Category: Archive of World Music (page 1 of 7)

Early Arabic Sound Recordings and the Public Domain

Happy Public Domain Day! Copyright has a limited duration, and it’s a moving wall – every January 1st, here in the United States, more items enter the public domain, meaning that they can be freely shared, reused, and remixed into new works by anyone. This year, books, musical compositions, and films from 1926 join the public domain.

A calendar display showing the last digit of 2021 rolling over to 2022, and the text "Public Domain Day".

Public Domain Day logo by wikipedia user Cienkamila, slightly modified by wikipedia user odder, CC BY-SA 3.0

And thanks to the Music Modernization Act (technically, one of its components, Title II, the Classic Protection and Access Act), sound recordings published prior to 1923 enter the public domain in the United States. This is a really big deal! Since pre-1972 sound recordings didn’t have federal copyright protection until the passage of the MMA, they’ve been languishing in copyright limbo for decades – in some cases, for well over a century – and there are a lot of them: by some estimates, over 400,000 early sound recordings are now part of the public domain. This change to the law dramatically expands our ability to share early 20th-century sound recordings from our collections for listening, research, and reuse.

The Arabic 78 Collection at the Loeb Music Library

The label of a record produced by Columbia Records, with a drawing of a woman in a headscarf and two solemn-faced children clutching her skirt. The woman is looking backwards, at a building being consumed by a raging fire.

Visit our new digital collection to listen to selections from the Arabic 78 Collection!

To celebrate, we’re releasing a small subset of our early 20th century Arabic 78 collection on our new Aviary site. Acquired over many years, the Arabic 78 Collection currently contains nearly 600 cataloged recordings of Arab and Arab-American music spanning the first half of the 20th century, from roughly 1903 through the 1950s, valuable not only for their musical content, but also as artifacts of the early sound recording industry. We’ve been working to digitize this collection over the past several years, and we’re excited to begin sharing it!

A blue paper record label in English and Arabic, reading "International Talking Machine Co. m.b.H. Odeon Record.

“Asl al-Gharam nazra,” recorded in 1905 on the German label Odeon. Loeb Music Library, AWM 78-101

Many of the earliest records date to the late Nahda era, a period of “renaissance” in Arab literature and culture. Among the renowned performers represented in the collection are Egyptian singers Yūsuf Al-Manyalāwī (1847-1911), Abd al-Ḥayy Ḥilmī (1857-1912), Salāmah Ḥijāzī (1852-1917), Sayyid Al- Ṣaftī (1875-1939), Munīrah Al-Mahdiyyah (1884-1965) and Sayyid Darwīsh (1892-1923), and instrumentalists such as Sāmī Al-Shawwā (violin, 1889-1965) and Naʻīm Karakand (violin, 1891-1973). Stars such as Umm Kulthūm (1904-1975), Muḥammad ʻAbd al-Wahhāb (1902-1991) and Asmahān (1912-1944) are also represented, alongside less well-known performers like Faraj Allāh Afandī Bayḍā, Aḥmad afandī Al-Mīr, and Zakiyyah Akūb, likely the first woman to record in Arabic in the US.

A record label with a drawing of a seated, mostly nude woman playing a lyre. The label reads "Opera Disc Company. Syrian Male Song."

This rendition of “Khallayānī bilawʻātī” was recorded in 1910 on a Gramophone Co. master. The pirate label Opera Disc operated in New York in the early 1920s; the original Gramophone matrix number, 11-12490, is barely visible underneath the right side of the paper label. AWM 78-232

The recordings were made by large multi-national American and European record companies such as Gramophone Company, Columbia, Victor and Odeon, but significant local companies such as Baidaphon (the first independent record label in the Arab world) and Fabrik Mechian are also included, as well as Maloof and Macksoud from the US. The collection even includes discs issued on early pirate labels like Opera Disc Company. Later Arab-American record labels such as Alamphon, Arabphon and Al-Chark are also to be found in the collection. Genres cover a wide range of Arab musical forms including al-mawwāl (vocal improvisation), qaṣīdah (sung poems), taqsīm (instrumental improvisation), film music, ṭaqṭūqah (pop songs) and Qur’anic recitations.

For more about the collection, see our 2017 post, Arabic 78 RPM Records Collection: A Newly-Catalogued Treasure by graduate student assistant Farah Zahra, who researched and catalogued many of the recordings.

How We Dated These Recordings

Resources for dating the early discs in this collection are limited. In only a few cases has data come down to us from original company records, as is true with the multinationals Victor, Columbia, and the Gramophone Company. In those cases, a wealth of metadata was painstakingly researched by early discographers and has now made its way into database form for use in determining recording dates. Two examples are the Discography of American Historical Recordings and the Kelly On-line Database (Gramophone Company). But in some cases, ethnic or foreign series are missing or incomplete in these resources, which means we rely on the work of discographers who have focused on ethnic recordings. In the case of Arab-American recordings, we have used Dick Spottswood’s Ethnic music on records: a discography of ethnic recordings produced in the United States, 1893 to 1942 (University of Illinois, 1990) and his online Columbia Records E Series, 1908-1923 discography.

It is important to note that U.S. copyright law, including the new Music Modernization Act (MMA) that has now taken effect (as of January 1, 2022), is based on publication/release date rather than recording date. Precise data about release dates is even more scarce, though we do have information about U.S. Columbia releases. In theory, we can also use dated record company catalogs and supplements to help confirm release or publication date, but these are rare for ethnic/foreign releases. Although it cannot be taken as definitive, or as universal practice for the period, it seems an average of 8 to 10 weeks passed between recording and release date for early popular artists on Columbia (according to Allan Sutton’s Columbia Record Recording and Release Dates (1896-1934), p.6). But this timeframe could be rushed or held up based on the artist or demand.

We have made our copyright assessment based on all available data and specifically for use in the U.S. with regard to the new MMA laws. When we’ve made a reasonable determination that release dates occurred before December 31, 1922, the recording will be available to the public (and downloadable). For all others, users can request permission to hear the recording for a limited period (no download).

How to Listen

To share them, we’re using Aviary, a system that gives us a user-friendly way to create themed collections and add supplemental material, like high-quality images of the disc labels and matrix numbers (important sources for discographers and other researchers). As more recordings enter the public domain and we evaluate the copyright status of the discs in our collections, we plan to continue adding 78s to the collection. Many of the recordings on the site now are available for streaming and download; some are restricted. To request temporary listening access to those recordings, you’ll be prompted to register for a free Aviary account.

We hope you’ll enjoy this peek into the collections, and we look forward to sharing more!

Explore Further

-Kerry Masteller and Peter Laurence

Hudeidi, the Somali “King of Oud”: Celebrating a Musical Life Claimed by COVID-19

Spring 2021 marks the one year anniversary of Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi’s death as a result of complications from COVID-19. Since that time, the world has lost over three million people to the virus.  Hudeidi can be heard throughout the Archive of World Music’s Somali Songs Collection of approximately 500 audiocassettes comprising a range of popular music from the 1950s-1990s.

Who was Hudeidi?

A man dressed in a suit holding a lute.

Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi (1928-2020). Image courtesy BBC World Africa, 2020.

Born in Somalia in 1928, Hudeidi spent a significant portion of his childhood in Yemen. It was here that he learned to play the Arab lute known as the oud, or kaman/kaban in Somali, a type of short-necked plucked chordophone that is ubiquitous in music of the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT). Although symbolically tied to the MENAT, the oud is an important instrument in myriad genres and styles throughout the world, especially in Muslim societies such as Somalia.

When Hudeidi came of age, he moved back to Somalia and also spent time in Djibouti where he sometimes clashed with authorities for singing political songs. He made significant contributions to genres of hees, or Somali sung poetry. His boldness and virtuosity made him well-known amongst Somali musicians and audiences. Throughout his career, he accompanied some of Somalia’s most famous vocalists, such as Magool and Sara Ahmed, and worked alongside other lauded oud players, such as Omar Dhule, and composers such as Abdullahi Qarshe.  Here is a video of Hudeidi and Qarshe together in a Somali television interview, which concludes with a performance by the oud master:

One of Hudeidi’s most famous compositions was a song he wrote for his brother:

Uur Hooyo (Mother’s Womb) (AWM SC 12263)

(translation by linguist Martin Orvin, SOAS 2012).

Mother’s Womb

You, the abundant light

That my eyes graze on

Do not take me lightly

You who shared My mother’s womb

You born of my father’s back

Who shared the breast

We weaned from the same I shall never forget you… 

Qaraami (Love Songs)

Hudeidi is one of the most revered accompanists of qaraami (love songs), which form a large portion of the AWM’s Somali Songs Collection. The above song exemplifies the broad nature of the “love” theme in such music, which can include love of family, nature, or Allah (God), in addition to romantic love.

Celebrated and active until his death, Hudeidi collaborated with contemporary artists in traditional and hybrid genres throughout the world and in his London home, where he settled later in life.  One notable collaboration was with Aar Maanta, the British-Somali singer who reimagined Hudeidi’s famous song mentioned above, Uur Hooyo:

Music Across the Indian Ocean

Hudeidi’s work exemplifies the cross-cultural fusion resulting from centuries of trade relationships between Muslim societies connected by the Indian Ocean, an “Afro-Asiatic seascape” comprising “the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal [that] is framed by Madagascar, the Horn of Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Southeast Asian archipelago, and Australia” (Byl and Sykes 2020:395).

Map with red lines indicating connection between countries over ocean.

Map of Indian Ocean trade network   (Szczepanski 2019)

Having spent a significant portion of his early years in Yemen, Hudeidi learned the fundamentals of the Arabic melodic modal system, known as maqamat, which he applied to Somali genres and carried with him in his world travels. Although many Somali oud players adopted elements of Arabic maqamat and taqasim (solo melodic improvisation) in the development of Somali genres, Hudeidi studied these elements extensively during his time living in the Yemeni port city of Aden.

In his adult life, he was as much a teacher as performer, known for offering  musical instruction, often free of charge, to students from around the world.  His home in London was known as an “informal music school” where he offered lessons, strong Yemeni coffee, and “a bed to anyone who needed it” (BBC World Africa, 2020).

In 2003, Hudeidi was interviewed by BBC London. In one of the few English language interviews available of the musician, he describes his love of the oud:

In honor of Hudeidi, below is a playlist of qaraami songs from AWM Somali Songs Collection. We suggest you enjoy with some strong coffee. For more on the wider collection, see this previous blog post.

(Each track contains the link to the song in the Archive of World Music and another YouTube video version.)

Contributed by: Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant @ Archive of World Music

 

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