-who of the Arab-American music scene. He was close to the Damascene Bostonian singer and oudist Russell Bunai (b. 1905; d. 1996) with whom he shared accompanists violinist Philip Solomon (b. 1905; d. 1979), kanunist Mohamed El-Akkad (b. 1911; d. 1993), and father-and-son percussionists George (b. 1927; d. 2000) and Mike Hamway (b. 1892; 1965). In the late '40s, he self-released a series of 78rpm discs on a personal label that included his own compositions including the topical "Housing Shortage" and "Il Nylon;" he also recorded a few discs for other labels. In live performances, however, he favored performing covers of popular Egyptian and Lebanese stars including Sabah, Umm Kulthum, Farid al-Atrash, and, especially, Abdelahad's role model Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

The live recordings demonstrate Abdelahad's skill as a singer, only hinted at in his early recordings, and show why he was so immensely popular as a performer for events around the eastern U.S. They also provide a window into the real performing life of professional Arab-American musicians in the mid-20th century, struggling heroically with sound systems, and playing for halls full of more-or-less interested attendees or else small gatherings of more-or-less inebriated celebrants. The time constraints of discs, their rigidity, and formality are supplanted by extended improvisations and mood-building for listeners who feel free to respond at participate in the living music as it unfolds. Whatever the technical limitations of these amateur, private live recordings, they're the real deal and can only be appreciated by sinking into them. We advise sturdy listeners not to expect a cursory click to deliver the magic that they contain

Of the accompanists, we are fortunate to get to hear superb performances by the greatest violinists of the era. We have written at some length about the violinist Naim Karacand (b. Aleppo, Syria 1891; d. Queens, New York 1976) previously in the notes to the Canary album Send Me the Bones ( canary-records.bandcamp.com/album/send-me-the-bones-from-the-earliest-arab-american-recordings-march-1915-feb-1920 ) and elsewhere. In brief, he was among the most prolific, versatile, and virtuosic performers of the Arab-American milieu in the 20th century, having started recording in 1916 and continued through an amazing and complicated career that lasted until his retirement in grief at the accidental drowning death of his son in 1967. Karacand performed with practically every significant Arab musician in the U.S. during his 60-year career.

Violinist Philip Solomon, kanunist Mohammed El-Akkad, and percussionist Mike Hamway have all been the subjects of significant, original, and fascinating biographical studies by Prof. Richard M. Breaux on his blog. We cannot recommend his work highly enough to those interested in the details of their lives:

Solomon worked regularly with Abdelahad for about 25 years, but after he developed arthritis (and after Karacand quit playing), Abdelahad usually worked with Brooklyn-based violinist Hakki Obadia (b. Baghdad, Iraq ca. 1925; d. 2004 about whom more here: canary-records.bandcamp.com/album/master-musician-plays-middle-east-classics-iraqi-american-violinist-composer-1958-72 ) and Boston-based Fred Elias (b. Manchester, New Hampshire 1922; d. 2018), both of whom will feature on future volumes of this series.
The drummer Ronnie Kirby who appears on this collection was Abdelahad's brother-in-law.


released November 17, 2023

Tony Abdelahad, voice & oud: tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10
Naim Karacand, violin: tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
George & Mike Hamway, percussion: tracks 2, 3, 7
Philip Solomon, violin: tracks 8, 10
Mohammed El-Akkad, kanun: tracks 9, 10
Ronnie Kirby, percussion: tracks 9, 10

Transfers from tape by Raymond Nabba
Restorations, editing, and notes by Ian Nagoski

Cover photo of Anton Abdelahad ca. 1965 via www.anton-abdelahad.com
With gratitude to Arthur and Anthony Abdelahad
Thanks also to Adam Good


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Canary Records Baltimore, Maryland

early 20th century masterpieces (mostly) in languages other than English.

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