If Brass Pins & Pearls gives a sense of the breadth of world music, the next two collections give a sense of the depth. 1934-1935 contains the songs of a famous Hindustani singer of the early 20th century. Khansahib Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, born into a Muslim musical family, first trained as an instrumentalist before switching to voice. In 1894 he obtained a coveted engagement at the court of Baroda, but lost it a few years later when he eloped with the daughter of a Hindu nobleman. Economic circumstances forced him to deviate from the traditional ways of performing classical music. Instead of performing for small, closed groups of upper-class listeners, he toured and gave concerts to mass audiences. He also made several innovations in Indian classical music and is one of the founders of the Kirana Gharana school of music. In addition, he was one of the first classical singers to perform thumris (semi-erotic poems originally sung as accompaniment for female dancers).
Abdul Karim Khan was known for his sweet supple voice and perfect pitch. These recordings were made in Bombay a few years before his death in 1937 and represent a number of different styles and ragas. The Western listener can appreciate his tonal qualities and the way his accompanist follows his vocal improvisations. Indian classical music is very complicated in its structures and rules (as I’m finding out!) and it’s difficult for someone unfamiliar with it to obtain more than a surface understanding without a significant time investment.
Largely forgotten today, Marika Papagika was one of the most successful singers of Greek music in America. The Further the Flame, the Worse it Burns Me: Greek Folk Music in New York City, 1919-28 samples her work. She came to the U.S. in 1914 with her husband Costas, who served as business partner and her accompanist on cimbalom (a type of hammered dulcimer). The two also had a nightclub in New York during the '20s, where Marika could showcase her talents. Unfortunately, her success and recording career ended with the Great Depression. Her nightclub closed in 1930, and she died in obscurity 13 years later.