Velha Guarda da Portela

Oswaldo Cruz is a town situated about 40 minutes by train northwest of Rio, on the opposite side to the wealthy residential areas of Copacabana and Ipanema. This quieter, lower part of Rio clustered with simple shacks is one of the hotbeds of samba. The aged members of Velha Guarda da Portela, were all sambistas based in Oswaldo Cruz; the town’s respected celebrities. The group name Velha Guarda da Portela, “the old guard of the Portela tradition”, indicates all its members are from Portela, a historical escola de samba in the Oswaldo Cruz district.. Escolas de samba, which literally means samba schools, are not training facilities but roughly local communities of samba. Each escola’s final aim is to take part in the parade and win the contest at the carnaval. The members of Velha Guarda da Portela are the elders who have inherited the tradition of Portela which can boast one of the longest histories among all the escolas de samba.

Another important escola is called Mangueira and together with Portela have always been the two best matched teams at the carnival parade since the 1930s and still today they are invariably the two most important escolas in Rio. The samba styles between the two are slightly different.. Mangueira’s samba has a refined lyricism, compared to Portela’s rather wild version characterized by a communal feel. The Portela sambistas always write songs on the premise that the local populace in Oswaldo Cruz are able to sing along with them, and therefore lay emphasis on the chorus parts. At a Portela samba party, a songwriter sings solo the first half of his work, which is repeated in chorus by the others. Then the writer sings the last half and the others repeat it in chorus as before. This is Portela’s samba which never waivers.

This original style of samba unique to Portela, was created by the old masters of Velha Guarda da Portela who sing on this album. Samba, which was commercially successful during the 1930s, had started to decline by around 1950 and there were no new significant samba developments. On the other hand, communal bonds were reinforced in escolas de samba and more traditionally sounding styles of samba were quietly born including the Portela style. This apparently declining period of commercial samba was conversely the heyday of escolas de samba.

In 1986, Japanese producer Katsunori Tanaka traveled to Oswaldo Cruz to stay with the group over several months to rehearse and record this album. He tried to ensure the Portela masters could display the merits unique to their style to the full. To reproduce the intimate atmosphere of samba parties, every song was accompanied for the most part by the Velha Guarda members and recorded in a live situation as much as possible. In the intervening years, many of these masters have passed away. Their music, warmth and pure sense of enjoyment lives on, an atmosphere hopefully conveyed on this album, a treasure of Brazilian samba.

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Elvy Sukaesih – The Dangdut Queen

Elvy Sukaesih is revered as one of Indonesia’s and East Asia’s greatest ever singers. From the late 60s, her career developed alongside dangdut, the deeply funky local street music, that emerged from 1950s Orkes Melayu (orchestras) and blended various foreign music including Arabic, Indian and western rock with Indonesian instruments such as suling (flute) and gendang (tabla shaped drums). Elvy was the undisputed ‘Queen of Dangdut’ during the music’s golden age in the mid 1970s to 80s, before (arguably) the raw energy and blistering musicianship got drowned out by drum machines and synthesizers. This CD charts the course of this golden age, with a collection of Elvy’s biggest hits and rare tracks.

Elvy has the ability to sing with extraordinary power or extreme subtlety. She also uses a technique virtually unique to singers from eastern Asia, utilizing emotional ornamentation, glissandos and grace notes. Enormously popular in Indonesia, few albums by Elvy Sukaesih are available today outside of Indonesia. This CD was compiled by Japanese music producer Katsunori Tanaka to rectify this situation. It consists mainly of tracks she recorded for Permana Records when Elvy was in her prime. The track order follows Elvy’s path from one of her first hits in the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, a period considered the heyday of dangdut.

Elvy Sukaesih was born in Jakarta on June 25th 1951. Her father was a guitarist who used to play kroncong, another Indonesian music genre with a long history that flourished as the country’s national music in the days just after independence was declared.

At the root of dangdut lay Orkes Melayu. Orkes means orchestra, although it is quite complicated to explain the meaning of the word Melayu. It is one of the dialects (and a race of people) of Indonesia, a multiracial country, but also meaning Indonesia itself. Indonesian people speak some 250 different languages and when the country won its independence from Holland, Melayu was adopted as the nation’s common language. It became a symbol of a united nation in the late 1940s when the word Orkes Melayu was first used. Thus the groups named “Orkes Melayu” meant orchestras which played the national music of the newly born Indonesia.

The sound of Orkes Melayu didn’t simply get westernized, however, instead it became deeper and more rootsy, a crucial point in understanding dangdut. Suling (bamboo flute) and gendang (a pair of Indian tabla shaped drums) were added to produce the sound unique to today’s dangdut. Dangdut is a music which created an original Indonesian sound by taking in successively different foreign musical elements. It had originally no established roots or source. It was born from virtually nowhere to become one of Indonesia’s most popular styles of music.

Elvy Sukaesih grew up as a singer in parallel with dangdut itself. She embodies the history of the music through her career and its allure through her skill. She is fully entitled to claim that she has been singing dangdut from its beginning. Elvy Sukaesih truly is ‘The Dangdut Queen’.

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Sambasunda – The Sunda Music

From Bandung, SambaSunda are like nothing else in Sunda (west Java) or the rest of Indonesia. At the root of their sound is Sundanese traditional music played on bamboo instruments to which they have added latin rhythms, other western music or combined it with Balinese gamelan, which they then have combined with their local jaipong music. SambaSunda is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Ismet Ruchimat, who is also musical director for the Jugula Orchestra, based at Bandung’s famous Jugula studios, owned by arranger, choreographer and creator of jaipongan, Gugum Gumbira.

All sixteen or so members of SambaSunda are well versed in traditional Sundanese music and are adept at playing all the traditional instruments from the various percussion, to suling (flute) kecapi (zither) and violin. Some, including Ismet, were part of the Jugula All Stars who collaborated with Sabah Habas Mustapha on the albums Jalan Kopo and So La Li (both on the Kartini label).

This album is a compilation from their five albums released so far on the GNP label in Indonesia. On the first album released in 1998, they called themselves CMBW Music Group and Sambasunda was the title track. This album included elements of gamelan degung, and other Indonesian styles including Balinese kebyar and the Jakarta based gambang kromong with samba rhythms. The following Gebyar Bali Jaipong mixed Balinese gamelan and the local dance and music Jaipong with elements of Sundanese gamelan music. Jaipong being a largely vocal music, this album features more vocal tracks than any other SambaSunda album.

Sundanese gamelan and Balinese gamelan were mixed again on Sunda Bali. The lilting tones of Sundanese gamelan is steeped in a rich history that can be traced back several centuries and has a tradition as being created for the common people. The more dynamic Balinese gamelan however is performed for the gods. SambaSunda are the only group to have merged these contrasting styles. Takbir and Shalawat features various membranophone percussion instruments including the Arabic darbucca. The music also has a Middle Eastern feel and celebrates ‘Hari Raya’ the end of the Muslim fasting period. The latest studio album Salsa and Salse mixes the words of the Latin dance and music salsa with salse, Sundanese for taking it easy. Containing elements of salsa and latin music and played on bamboo gamelan the album is one of their most intoxicating.

SambaSunda create a pulsating wall of sound that shakes the foundations of their tradition to the core, to emerge with a spellbinding, at times wistful, and highly original blend of music both vocal and instrumental. A new type of gamelan music rooted in the past, mingled with the urban energy of the present. The new Sound of Sunda.

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Waldjinah – Ratu Jawa

If there is one area of the world to rival West Africa for an amazing array of superb female singers it has to be East Asia. Among the countries of south- east Asia, Indonesia has more than its fair share of such mellifluous voiced singers. Waldjinah has been a national singing star in Indonesia for over four decades. She is something of a singing chameleon, seamlessly switching from fairly traditional to more pop sounding material, but is probably best known for singing the style called kroncong. Arguably kroncong is the world’s oldest popular music that is made up of a variety of styles from around the world, with elements of Asian and European music and traces of possibly Arab and African influences too.

Waldjinah was born on November 7th 1943 in Solo, Central Java. At her first public performance in 1958 she won a singing contest with a recording contract as her prize. She repeated that success at a kroncong contest in 1965, gaining national recognition. She next developed a new style of popular music, called langgam jawa. Her radical version was based on 32 bar American pop songs of the day, accompanied by kroncong instrumentation, yet played in the traditional pentatonic (five note) pelog scale, normally associated with Javanese gamelan music. This style was adapted to the popular music pentatonic slendro scale, on her biggest hit from 1969, ‘Walang Kekek’, a version of which is included on this album.

From around the mid 1980s, Waldjinah took up the mantle as Indonesia’s finest singer of kroncong, and has released numerous albums in this style. She is further regarded locally as one of the greatest ever singers to emerge from Java. She has now released a vast body of work, numbering about 150 albums and cassettes.

Originally recorded for the Japanese market, but also released in Indonesia, ‘Ratu Jawa’ (Queen of Java) features a dazzling array of talented musicians. Working with Waldjinah, and other top Indonesian musicians are a veritable dream team of pioneering Japanese musicians and producers who have a track record of embracing roots music to create unique, modern mixtures of Japanese and Asian sounds. These include Makoto Kubota, producer of landmark Indonesian recordings by Detty Kurnia, Elvy Sukaesih and Malagasy group N’Java. Also keyboard player, arranger and producer Kazuya Sahara, who was largely responsible for the wonderful texture of sounds behind Okinawan female quartet Nenes, who themselves appear on this album. Another Japanese producer Oto has been at the cutting edge of modern Japanese roots music combining it with dance, reggae, African and rai music.

The producer of this CD Katsunori Tanaka has a unique experience of working with not only Indonesian musicians but also in Malaysia, leading to his association with the country’s leading accordion player S.Atan, another guest on this album. In the 1980s Tanaka lived in Brazil, producing several records by Brazilian samba musicians. Some of these add yet another colour to the already rich palette of sounds that can be heard on ‘Ratu Jawa’.

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Carmen Miranda – Imperatriz do Samba

Carmen Miranda is probably the greatest female singer in Brazilian music history. In the 1930s Brazilian music was at the peak in its long and creative history and it was Carmen Miranda who was then in the vanguard of every innovative musical trend as the leading star. Through these recordings it’s possible to understand how Brazilian music developed into the great force it was to become.

Carmen Miranda was also a much misunderstood artist. Many remember her better through her American recordings (or rather her movies). She was in fact a phenomenon in the USA and internationally known through some Hollywood movies, though the cheap Hollywood image distorted her real figure and masked out her true excellence. This album was compiled by Brazilian music expert Katsunori Tanaka, and follows the history of Carmen Miranda in Brazil selecting and arranging the recordings in chronological order.

Many people take Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, artistically known as Carmen Miranda, for a native Brazilian but she was in fact born in the Portuguese town of Marco de Canavezes in the Porto district on the 9th February 1909. As she immigrated to Brazil with her family at the age of one, however, she had no recollection of Portugal. Like other immigrants in those days, Carmen’s family wasn’t well off in Brazil. They settled in the downtown of Rio de Janeiro and reportedly her father worked as a barber. Carmen got a job herself selling ties and hats at a local shop after she finished school at age 14.

Carmen, who always loved singing and dancing at the family’s or friends’ parties, started her career in music at age 20 in 1929, when urged on by her friends she participated in a contest for amateur singers held at the National Music Academy. Josué de Barros, a composer and guitarist from Salvador in the Bahia province, was really taken by her singing at the contest and offered to give her lessons in person. De Barros later took on the task to find and recruit hopeful singers for the record industry and radio network which would go through a rapid development in the 1930s, and Carmen was the first star he nurtured. Thanks to his successful promotion, Carmen got on to the radio as early as in March of 1929 and made her first recording for the Brunswick label around September the same year. From December on, she recorded for the Victor label as well. Thus Carmen’s professional career began under the tutelage of Josué de Barros.

In his extensive liner notes, Katsunori Tanaka traces the story of Carmen Miranda and the development of samba music through the 24 tracks on this CD. It starts with a rare version of her first recording Se O Sambae Moda, from 1929 and ends with her last recording in Brazil in 1940. The unparalleled singer Carmen Miranda died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles on August 5, 1955.

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Tiroro – Best of Tiroro, The Greatest Drummer in Haiti

According to Toyo Nakamura, who was probably Japan’s foremost music journalist and lovingly compiled this CD, Tiroro is one of the great legends of 20th century popular music, one of the world’s greatest ever drummers, and an unheralded genius. However, little is known or has been written about him, except he is usually referred to as ‘The Greatest Drummer in Haiti’. Toyo’s greatest ally in his opinion, was probably jazz great Max Roach, who often cited Tiroro as a major influence.

One of the few books on Haiti to mention Tiroro published in 1954 and written by Seldan Rodman mentions how the “virtuoso drumming is something else again, and to hear it one must hear (and also see) the now celebrated ‘Ti Roro’. It goes on to tell how Tiroro arrived in Miami without a passport and $7 in his pocket, “frankly amazed to be asked who he was, he replied ‘Everybody knows ‘Ti Roro,’ and followed this statement with a classical demonstration of drumming. While the authorities were making arrangements to conduct him to an asylum, Roro, who had already stated that his $7 would take him to New York- ‘and Paris’- characteristically stepped over to a drug counter and bought himself a pair of $5 sun-glasses.”

Toyo gradually pieces together more information about Tiroro. We learn he participated at cultural events in the West Indies and the United States, was known as a spectacular showman, and appeared at some Haiti Week Concerts in New York in 1949. Max Roach, who saw Tiroro in New York in 1939, recounts how he learnt drumming from Tiroro, and through him, he believed, the essence and roots of black African culture.

Another jazz great Archie Shepp invited Tiroro to record on his album with Family of Percussion in October 1980. However, Tiroro never made it as he died just before. After he died Tiroro was not forgotten to those whose lives he touched. Haiti’s Mini All Stars call out Tiroro’s name repeatedly during their song paying tribute to Haiti’s great senior musicians on their album ‘Raraman’ recorded in 1986.

This album, probably the only CD available by Tiroro, was originally released from the Audi-Book label in Japan in 1994, before being repackaged and re-released in Japan on Rice Records. It is comprised from long deleted LPs, some of the recordings originally released as 78s. The recording dates are unclear but most range from the 1940s and 50s. The tracks on the first half of this CD are instrumental, while tunes that include Tiroro’s vocals are on the second half.

According to Toyo, his main concern in compiling this CD was to choose tracks that demonstrate the fantastic drumming of Tiroro. Many are simply of Tiroro playing solo, in his straightforward, no-holds-barred way. Toyo hopes listeners won’t find these tracks monotonous, but they can be appreciated for their rhythms, deep grooves, and improvised musical phrases. As Toyo Nakamura concludes, “His playing is so awe inspiring, the rhythmical groove so perfect and soulful that mere words cannot do it justice. Exactly what it is, whether it’s his embellishments, such as fast rolls or appoggiature (sense of space and accents), or something else that I’m not even aware of, that makes me love Tiroro’s music so much, I cannot be sure.”

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Arsenio Rodriguez – El Rey Del Son Montuno

Arsenio Rodriguez is considered by many to be the father of modern Cuban music. The towering presence of this musical giant and his contribution to Cuban music can be compared to the parts Robert Johnson played in the development of blues or Duke Ellington to the history of jazz.

Arsenio Rodriguez is known as the creator of son montuno. Son has always occupied a central place in the history of Cuban music. Cuba’s first original popular style, son was born from European and African influences mixed in fairly equal parts and by the 1920s its original style was firmly established. It has continued ever since to provide the foundation for all Cuban music and to be the parent of the latest trend of popular music. In the early history of son, standing at the very pinnacle were three groups: Sexteto Habanero, Septeto Nacional and Trio Matamoros, the first two of which established the basic lineup consisting of seven musicians. The leader of Septeto Nacional, Ignacio Piñeiro was the first to make up a composition method for son. What Arsenio Rodríguez did was to develop and nurture son during the 1940s. He inherited the tradition but expanded its musical range, succeeding to create an altogether deeper, more dynamic and denser sound.

Until he died in 1970 in the USA, the prolific career of Arsenio Rodríguez can be divided between the time he lived and worked in Cuba and New York. Each of his recordings demonstrates a certain originality and uniqueness, yet the years when he was at his peak were during the 1940s in Cuba. At that time, his group featured its greatest lineup and was at the height of its popularity in Havana. Their performances have turned out to be some of the greatest masterpieces in the history of Cuban music. This album features recordings mainly from this period, together with recordings from just after he formed his first band, and from Arsenio’s time in America. It is therefore a document of the golden age in Cuban music. The tracks are arranged in chronological order to show how Arsenio created his own sound and then developed it further.

Compiled and with liner notes by Japanese music journalist, producer and founder of Rice Records Japan, Katsunori Tanaka, ‘El Rey Del Son Montuno’ features 22 tracks, 72 minutes of music and a 20 page booklet detailing the life of Arsenio Rodriguez and the story behind each of these masterpieces, together with rare photos.

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