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Oh My Soul: Armenian and Turkish Language Music from the Parsekian Label in New Jersey ca. 1923​-​26

by Canary Records



NOTE: A half-dozen tracks from this album were previously issued in 2016 as Oh My Soul: Armenian-American Independent Releases, Vol. 1 - ca. 1920-25. That album has been retitled A Diamond Ring: Armenian-American Independent Releases ca. 1922-26; if you bought that album or the discography previously, you can re-download that album with about a dozen additional tracks and significant improvements to the sound quality of all of the tracks. This album draws from about 8 of the tracks previously on that album and adds a dozen more with brand new and much-improved transfers and restorations of all of them.

Mgrdich “George” Parsekian (b. present-day Diyarbakir, May 1883) arrived in the U.S. about the age of 14. By 1905, he was settled in northern New Jersey and working as a salesman. Among his streams of income was importing disc recordings from Turkey for the immigrant community. In 1912, he apparently approached Columbia Records in New York City with the prospect of recording a handful of immigrant musicians from present-day eastern and southern Turkey, resulting in three sessions in September and October of that year that yielded a total of 10 discs issued as part of Columbia’s “E” (general foreign-language) series. These were the first commercial recordings made in the U.S. in the Turkish language. (See the Canary release And Two Partridges for 14 of those 20 sides.) Both Columbia and Victor issued several dozen more discs in Turkish during World War I before essentially ending recording of Turkish and Armenian (and Arabic) language domestic recording in 1919, although they kept some of the discs in print for more than a decade and occasionally produced recordings in Turkish, particularly by Greeks, notably by Achilleas Poulos.

In the early 20s, Parsekian capitalized on the expiration of patents related to the technology of disc recording, launching his own recording label and disc-manufacturing facility in what was then West Hoboken (now Union City), New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan. Parsekian’s label issued about 40 discs between about 1923 and 1926, the first 30 of which were recorded acoustically (that is to say, mechanically, without the use of electricity or microphones). It stands to reason that Parsekian’s factory was also responsible for manufacturing recordings by other independent Armenian-owned labels that sprung up at the time, including Sohag and its Oriental subsidiary, and and the "vanity" labels of Hovep Shamlian and Harry Hasekian. (See the Canary album A Diamond Ring: Armenian-American Independent Releases ca. 1922-26) Coincident with the introduction of electrical recording, Parsekian handed off his masters and artwork to the Vartesian Brothers who ran a jewelry and watch repair shop on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. They used much of the Parsekian catalog (as well as Mugerdich Douzjian’s Yildiz vanity label) to launch their own Pharos label, which lasted two or three more years, issuing several dozen more titles. (See the Canary album Very Sweet: Armenian-American Recordings from the Pharos Label ca. 1926-29.)

Parsekian’s flagship artist was Karekin Proodian (b. present-day Diyarbakir, ca. 1884) who recorded about half of the label’s catalog. Proodian immigrated to the U.S. in 1903 settling in the West Hoboken, New Jersey neighborhood populated by a community of others from his native region called Dikranagerd in Armenian, including Parsekian. A photoengraver by trade, he became a citizen in 1910 before returning to his hometown where he married 19 year old Haiganoush (“Annie”) Akmakjian. In 1912, the couple returned to the U.S. with their child Vahan (Frank). Two more children arrived, Siranoush (Sara) and Setrag (who later became a clarinet and saxophone player, appearing on several LPs. He published a memoir called Brothers Abroad. We are actively seeking a copy.)

Between February and December 1916, Proodian performed as a vocalist and kanunist on 18 sides for Columbia and Victor Records, all of which were in Turkish except for the revolutionary ballad “Iprev Ardziv,” which was in Armenian. (6 of them appear on the Canary album And Two Partridges II and 4 more are on the album If I Were a Nightingale.) In the 1920s Proodian adopted the thinking of a movement among Armenians to present Anatolian music in the Armenian language advocated by the Dikranagerd-born northern New Jersey songwriter Hovsep Shamlian. When Proodian recorded again for M.G. Parsekian’s label, 18 of the 22 sides he cut were in Armenian, only 4 in Turkish.

Parsekian, Proodian, and Shamlian formed a kind of Dikranangersti musical ecosystem in West Hoboken. All three having come from the same region, each contributed his own skills. Parsekian had the record business; Proodian had the voice; Shamlian had the songs. (The rather elaborate labels on some of the discs including photos of the artists may, we can speculate, tie back to Proodian's work in the printing business.) The first two songs Proodian recorded for Parsekian’s label were not only Shamlian’s songs (including his “greatest hit,” “Hasagt Partsr”) but were also accompanied by Dikranangersti accompanists. 16 of Proodian’s 18 recordings for Parsekian in Armenian were Shamlian compositions, albeit accompanied by objectively superior musicians, Harry (Haroutiun) Hasekian of Marash on violin and Edward (Yetvart) Bashian who emigrated Constantinople on oud. Harry and Edward also released instrumental discs as a duo on the Parsekian label as well as on Hasekian’s own label, which, again, were likely produced by Parsekian. (Only the traditional folk song “Ouy Janem” and the revolutionary ballad “Keriyin Yerke” weren’t Shamlian creations.)

After Parsekian’s label was sold to Pharos company around 1926, many of Proodian’s recordings were kept in print by them for several years. Although he did not record again, he stayed active in music singing in Greek and Armenian nightclubs, coffeehouses, and restaurants on Manhattan while still working for Scientific Engraving Inc.” (later Scientific Engineering) at 406 W. 31st on Manhattan. In 1942, he copyrighted a song called “This Is Our Heaven” with lyrics translated by Joseph Stamboolian for use in a movie, although we have not yet traced the film. He died in Fort Lee, New Jersey in 1977. 

Maksoud Karabed Sariyan (b. Bursa, Turkey April 17, 1897) arrived in the U.S. on Oct. 22, 1920. He recorded only six sides with clarinetist Hovsep Takakjian (b. Palu, Turkey ca. 1895), four of them for Parsekian and two of them pseudononymously as Karakash (“Black Eyebrows”) along with violinist Vartan Margosian for Margosian's label. By 1928, he had settled in Detroit where he married a Bulgarian-born woman and worked as a professional musician. He died on Jan. 10, 1946. Takakjian moved shortly after making their recordings for Parsekian to Fresno, California for his health, having contracted tuberculosis by loaning his instrument to another musician. Takakjian performed and recorded prolifically with Oscar Kevorkian for several decades. (See the Canary album The Undertaker’s Picnic: Armenian Kef Music in Fresno ca. 1940s-50s.) He died in Fresno in 1976.

The first non-Armenian to have recorded for Parsekian’s label was the Romaniote Jew Mazeltov Matsa (b. Janina, present-day Greece, 1897) who performed first under the name Amilia Hanoum and later as Amalia Bakas. A definitive biographical study was published by David Soffa on the 2002 Arhoolie label CD Amalia!: Old Greek Songs in the New Land, 1923-50 and summarized on the Canary album No News From Tomorrow: Greek and Turkish Speaking Women in New York ca. 1942-50. She was, in the mid-20s a young garment worker and mother of two in the Jewish Lower East Side moonlighting as a singer of Turkish and Greek folks songs in restaurants and coffeehouses. She cut her first five discs for Armenian-owned independent labels (three for Parsekian; two for Sohag) before an acrimonious divorce, a brief stint running her own little nightclub around the corner from Marika Papagika’s place on 8th Avenue, and then nearly 30 years on the road as a nightclub performer. She recorded for the Victor label in the late 20s (likely introduced to them by Marika Papagika with whom she became very close, George Katsaros with whom she regularly toured in the 30s, or perhaps Marko Melkon who also first recorded for Parsekian in the early 20s and then operated on the same circle of performers in the 1940s-50s.)

Likewise, Parsekian was likely the first to release discs by the Greek singer and oudist Achilleas Poulos (b. July 1893 present-day Balikesir, Turkey) a close friend of Marko Melkon (see the Canary albums of Melkon, I Go Around Drinking Raki: ca. 1942-51 and HiFi Adventures in Asia Minor) who had already cut his first disc for Parsekian accompanied by Harry and Edward. Poulos was in a fury of recording activity in the mid-20s, cutting a total of about 125 performances for Parsekian, Pharos, Columbia and Victor as well as the short-lived Oriental label (related to Sohag) between 1925 and 1927. His best-selling 12” disc for Columbia of “Nedem Geldim Americaya (Why I Came to America),” a folk song he’d rewritten about his personal experience as an immigrant, differs from his performance for Parsekian notably in that it benefits from the violin playing of Nishan Sedefjian. Sedefjian, who performs on nearly all of Poulos' Victor and Columbia material was a diamond setter at the Vartesian Brothers shop. Poulos was the lead performer on the last dozen Parsekian releases and on several of the first Pharos discs. Pharos even issued two discs of Poulos' niece Soultana when she visited from Balikesir. (See the Canary album Why I Came to America: More Folk Music of the Ottoman-American Diaspora ca. 1917-47.) It seems likely that he was the bridge between the two labels. After ’27 Poulos simply ceased recording and moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a coffee roaster and died in 1970. Like Parsekian, his influence on the scene of Turkish, Armenian, and Greek speaking immigrants in New York outlasted his activity for more than a generation.


released July 28, 2021

G. Kratlian - oud, tracks 1, 2
Tomas Penirjian - kanun, tracks 1, 2
Edward Bashian - oud, tracks 3-6, 9-10, 13-16
Harry Hasekian - violin, tracks 3-6, 9-10, 13-16
Maksoud Sariyan - oud, track 16
Mesrob Takakjian - clarinet, tracks 15, 17, 18

Tracks 1, 2, 4, 13, 14, 15 16 composed by Hovsep Shamlian
Track 9 composed by Bimen Şen Der-Kasparyan

All performances in Armenian except 7. 8. 9, (10), 11, 12, 19, 20, 21, 22 in Turkish.

Notes by Harry Kezelian and Ian Nagoski
Research and English title translations: Harry Kezelian
Transfers and restoration: Ian Nagoski
Additional research by Harout Arakelian

Cover photo, left to right:
Harry Hasekian, Edward Bashian, Karekin Proodian

Many thanks to Christine Gabaly for her contribution in memory of her grandparents Setrak and Siranoush Aijian.
Thanks also go Diane Kupelian in memory of her grandparents Mary and Vahey Kupelian.


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

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