I suppose it’s part of being human to emphasize our small portion of our universe—including the musical universe—and de-emphasize the rest. We know that the bigger picture exists—it’s just difficult to maintain our sense of importance when we realize how huge the rest of the musical galaxy is. We forget how many cultures inhabit this universe, each with its own language, history, and instruments.
Musicologist Ian Nagoski doesn’t hesitate before plunging into this musical expanse. Actually, I don’t know if “musicologist” is the correct term for Nagoski. He just seems to have a greater breadth of knowledge about this universe than virtually anyone else. A couple of years ago the Washington Post did a profile on Nagoski. It provides a fascinating account of how a passion for music can propel someone’s life.
Nagoski’s drive to preserve and document world music has led him to compile multiple compilations of the work of pioneering artists in forgotten niches of music. Tompkins Square has released three of his compilations via digital service (they were previously released on CD). I’ve previously reviewed three other compilations.
Brass Pins & Pearls: International 78s is a collection of 25 songs of world music from the first half of the 20th century. It was originally released as two LPs (A String of Pearls in late 2009 and Brass Pins & Match Heads in early 2011). Song origins range from Vietnam to Lisbon, Iran to Jamaica. Artists include: Shalom Katz, a Jewish cantor who escaped the Holocaust; Pastora Pavon Cruz, a Spanish flamenco singer; George Stabler, a Native-American flute player from the Omaha tribe; and Nji Raden Hadji Djoehla, a classical Javanese court singer.
Some songs use Western scales, others use Middle- and Far-Eastern modes. There are several different traditions termed “classical” represented, including Javanese (see above), Turkish (tanbur player Refik Bey) and Vietnamese (singer Puong-Bich). Many vigorous genres of folk music are also showcased, including Jamaican calypso, Swiss yodeling, Serbian fiddling, and Indian women’s folk dancing. Each has its own traditions and standards that allow for innovations within a set of guidelines.