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More Notes From Home Vol 1: Imports for Near​-​Eastern Immigrants ca. 1927​-​37

by Canary Records



“To know America […] it is necessary to know why 42 million people gave up their settled lives to start anew in a strange land. We must know how they met the new land and how it met them, and, most important, we must know what these things mean for our present and for our future.”
-President John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants, 1963

“To the person who spoke another language the phonograph assumed [an] important role. In a country with strange customs and values, where other people spoke an unfamiliar language, a phonograph could and did provide a means of emotional retreat to one’s homeland. Records of familiar songs reinforced traditional values and an immigrant’s sense of self-worth.”
-Richard K. Spottswood, “Commercial Ethnic Recordings in the United States” in Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage (American Folklife Center) 1982

The idea of marketing records to immigrants seems to have occurred to both of the largest record companies in the U.S. - Victor and Columbia - in the middle of the first decade of the 20th century. Coincidentally, the U.S. saw the crest of largest wave of immigrants to it shores in its history at precisely the same time. So, the first records marketed to immigrants were toward the largest of the ethnic groups arriving - Italians, Slavs, Germans, and Irish. The labels quickly diversified to market discs to immigrants arriving in smaller numbers including those coming from Scandanavia, the Far East, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

After it became clear that immigrants from the Near East would buy disc recordings, scores of recording sessions of immigrant performers, resulted in thousands of performances in Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and Armenian. Immediately after the stock market crash in 1929, the major companies reassessed their catalogs and chose to drastically limit their recording of immigrants, reverting instead to issuing material recorded abroad for those markets. The draconian early 1920s quota restrictions on immigration limited the audience for Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic language material. Gradually, they deleted their catalogs of foreign-language material. By the early 1940s, recordings for the immigrant markets was largely taken over by upstart labels run by immigrants themselves.

This collection represents a cross-section of material issued by the Victor, Columbia, Decca, and Brunswick labels spanning the latter period after immigrants for these markets were less recorded in the U.S. and the labels substituted material record abroad. For the purposes of this release, I have not attempted to untangle the specifics of each recording, although as time goes on, thanks to the malleability of the bandcamp format, that information might be added (along with free download tracks of additional performances as interesting or relevant discs come my way.)

This collection includes material certainly from Istanbul (primarily), and Athens (and, in a couple cases, Sofia, Bulgaria and Beirut, Lebanon). Styles that were not especially well-represented by performers in the U.S. - particularly the “highest” art music and the “lowest” street and village musics - were issued side-by-side. Similarly, ethnic groups who were under-represented on domestic recordings - Muslims, Sephardic Jews, Romani - were better represented on the imported material. All of the recordings were issued domestically in the U.S. for immigrant populations who would have wanted to hear something from home.


released August 2, 2020

Transfers, restoration, and compilation by Ian Nagoski.

We largely have retained song title transliterations from the original disc labels. These differ from modern spellings and conventions of transliteration.

Thank you: Evrim Binbas, David Seubert, Harry Kezelian, Jonathan Ward, Richard Breaux, Costis Drygianakis, Adam Good, Fædon Jóhannes, and Matthew Krug.


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Canary Records Baltimore, Maryland

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

An hour in clamor and a quarter in rheum.

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