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To What Strange Place: Album review 15 février 2012

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, History / Histoire, Immigration, Middle East / Moyen Orient, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, USA / Etats-Unis.
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Inner West Courier (Australia) 15 Feb 2012

By Steve Moffatt

To What Strange Place, a three-disc collection of early recordings of refugees from the Ottoman diaspora made in America from 1916-1929, makes for some fascinating listening.

Immigrants from Anatolia, the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant went into New York City recording studios to put on disc the music of their homelands. The intermingled songs from Christians, Jews and Muslims represents Middle Eastern culture as it existed in America 100 years ago.

It has been brought to life by Ian Nagoski, who started collecting the shellac records after hearing a 90-year-old song by a Greek immigrant.

He was working in a Baltimore record store when a group of “burly men” showed up with a box of old 78s.

In among them were some recordings of the Greek singer Marika Papagika, which to Nagoski sounded like “the very first cry from human beings”. Over the next five years Nagoski started uncovering more and more treasures from the past – music of Turks, Kurds, Armenians and all the ethnic groups caught up in the Balkan upheavals.

For the world music fraternity this project draws parallels with Alan Lomax’s lifetime’s work of collecting and recording early folk and blues singers, tracing their musical roots back to Mali and surrounding African cultures.

The collection is rich and varied, ranging from Papagika’s visceral vocals to the instrumentalists and wedding bands whose music evokes the atmosphere of American noir films of the 1940s. You almost expect to see Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre walking out of a nightclub when you listen to Ya Binti, Ya Bidha.

Some tracks have a western influence – Armenag Chah-Mouradian sounds as if he’s had operatic training with the silvery timbre of a Gigli – but the most interesting ones are the authentic folk tunes like the duet of Lale and Nerkis Hanoum or the band simply labelled Unknown Performers.

Nagoski proves an articulate guide, setting the political and cultural scene on one of the discs, as well as talking about the early record business and how To What Strange Place got started.

This is one to dip into rather than listen to in one long sitting. Released on the Tompkins Square label through Fuse Music, you can get it at JB Hi-Fi for $49.99.

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