Friday, October 15, 2010

Blind Blake- A Second Album Of Bahamian Songs (1952)

In eighteen-hundred and ninety one, before I'd work I'd rather be hung
In eighteen-hundred and ninety two, I bought a sharp axe and cut working too
In eighteen-hundred and ninety three, somebody had a job was looking for me
In eighteen-hundred and ninety four, I swear by God she wouldn't work no more

Couldn't do it boy
You shall be free
I'm too lazy boy
You shall be free
When the Good Lord sets you free

Not to be confused with the American blues guitar virtuoso, Blake Alphonso Higgs of Nassau, Bahamas, was an early folk calypso artist who enjoyed some commercial success selling those LPs to cruise passengers put out by tourist board type organizations that show up in the racks with some frequency. Indeed, Blake may have been the main reason for the launching of ART (American Recording and Transcription) Records, a label based out of a Miami hotel, as the first three records in their discography feature Mr. Blake and his Royal Victoria Hotel "Calypsonians."

Featuring all the hallmarks of great calypso- a dancing beat, bawdy wordplay, jokes about booze, excellent musicianship (tight and loose), this album also has something more. Blake has a charisma that still works- the jokes are still funny and the sadness is still sad. It also features an early version of Sloop John B. There are about 3 skips on the album, but I've edited them out so they only make for minimal unpleasantness on the playback. Please email me if you have any of his other stuff- the 78s or the other version of "Conch Ain't Got No Bone" on King...I would love to hear it.

Hoist up the John Botched Surgery


[Original Liner Notes]

A Second Album of BAHAMIAN SONGS BY "Blind Blake" AND THE Royal Victoria Hotel "Calypso" Orchestra

Blake (center), and his boys, strum their tunes in the dreamy, near-tropical atmosphere of their native Bahamas. From time to time, they are joined by a pair of drums, cleaver (or "catacoo"), "Music" (a dog), and a pair of itinerant maracas. The result is a blend of folk-song, calypso, and "early" jazz that, combined with a really amazing repertoire of local ballads (if Blake doesn't know it, he'll invent it) has kept the coins jingling in their hats for over twenty years now. Blake's popular first album of records (also on LP) included "J.P. Morgan," "Jones (Oh Jones," "Yes, Yes, Yes," "Pretty Boy," "Run Come See," "Love, Love Alone," "Lord Got Tomatoes," "Pigeon," "Watermelon Spoilin' on the Vine," and "Never Interfere With Man and Wife", and eleven more selections are hereby added to the list. We have included several which, though not Bahamian in origin, have been around Nassau long enough to have acquired a definite Bahamian accent. While our "
Gin and Coconut Water" varies but little from the standard Caribbean version, the three tunes in the "West Indian Melody" are heavily embroidered with local references, most of them from the old "bootlegging" days. "My Freckle-Faced Consumptive Sara Jane," and "1891", longtime local favorites, are often recognized as versions of old American folk tunes.

But thoroughly Bahamian is "
Peas and Rice" ("Mama don' Wants no Peas, no Rice, no Coconut Oil...") sometimes referred to as the "Bahamian National Anthem," and sure to be familiar to all but the deafest cruise passenger who has spent a day in Nassau. The tune originated here during the first World War, when the scarcity of imported cooking fats forced the substitution of local coconut oil as a culinary medium- to the increasing disgust of its users. By stinting himself on verses (of which there are "several"), Blake has included on the same record another favourite of those guitar-slung, straw-hatted troubadours who peddle their musical wares from Bay Street to Grant's Town and back again. As surely as Mr. and Mrs. Cruise Passenger are greeted at the dock by "Peas and Rice and Coconut Oil"- they climb wearily aboard the tender, that night, clutching their straw bags and their perfume, their two gallons of duty-free liquor, and their heads, to the insistent and now familiar refrain of "Little Nassau, little Nassau- you'll have a won-der-ful time in Nassau-u-u!" It's a real tourist tune, with its obvious origin during the days of "Prohibition", when the tourist trade was still in its barefooted infancy, and Nassau had something more important than sunshine, palm trees, and eternal June, to offer its thirsty American visitors.

One of the oldest and best-loved Bahamian songs is the tragi-comic ballad "
The John B. Sail". The "John B." was an old sponger boat whose crew were in the habit of getting notoriously merry, whenever they made port. A popular version of this song has recently become well-known in the U.S., under the title "The Wreck of the John B."...."A Conch Ain't Got Not Bone" drifted into Nassau town, with Blake on an Out-Island sloop, about 20 years back. We hope its references to "mosquito" and "sandfly," some of our less ingratiating local characters, will not offend the Development Board. We hasten to add that the song refers to tame ones, who will not bite! As for "Conch," that talented univalve whose exotic shell adorned Grandma's what-not, makes cameos, buttons- "he" is delicious- stewed, fried, in fritters, chowder, or "en casserole"- no bones either.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pannalal Ghosh- Raag Yaman / Raag Shri (1960)

"Dr. Raghava Menon narrates a very touching anecdote about Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sahib. He fondly remembers that when he once met the Ustad just before his death ; the Ustad had told him “Now my life is reaching towards Yaman." The Ustad intuitively realised that the dusk of his life was near and hence drew this beautiful analogy between his life and Raag Yaman, a raag to be sung after twilight hours."
-Site devoted to this raga; the first students are taught and "King of Ragas"

shri: (Sanskrit) "Auspicious. Holy. Beauty."
-Sanskrit Hinduism Dictionary

Pannalal Ghosh's excellent evening flute ragas were the second release (after an Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar duet) on the Gramophone Company of India label and the first distributed in the U.S. via His Master's Voice.



[Original Liner Notes]



Indian music is built on Ragas which are melodic forms and are based on (i) Parent Scales 72 in number and (ii) ascending and descending modal scales known as Arohana and Avarohana respectively. Each Raga has its own character, colour and mood which go to build up an atmosphere appropriate to the time of day or night, season or occasion. It is a matter of common experience that a melody sung or played out of its scheduled time invariably fails to achieve this object.

An Octave in the Indian scale has besides the principle seven notes five semitones which are either flat (Komal) or sharp (Teevra). The seven notes are known as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. Of these, Sa and Pa, that is the Tonic and the Dominant notes, are immovable whereas the remaining five are variable.

Indian music is predominantly melodic in character and although harmony in its simplest form may be present, it is inherent rather than deliberate. For the better and finer enjoyment of Indian music Western audiences will do well to keep all though of harmony and counterpoint out of their minds and relax in the rich melody and rhythm as well as the exquisitely subtle inflections through which the atmosphere of a Raga is built up.

Indian classical music is not preconceived or pre-written. Within the framework of the rules governing the Raga and the limitations on use of particular notes either in ascent or descent, an artiste has complete freedom for the play of his imagination and his skill. It is this capacity to improvise and create new patterns at every step that determines the stature of the artiste.


The magic flute of this celebrated artiste was silenced forever as a result of his untimely death in New Delhi recently. And Indian classical music suffered an irreparable loss as Pannalal Ghosh was one of its finest exponents.

Born on 31st July 1911 in the Barisal District of the former East Bengal, now East Pakistan, he evinced keen interest in music even as a child. Curiously enough it was the humble bamboo flute, which not so long ago was considered worthy only of folk music in India, that took his fancy. In his youth he developed a passion for this simple instrument and his most significant achievement in the realm of music lies in the fact that he more than any one else raised the flute to the status of a full-fledged concert instrument.

There is hardly anything in classical music that Pannalal Ghosh was not able to interpret on the flute and his performances were highlighted by the superb technique of Pure Exposition of the Ragas coupled with the soft, mellow, and soothing tone of his instrument which he specially designed. It is an outsize flute about 32" long and the seven holes on it are so wide apart that no ordinary flute player can play on it with ease and proficiency that this gifted Flutist exhibited in his playing whilst weaving intricate patterns in the course of elaboration of a Raga.

At the time of his demise Pannalal Ghosh was conductor of the National Orchestra of All India Radio at New Delhi in which capacity he distinguished himself with his highly imaginative and delightful compositions based on classical Ragas. Before that for a number of years he was composing music for the films in Bombay, some of which were big musical hits of their time. The changing trends in film music did not however suit his temperament and genius, which were more to the classical side, and he started concentrating more and more on his instrument appearing in concerts and music festivals all over the country before he got his last assignment with All India Radio.

This is a most popular Raga having all the 7 notes both in Ascent (Arohana) and Descent (Avarohana). The usual practice is to expound this Raga in the evening or early part of the night. It creates a very quiet and subdued atmosphere and is very serene in character. The slow moving flow of the exposition unfolding the ever surpassing beauty of the melody in the process of elaboration speaks volumes for the imagination and skill of the artiste. The first part is confined to a Tal (Rhythm) known as "Zoomra". This consists of 14 equal beats divided into two equal parts of 7 each. This is followed by a melody in the same Raga but in a faster tempo and is confined to the Tal (Teental) consisting of 16 beats divided into four groups.

This Raga too is an evening melody. Its mood and character are serious and dignified and it is very difficult to expound. As the notes permissible in this Raga are also permissible in some other Ragas, the skill of the artiste lies in weaving such note-combinations alone as would distinguish it from other similar Ragas. The artiste after a short "Alap" or introduction in the beginning plays a melody in Tal Talwada consisting of 16 equal beats (Matras) and gradually develops the mood of the Raga by the combination of the notes peculiar to it. Later he switches over to faster melody in Teen Tal which consists of 16 equal beats divided into four equal groups.

The freedom and ease with which the artiste moves throughout a range of over three octaves in both these expositions provide an experience to the listener as rich as it is rare.