Canary Records Preserves Sounds from Early 20th Century American Immigrant Communities

Canary Records Preserves Sounds from Early 20th Century American Immigrant Communities

Canary Information Preserves Sounds from Early twentieth Century American Immigrant Communities


Liz Ohanesian

January 07, 2021

Again within the 1990’s, whereas choosing by means of stacks of 78 rpm information at flea markets and storage gross sales, Baltimore music aficionado Ian Nagoski got here throughout a great deal of albums recorded in languages apart from English. “I knew nothing about them, and there was no solution to discover out something about them, it appeared,” he says. Ultimately, he would study quite a bit—not simply in regards to the artists recording within the first half of the twentieth century, however in regards to the historical past of immigration to the USA.

Canary Records, which Nagoski launched in 2009, focuses on classic U.S. recordings, a few of which are actually over a century outdated. He takes a historian’s strategy to releasing music, researching the lives of artists and the eras through which the music was made, typically in collaboration with others who share these musical pursuits.

A lot of the label’s emphasis is on music made by, and for, the immigrant communities that fashioned within the nation between the late 1800’s and early 1920’s. Notably, the label’s releases dig into the music of artists who got here from what was then often known as the Close to East (immediately, the Center East or South West Asia and North Africa, aka SWANA) and Jap Europe. Over time, Nagoski has spotlighted artists like singers Marika Papagika and Zabelle Panosian and oudist/singer Marko Melkon, presenting their biographies and music. 

Artists on these information typically characterize communities who have been uprooted by traumatic occasions—struggle, persecution, genocide—and have been later impacted by the wave of anti-immigration sentiments that took maintain of the U.S. within the 1920’s. In some situations, there may be an activist angle to the artists, both by means of their lyrical content material or documented performances at political occasions.

Whereas Nagoski’s preliminary curiosity sprung from straightforward accessibility (these have been information that, whereas uncommon, have been typically discovered at very low worth factors), Canary finally coalesced as a historic venture contextualizing America’s musical heritage heading into the twentieth century. There are tales in Canary’s catalog about world occasions that formed the nation’s rising inhabitants, musicians who have been preserving their linguistic and cultural heritage in a brand new nation, backed by a then-emergent community of impartial labels. Exterior of releasing the music, Nagoski has additionally written articles and given lectures on the artists and the historical past behind their work. He’s at the moment engaged on a biography of Zabelle Panosian with co-authors Harout Arakelian and Harry Kezelian, supposed for launch later in 2021.

As Nagoski notes, there was a substantial quantity of music recorded and launched within the U.S. in languages apart from English by means of the early twentieth century, although that reality shouldn’t be broadly recognized in American music historical past. “America has such a bizarre relationship to the thought of immigration, that each one these items bought left behind,” he says. “None of it bought written into the story of who we’re as Individuals.”

Listed here are ten releases on Canary which, fairly actually, set that document straight.

Marika Papagika
What Makes You Happy: Greek Music in New York, December 1918 – May 1928

“With some folks, you simply discover out no matter you’ll be able to, and then you definately publish that and then you definately let it go,” says Nagoski. That wasn’t the case when it got here to Marika Papagika. Within the mid ’00s, when Nagoski first started trying into the lifetime of the Greek singer Marika Papagika, he discovered a three-sentence Wikipedia entry that stated she died of heartbreak. “What does that imply, proper?” says Nagoski. Over time, he stored digging, as did different researchers. In between the discharge of Canary Information first Papagika compilation, The Additional the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me, in 2010 and the current assortment, What Makes You Pleased, they’ve came upon quite a bit about her, like info on gigs she performed in Egypt and performances at Greek political occasions within the U.S. Furthermore, Nagoski bought a solution to that query from his preliminary studying on Papagika: She died of coronary heart illness on the age of 52.

Zabelle Panosian
I Am a Servant of Your Voice: March 1917 – June 1918

I Am a Servant of Your Voice, Canary Information’ assortment of labor from Armenian-American soprano Zabelle Panosian, opens with “Groung (Crane),” a rendition of the tune by composer and musicologist Komitas, an important determine within the historical past of Armenian music. Also referred to as “Krunk,” it’s a tune that has been carried out by many artists through the years. (Most lately, Zola Jesus released a version of it.) The most important spotlight, “Groung,” was additionally her greatest hit; Nagoski surmises that it offered about 100,000 copies in its time. Panosian, who sang primarily in Armenian, had a strong soprano voice with the power to carry notes for thus lengthy that she may make songs sound as in the event that they have been carried by means of wind. The mournful tones in her voice, coupled with the classic high quality of the recordings, add ethereal layers to this handful of songs.

Marko Melkon
Hi-Fi Adventure in Asia Minor

One title that comes up typically within the Canary Information catalog is that of Marko Melkon. Not solely is the oudist and singer the topic of two releases, he additionally seems as a aspect performer for different artists. Melkon (born Melkon Alemsherian) was an ethnic Armenian raised in Smyrna (immediately Izmir, Turkey) and lived and labored in Athens earlier than immigrating to the USA. On the time of Hello-Fi Journey in Asia Minor—an lively, extremely danceable album launched simply 5 years earlier than his demise in 1958—Melkon was a nightclub performer who continuously recorded with native musicians. “He simply didn’t make unhealthy information,” says Nagoski, describing Melkon as “the definition of a robust, stable participant.” For extra perception into Melkon’s work, give I Go Around Drinking Raki: ca. 1942-51 Recordings a hear as nicely. The singer has since grew to become a degree of fascination for Canary Information’s founder. Along with studying particulars of Panosian’s life—we now know that she she toured Europe, and met Komitas—he’s tracked down all of her releases, making I Am a Servant of Your Voice probably the most definitive document of her work thus far

Varied Artists
No News From Tomorrow: Greek and Turkish Speaking Jewish Women in New York, ca. 1942-50

For the previous decade, Nagoski has been engaged on an in depth compilation of music from the Me Re/Balkan/Metropolitan household of labels, which existed roughly from the late 1930’s by means of the late ’50s and launched songs recorded in Turkish, Greek, Albanian, and Ladino. Since he’s been attempting to gather all the things these labels launched, there have been just a few offshoots of the venture, together with No Information From Tomorrow. The compilation consists of the recordings of three girls. Amalia Bakas was born right into a Romaniote Jewish group in Ioannina, Greece, moved to the U.S. as a youngster in 1912 and spent many years working as a nightclub singer. Victoria Hazan was from Turkey, immigrated to the U.S. in 1922, and primarily sang at her synagogue. Sarah Behar, in the meantime, is a little bit of a thriller; the 2 songs on the compilation are the one ones that she’s recognized to have recorded. Nagoski says that there are three folks together with her title on census information of the time. “We simply do not know who she is,” he says. “5 minutes of her voice, that’s the sum complete of the recordings in her life.”

Varied Artists
Quilted Flowers: 1940s Albanian & Epirot Recordings from the Balkan Label

Quilted Flowers is one other offshoot of Nagoski’s work documenting the Me Re/Balkan/Metropolitan household of labels, particularly their output through the 1940’s. Ajdin Asllan, himself an Albanian immigrant, was the founder of those labels. Along with working with U.S.-based artists, he additionally launched music from Albanian performers who would by no means launch recordings of their dwelling nation. “They solely bought launched in the USA for the tiny, Albanian immigrant group as a result of it mattered to him,” says Nagoski. This compilation consists of music that originates in each Albania and northwestern Greece. “There’s lots of backwards and forwards between Albanian and Greek music in that area,” says Nagoski. Plus, he notes, the music is significantly completely different from what was performed in and across the area’s ports on the time. “It’s actually particular as a result of it advanced in its personal geographical world. It lives in its personal time,” he says. “It’s very peculiar and particular. These information are usually not straightforward to get. I’ve been on the hunt for some years.” The kinds represented on Quilted Flowers are different from vocal tracks like “Lule Sofo Djale Lule, gjinokatrite” by Z. Sadik that give an instance of Albania’s iso-polyphonic custom to Z. Sabri Fehimi’s violin-heavy instrumental “Kaba Me Violi, leskovikut.” All through, you’ll wish to hear carefully for drones and trance-like melodies.

Varied Artists
Very Sweet: Armenian-American Independent Releases, vol. 2, ca. 1926-29

Whereas Victor and Columbia, the 2 main labels of the early twentieth century, had launched lots of music in languages apart from English, this follow was winding down by the 1920’s. Columbia, Nagoski notes, had stopped releasing music in languages like Turkish, Arabic, and Armenian. The explanations for this are unknown, however, he says, “most likely these information weren’t promoting like hotcakes.” In the meantime, the tools wanted to make information was changing into extra accessible. That made it attainable for some businesspeople to start out their very own document labels. These have been small, impartial labels that catered to particular ethnic communities. 

Very Candy is the second in a two-part sequence devoted to Armenian-American impartial labels and focuses particularly on Pharos, an establishment of East Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood, then often known as “Little Armenia.” One important observe on right here is “Ouskeh Gukas (The place Do You Come From?)” by Nishan Keljikian with Gulazian’s, which is a protest of the anti-immigration Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 that barred émigrés from Asia and drastically restricted immigration from all over the place else. (The primary a part of this sequence, Oh My Soul: Armenian-American Independent Releases vol. 1: ca. 1920-25 consists of work from a number of different indie labels situated in or round New York and can be out there on Bandcamp.)

Varied Artists
I’m Gonna Give You Everything: 1940s-50s Independent Label 78 rpm Dances & Ballads of Anatolian, Greek & Levantine Immigrants

Earlier this 12 months, on-line radio station tasked Nagoski with making a mixtape, which he later determined to revise and launch as I’m Gonna Give You All the pieces. The compilation picks up the place his earlier collections of impartial information ended. He explains that, following the inventory market crash in 1929, indie labels specializing in particular immigrant communities’s music disappeared. By the 1940’s, although, there was a resurgence. Not solely have been folks releasing their music, he says, however they have been importing (and typically bootlegging) information made exterior the U.S. The consequence was a “large proliferation” of music launched through the ’40s and ’50s. Right here, you’ll discover music recorded throughout the USA, from Watertown, Massachusetts, to Fresno, California. The place lots of Canary’s compilations are organized round particular recording areas, labels or performers, I’m Going to Give You All the pieces gives a much bigger cross-section of recordings and ranges from dance-oriented items like “Mijwiz Dabka” from Sam (Semi) Sheheen and His Utica Ensemble and “Raks Araby” from Naim Karacand, to ballads like Waheed Karam’s “Adishe Hiloo Lebanon” and Yenovk Der Hagopian’s “Bulbuleh (Nightingale).”

Varied Artists
Send Me the Bones: From the Earliest Syrian-American Recordings, July 1913 – June 1919

Ship Me the Bones is a compilation of recordings from Syrian-Individuals who immigrated to the U.S. between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Nonetheless, there’s one other frequent denominator connecting a lot of the music right here, and that’s violinist Naim Karacand. “He’s the person who I fell in love with and it seems is central to the story,” says Nagoski. Karacand was born in Aleppo and immigrated to the U.S. in 1909. “He simply performed with all people and he was probably the greatest violin gamers America ever had,” says Nagoski. Karacand did obtain accolades in his time, however his legacy light with time. Nagoski compares him to Sami Al-Shawwa, the Syrian violinist who relocated to Cairo, grew to become world-renowned as a pivotal determine in early twentieth century Arabic music. The 2 had comparable repertoires and kinds of taking part in, Nagoski says, however within the case of Karacand, “America wouldn’t bear in mind.”

Varied Artists
Canary Polka: Ukrainian Folk Music in NYC 1928-32

One in all Nagoski’s ongoing pursuits is the music of Jap Europe. “The place I dwell, you discover heaping mounds of Polish and Ukrainian and Lithuanian and Ashkenazi Jewish information,” he says, including that it’s not simply in Baltimore, however in cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh which can be solely a handful of hours away from him. The music right here isn’t what you may consider whenever you hear the world polka. Whereas a standard notion of polka is of accordion-driven music, on Canary Polka, the fiddle takes the middle stage. Pawlo Humeniuk, a outstanding fiddler of the 1920’s and 1930’s, performs on a lot of the album and has such an exuberant fashion that, at instances, apparently his instrument is laughing.

Varied Artists
A Better Cure: A Brief History of the Okeh Laughing Record & Its Progeny

With a deal with early twentieth century recordings, Canary Information has sometimes delved into novelty releases of these instances, spotlighting outdated time traits like whistling and chicken songs. He’s particularly pleased with A Higher Remedy, which incorporates “Okeh Laughing Report,” successful launch in 1922 that facilities round three minutes of laughter. “Lots of people don’t prefer it. It weirds folks out,” says Nagoski, “however it’s a masterpiece.” The compilation additionally options information that stemmed from the success of “Okeh Laughing Report,” like “Okeh Crying Report” and “Contagious Coughs.”

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