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The Gramophone Company’s engineer Georg Franz Hampe (b. 1879; d. 1947) made the first recordings in Egypt (either in Alexandria or Cairo) in 1903. GramCo’s recording work proliferated in the eastern Mediterranean, including sessions in Constantinople, Beirut, and Smyrna over the next several years, followed quickly by the German Odeon and Favorite companies, Herman Blumenthal’s Orfeon label, as well as the company of Dr. Michael Baida of Beirut (founded ca. 1906). Our interest in the discs made by or for the immigrants to the United States has included a significant amount of material originally recorded during those sessions and issued from 1909 onward on American labels (Victor, Columbia, and Okeh in particular) but has not addressed the waiting market in the U.S. for discs physically imported at significant expense to the immigrant market by impresarios including A.J. Macksoud and M.G. Parsekian preceding or in parallel to the earliest of the Arabic- and Turkish-language releases in the States. This small collection presents a cross-section of material of the imported treasures that have survived more than a century in American households
The repertoires included have several tendencies. They represent musical styles necessarily left behind in the Old World - the “lowest” street music and the “highest” classical material — strata of performers for whom emigration was impossible or irrelevant. And they tend to represent the ethnic minorities of the Ottoman Empire who arrived in the greatest numbers to the Americas, often fleeing persecution — Christians and Jews of various churches , traditions, and ethnicities. So, of the nine credited performers on this collection, we can say with certainty that at least one (Arcshak Effendi) is Armenian, at least one is Jewish (Ibrahim Effendi, and one is Greek (Estudiantina Smyrniote), Of the Arabic-speaking performers, the women (Roza al-Zaḥlāwiyya, Badriyya Saʿāda) were not Muslim, leaving only three credited performers who were probably Muslims (El Sayed Eschita of Cairo; Hag Abdel Sattar Sattar of Hama, Syria; and Omer Effendi of Constantinople) all of whom were comedians of and whom further research may or may not indicate some Roma background. One exception is the oud virtuoso Nachat Bey who recorded in both Cairo and Constantinople, was Muslim, and was popular among Near Eastern American immigrants for decades. Certainly discs by the highest level taraab singers of the period in Cairo - Yusuf Al Manyalawi, Abdel Hai Hilmi, Sayyed al Safti, etc. - were physically imported for immigrants to the U.S. (See: To What Strange Place: The Musics of the Ottoman-American Diaspora and More Notes From Home Vol II)
The styles and melodies presented here are, in several cases, germinal iterations of tunes that became standardized later in the 20th century. The “Raks Zakieh” (flip side of a comedy record) performed on the zamr pipes includes the melody of “Uskadara,” a song ubiquitous among many cultures (and eventually made a hit in the U.S. by Ertha Kitt in 1953). Roza al-Zaḥlāwiyya's "Qadduka l-mayyās" (Your Undulating Waist), according to Fred Ahlawi, is a qadd (light traditional style of song that flourished in Aleppo) that is shared among Greek, Turkish, Arab, and Jewish performers and has been widely performed and recorded with various sets of lyrics with the tune. “Trellokoritso” (Crazy Girl) was recorded through the 20s-40s by many Greek performers including Marika Papagika and Virginia Magidou.
Other performances remain of their specific time-and-place; Omer Effendi was a performer of the Karagoz shadow puppet play repertoire, centered around a foolish and lazy folk hero trickster character who often has great luck and real insight. (A series of Karagiozi performances were issued on discs in the early ‘20s by Koula Antonopoulo’s Panhellenion label in New York City.)
It's likely necessary to state to uninitiated listeners that all of these performances were recorded 10-20 years preceding the invention of the microphone and are, by today’s standards even after many hours of sound-restoration work, difficult listens. I know; I get it. The damage was done to them over the course of a century in the process of their having been played on old machines and neglected in storage is never going to be completely undone, future AI developments notwithstanding. But for those few people who want to hear performers born in the 1870s-80s from the Near East, there is not a lot in circulation. The Foundation for Arab Music Archiving & Research is doing great work. Otherwise, much of what circulates is private work undertaken by whomever has the time and resources. So, you take it as it comes, and it is correct to the process of working with the discs to listen and represent it as best you can.
released April 1, 2023
Known dates and locations:
1 January 7, 1909 Cairo
2 & 21 July 1910 Beirut
3-4. ca. 1909 likely Smyrna (Izmir) or Constantinople (Istanbul)
5-6 ca. 1911-13 Constantinople (Istanbul)
7-8 ca. 1907 Constantinople (Istanbul)
9-11 June 1910 Cairo
12-13 ca. Dec. 1913 Cairo
14 Jan. 1908 Beirut
15-16 ca. 1911-12 Beirut
17-18 ca. 1907-12 Beirut
19 ca. 1912-13 Constantinople
20 ca. 1910-11 Constantinople
22 ca. 1906 Constantinople (Istanbul)
1 Fred Gaisberg (b. 1873; d. 1951)
2, 9-12, 17 Arthur Spottiswoode Clarke (b. 1885; d. 1952)
Transfers, restorations, and notes by Ian Nagoski
Discographical data from Jonathan Ward and Hugo Strötbaum (drawn from his recordingpioneers.com site)
Thank you Jonathan Ward, Sam Khattar, Raphael Cormack, Fred Ahlawi, Harry Kezelian, Gail Holst-Warhaft, Ron Perovich, George Murer, and Andrew Giamber for their help.
Hat tip to the late Tullia Magrini for her writing and research.
Apologies to others who contributed to my understanding of these records whose correspondence I have lost.
supported by 24 fans who also own “Enough Misery!: Recordings from Beirut, Cairo, Constantinople & Smyrna, 1906-1913”
Lovely singing and great music. I can really feel the emotion behind each song and how it's sung. The mix of east and west sounds is very inspiring. Long before we had wars we had each others music and were drawn to the sound. The music is beautiful. VUKARI