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From the 1910s through the 1950s, immigrants released 78rpm discs marketed to their own language / ethnic groups, and that practice survived for a century well into the era of the 33rpm, 45rpm, cassettes, and CDs. But from the mid-50s though the mid-70s some Greek, Armenian, and Lebanese-Syrians capitalized on the bellydance fad by issuing their recordings to a broader American public. While many of those recordings drew straight from the repertoire of pre-existing bands, some of the resulting LPs represented ad hoc groupings of performers that were unique and, in retrospect, interesting. (See the Canary albums The Cleopatra Record and Marko Melkon - HiFi Adventures in Asia Minor.)
Among the latter category was an LP tossed out on to the market by a bargain label called AAMCO, a two man operation founded by Lee Kraft, formerly an employee of Bethlehem Records, that existed for only one year, from mid-1958 through mid-1959 before filing for bankruptcy. In about 12 months, they released about 40 LPs of material licensed from tapes gathered from a wide variety of sources: Scottish bagpipes, a Flamenco record, someone singing Bessie Smith songs, a polka LP, a dixieland record, a couple live recordings of jazz musicians, a ventriloquist performing for children, etc. More or less anonymous, disposable garbage, basically. Their entry into the orientalist bellydance marketplace was this LP, derived from the collaboration of two hard-working Turkish-speakers at the fringes of the record business.
Adjian Asllan (b. March 12, 1895; d. Oct. 1976) has been discussed at length in the notes to the Canary album Quilted Flowers: Albanian & Epirot Recordings from the Balkan Label. To summarize: He was born in Leskovik, Albania and arrived in New York on September 20, 1926, and lived in Detroit before moving to New York City, where he was joined by his wife Emverije in 1931, the same year he made his first recordings as a clarinetist on four songs issued as 12” discs by Columbia sung in Albanian by K. Duro N. Gerati. In January 1932 he recorded again, singing and playing oud on three Columbia 12” discs with several Albanian singers and the Bulgarian violinist Nicola Doneff. Asllan launched his own label Mi-Re Rekord in the 30s, but it stalled out after about 6 releases. In October 1941 he accompanied a Greek singer and songwriter named G.K. Xenopoulos as an oudist along with the Greek clarinetist Kostas Gadinis and accordionist John Gianaros for the Orthophonic subsidiary of Victor Records run by Tetos Demetriades. The trio of Gadinis, Asllan, and Gianaros cut another four sides for Orthophonic May 1, 1942. Asllan then relaunched his label as Me Re with the help of Doneff and renamed it, more generically, Balkan. Gianaros came in as a business partner, and Balkan released scores of records, some of them seemingly selling thousands of copies in the mid-40s, but Gianaros split angrily with Asllan after just a few years over money problems. Asllan and his wife lived during the 1930s into the 50s first at 143 Norfolk St. and then at 42 Rivington St. (where Asllan opened a record shop), in Manhattan's Lower East Side, where Eastern European Jewish immigrants surrounded the small Albanian community and Turkish-speaking Sephardic Jews, abutting Little Italy and a strip of Greek coffee houses on Mulberry Street. He worked within a network of primarily Turkish- and Greek-speaking performers in New York and released recordings made both locally and overseas through the 40s and 50s. His business was haphazard. Its numbering system, if one can call it that, indicates a tendency to start a series, then add to it - or not - sporadically, driven largely the question, “can we sell 500 of these? (And if so, can we sell 1000?)” The last Balkan 78s were issued around 1959; a few LP releases appeared around 1960, more than 20 years after Asllan released his first discs.
In the mid-50s Asllan appeared as an oudist under the name Adjin A. Balkan on three scarce vanity release 78rpm discs by the Armenian singer Madlen Araradian (using the stage name Madlen Ararat) along with three Turks: violinist P. Bakaris, kanunist Ahmet Yatman, and percussionist T. Bulut. It is that Tarik Bulut who was credited as the non-performing musical director of this record. He was born the eldest son of a maritime police chief in Istanbul, May 21, 1921 and was sent to study music first at boarding school and then at the newly-founded conservatory in Ankara where he graduated in 1943. He played percussion in the Turkish Presidential Symphony, taught music to elementary school students, and directed the music on the radio “Children’s Hour.” He served over two years in the Turkish Air Force before the Beaureu of Information sent him to the U.S. as a Goodwill Ambassador. He arrived at the age of 26 through the port of Baltimore on October 30, 1947, settling in New York to study at Julliiard on a two year visa during which time he met Leonard Bernstein. When his visa expired, he simply refused to return, to the dismay of the Turkish government who insisted that he should repay them $3,000 they’d laid out for his journey. Around the same time, at the end of the 40s and beginning of the 50s, Adjin Asllan’s label released a series of discs by a mysterious figure credited to “T. Agabey” comprised of Turkish folk songs played in contemporary jazz style (see the Canary album Don’t Let Me Be Lost to You B-Sides), and the same pianist turns up on performances recorded around 1951 by Zeki Arakan on Asllan’s Metropolitan label (see the Canary album Uncle Ali: Touring Turks in NYC ca. 1951) who appears to have been a performer sent by the Turkish government. It is my assertion, although it’s only a guess based on circumstantial evidence, that T. Agabey (roughly "big brother," similar to how he was known as a children's broadcaster) is, in fact, Tarik Bulut performing undercover.
In any case, during the early 50s Tarik Bulut worked as a broadcaster for the Voice of America, directed a special on Turkey for WPIX New York public television, and toured the U.S. (and Cuba) through the early 50s presenting lectures and demonstrations of Turkish music. He married an Sicilian woman named Francesca in Massachusetts in 1952. By 1954, he was again a goodwill ambassador for the Turkish Information Office, traveling America and sharing Turkish culture. In the mid-60s he released a 45 rpm record on the Greek-owned Nina label as “Mr. Bang Bang,” and later turned up as a pianist on the best-selling bellydance instructional records by Özel Türkbaş (b. 1938 Manisa, Turkey; immigrated 1959; d. 2012 New York City) How to Bellydance for Your Sultan and How to Make Your Husband a Sultan. In 1983, he settled in Inverness, Florida, where he continued to play piano in restaurants around Tampa and teach music to children through 2003. He died in 2006.
The first eight recordings on this LP were made around late 1957 or early 1958 and represent a rare instance of Adjin Asllan’s oud playing on record as well as the only recordings by the Garabed brothers, kanunist John (b. May 24, 1916 in NYC; d. Nov. 6 1969 in Teaneck NJ) and violinist Joseph (b. July 29, 1918 likely Hackensack NJ; d. Jan. 6, 1997 Dover Township NJ.) Their parents Tookman (Thomas b. March 4 or 5 ca. 1885-8) and Bertha (Bernadette b. May 1893) were both Assyrians born in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. Tookman arrived in the U.S. in 1902; Bertha arrived in 1907. By 1915, they were living in Hackensack, New Jersey with Tookman’s brother George (who later relocated to Bogota, Colombia), and Tookman was working as a weaver at a silk mill, an occupation he continued throughout his life. The family relocated to Hudson, then Clifton City, then Warren New Jersey, and finally Hackettstown and Teaneck, moving around northern New Jersey over the course of forty years. They were members of Syrian Orthodox chuch.
John and Joe attended school in Hackettstown in the late 10s and early 20s. John attended only one year of high school before going to work as a semiskilled worker in a machine shop, married a woman named Linda in January 1944 and had a daughter named Kelly. He enlisted in the army as a private in August 1945, a matter or weeks before the war ended. Joe married a woman named Florence Boyajian and spent from Feb. 5 1942 through Sept. 26 1945 in the army. They had six children. When the two brothers appeared as performers in December 1953 at the Assyrian Church of the Virgin Mary in Paramus, New Jersey as The Garbed Boys, they were joined by percussionist Mike Hamway (b. Nov. 7 1892 in Aleppo, a popular accompanist who played with many great Arab-Americans of the time including Anton Abdelhad, Philip Solomon, and Naim Karacand) and Edward Tashji.
Tashji (b. Feb. 7, 1932 Troy, NY; d. June 22, 2005) had already been a member of the Nor-Ikes, a seminal group of second-generation Armenian-Americans including the much-loved oudist Chick Ganimian (b. 1926 Troy, NY; d. Dec. 1988 South Orange NJ) and clarinetist Souren Baronian (b. 1930 New York City), who recorded a series of great performances on 78rpm discs in the early 50s. He met the Garabeds through the musicians union and connected by way of a shared ethnic identity. His father had been an Assyrian member of the Ottoman military when he met his mother, an Armenian native of Balikesir, in the town of Killis near the Syrian border during WWI. This recording appears to be his last performance on disc. He subsequently spent several decades writing vehemently and prolifically in opposition to the accepted Armenian narrative of the genocide and in defense of a Turkish-Armenian “inseparability” of culture that runs counter to the political and cultural thinking of the vast majority of Armenians, culminating in a book The Truth Must be Told, An Autobiography as well a "fake book" for musicians of Near Eastern tunes. His grave marker bears a Turkish Republican flag.
The other percussionist on this recording Harry Esehak, Jr. (b. Jul 25, 1923 West New York, New Jersey; d. Aug. 1982) was also an Assyrian of the Orthodox Church. His namesake father was born in present-day Turkey. He spent time working for a company that installed electrical systems and lived on Long Island for a time before settling in Flushing, Queens.
The LP was padded out with two recordings in Turkishby the Turkish singer and actor Lütfü Güneri (b. 1918; d. 1967), and are in a similar arrangement - oud, violin, kanun, and percussion - but they are certainly not by the same band. It seems reasonable to guess that they are from some tape made by more professional musicians. Güneri lived for a while during the 1950s-60s in the U.S. and released several records on Tetos Demetraides's Standard-Colonial label. It seems reasonable to guess that tapes of him were presented by Asllan to fill out the rest of the album. (They were swapped and given the wrong titles on the original LP. "Olive Oil," is in fact "Zeytinyağlı Yiyemem Aman.")
The repertoire of the first eight performances is typical of Armenian kef bands of the time. “Ereni Oyuny” was recorded 15 years earlier by Marko Melkon as “Hamin Oyunu” (see the Canary album I Go Around Drinking Raki), and “Konyali” was recorded by Louis Matalon, both for Asllan’s Balkan label. Notably, “Konyali” opens with a fiddle section that quotes directly from Kemany Minas (see Canary album When I See You). The “Egyptian Fantasy” is loosely based on an tune by the famous Cairo composer and performer Mohammed Abdul Wahhab (b. March 13, 1902; May 4, 1991) called "Fantasy Nahawand." It was typical for Arab-American performers to jam on his melodies at gathering in New Jersey in the 1950s. Otherwise, all of the first eight performances are common to the Anatolian diaspora repertoire of the time.
released March 18, 2022
Performers, tracks 1-8
Adjin Asllan - oud
Tarik Bulut - director
Harry Esehak, Jr. - percussion
Joseph Garabed - violin
John Garabed - kanun
Edward Tashji - percussion
Lütfü Güneri- vocal, tracks 9 & 10
transfer, restoration, and notes by Ian Nagoski
Many thanks to Joe Graziosi, Harry Kezelian, and Jim Grippo for their insights.
Song titles are given as they were on the original LP release.
Cover photo by Richard Greene. Dancer is untraced.